Surprisingly strong wholesale trade report gives boost to economy

OTTAWA – Canada’s wholesale trade came in much stronger than anticipated in February, providing some evidence the economy continued expanding during the month.

Statistics Canada said wholesale sales rose 1.6 per cent in February to $48.5 billion, following a 1.1 per cent decline in January.

The performance was even stronger when dollar effects are excluded, providing for a 2.2 per cent boost in volumes of wholesale shipments.

Economists had expected a modest decrease particularly as two related reports — manufacturing and exports — both came in negative for the month of February.

But the volume increase of wholesale shipments suggests factories continued to pump out products during the month.

“Today’s data suggest that the month’s GDP (gross domestic product) reading could come in stronger than previously envisioned,” said CIBC economist Emanuella Enenajor.

“While we still wait for the month’s retail report (on Tuesday), February activity looks to be tracking an overall GDP gain of roughly 0.2 per cent or so.”

Following January’s 0.1 per cent advance, that would set up for a first quarter of solid growth. Last week, the Bank of Canada predicted the first three months of this year would see a healthy 2.5 per cent spurt, following the more modest 1.8 growth at the end of 2011.

The February gains were broadbased with most subsectors reporting higher sales in February, four of which accounted for about 90 per cent of the national growth.

The largest increase in dollar terms came in the motor vehicles and parts subsector, where sales rose 2.7 per cent to $7.7 billion, largely due to higher motor vehicle sales.

Sales of machinery, equipment and supplies rose 1.7 per cent, continuing an upward trend that began at the start of 2010.

Sales were higher in all provinces except Quebec and Prince Edward Island, with Ontario reporting a 1.7 per cent increase to lead the country.