Wholesale inventories rise at fastest pace in over year

Wholesale inventories rose at their fastest pace in more than a year in January as construction companies and computer merchants built up their stocks, though sales fell for the first time in three months.

The Commerce Department said on Friday wholesale inventories increased 1.2 percent to $504.4 billion after a revised 0.1 percent rise in December. This was the fastest pace of growth since December 2011.

Economists polled by Reuters expected stocks of unsold goods at U.S. wholesalers to rise 0.3 percent.

Inventories are a key component of gross domestic product, and weakness in the category in the fourth quarter subtracted 1.6 percentage points from the economy's annual growth pace at that time.

Economists expect the drawdown on inventories to reverse in the first quarter.

The value of lumber stocks grew 3.4 percent in January, while computer equipment inventories rose 3.2 percent. A rise in drugs inventories of 6.2 percent also contributed to the overall increase.

Automotive stocks rose 0.4 percent after dropping 3.9 percent in December.

But sales at wholesalers fell 0.8 percent, driven by falling sales of nondurable goods like farm products and a 4.5 percent drop in petroleum sales. Economists had expected sales to nudge up 0.1 percent.

At January's sales pace it would take 1.21 months to clear shelves, slower than December's pace of 1.19 months.

(Reporting by Anna Yukhananov; Editing by Andrea Ricci)