US business stockpiles up 0.1 per cent in January

WASHINGTON – U.S. businesses boosted their stockpiles by a small amount in January while sales fell for a fourth month.

Inventories held by businesses increased 0.1 per cent in January after being unchanged in December, the Commerce Department reported Tuesday.

Business sales were down 0.4 per cent in January after a 0.7 per cent drop in December. Sales were also down in November and October and were flat in September.

American manufacturers have struggled with falling export sales in recent months, reflecting economic weakness overseas and a stronger dollar, which makes American products less competitive on overseas markets.

Economists say that solid gains in employment will bolster consumer sales in coming months, helping to offset the weakness from falling exports and sharp cutbacks at energy companies in response to a plunge in energy prices.

The small rise in inventories reflected gains of 0.3 per cent in stockpiles held by wholesalers as well as a 0.3 per cent gain in retail stockpiles. These offset a 0.4 per cent drop in inventories at the manufacturing level.

One reason sales and inventories look so weak is the big drop in energy prices over the past year. These figures are not adjusted for price changes.

In January, business inventories totalled $1.81 trillion after seasonal adjustments, up a modest 1.8 per cent from where inventories stood in January 2015.