Ahead Of The Bell: US Wholesale Inventories

WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ U.S. wholesalers cut their stockpiles slightly in December while their sales were flat. But economists believe businesses will resume restocking in 2013, a development that would help spur economic growth.

The Commerce Department is scheduled to release a report on January stockpiles held by wholesale businesses at 10 a.m. Eastern Friday. The report will also provide an estimate of January sales by these companies.

In December, wholesalers trimmed their inventories by 0.1 percent while their sales were unchanged.

Sluggish growth in stockpiles was a key reason the economy barely grew in the October-December quarter. The overall economy grew at an annual rate of just 0.1 percent in the fourth quarter.

But economists are looking for a significant rebound in business restocking this year and that is a key reason they expect growth in the January-March quarter to accelerate to an annual rate of around 2 percent.

In December, farm product stockpiles had dropped sharply, likely reflecting the impact of this summer's drought in the Midwest. Inventories of furniture and automotive goods were also down in December.

Less restocking reduces factory production, which slows economic growth.

Another factor expected to boost growth this year is an improving trade performance with further gains in exports as the debt crisis in Europe stabilizes and growth in Asia rebounds.

However, the government reported Thursday that the U.S. trade deficit rose in January as export sales declines while imports of various goods including oil showed gains.

For the entire year, economists are still looking for an improvement in U.S. exports based on their forecasts that the global economy will be strengthening.
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