U.S. wholesale inventories fall, hurt by autos and agriculture

WASHINGTON Fri Feb 8, 2013 10:02am EST

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. wholesale inventories unexpectedly fell in December as auto dealers and agricultural suppliers drew down their stocks, a negative signal for economic growth at the end of the year.

The Commerce Department said on Friday wholesale inventories dropped 0.1 percent to $497.65 billion. The department also said inventories grew less than initially estimated in November.

Economists polled by Reuters had expected stocks of unsold goods at U.S. wholesalers to rise 0.4 percent.

Inventories are a key component of gross domestic product and weakness in the category in the fourth quarter helped push the economy to contract 0.1 percent during the period.

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

The value of automotive stocks dropped 3.8 percent in December. Farm product inventories sank 6 percent. A decline in inventories of drugs also contributed to the overall decline,

Sales at wholesalers were flat, with an increase in metals helping to offset the decline in automotive sales.

At December's sales pace it would take 1.19 months to clear shelves, unchanged from November.

(Reporting by Jason Lange; Editing by Neil Stempleman)

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