The trade in petroleum, farm product raw materials and non-durable goods helped the overall sales of merchant wholesalers, excepting manufacturers’ sales branches and offices, inch up a scant 0.7% to $430.6 billion in March over the revised February figure, but remained down some 2%, year-over-year.
Overall durable goods sales dropped 0.2% in March to $211 billion, and were down 0.4% over March 2015 figures. Hardware sales fell 2.2% to $11.1 billion in March from February, according the latest Monthly Wholesale Trade: Sales and Inventories report from the U.S. Census Bureau. Lumber and automotive sales were also down by 1.2% and 0.7%, respectively, while furniture, professional equipment, metals and electrical equipment all saw gains in March.
March’s inventories-to-sales ratio for merchant wholesalers was 1.36, unchanged from February’s ratio and higher than March 2015’s figure of 1.32, Census said.
“The inventory situation is a good barometer as far as business confidence is concerned, said NACM Economist Chris Kuehl, Ph.D. “There was far too much inventory only a few months ago and there has been a concentrated effort to work that down ever since. As long as companies are not adding inventory, there is going to be a general production lull in the economy as a whole.”
For non-durable goods, sales grew from February to March by 1.6% to $220 billion, but remained down from the prior year by 3.5%, Census noted.
Petroleum sales have shown high volatility over the past year as they were up in March by 13.5% or $34.5 billion, but still down some 23% from a year ago, according to Census. Apparel sales also plunged 5.9% to $13.2 billion and were down 6.2% from the year prior. Also down in March were sales of alcohol (1%), groceries (1.3%) and paper (0.1%), while sectors that saw sales growth in March included farm products (2.7%), chemicals (0.7%) and drugs (0.4%).
- Nicholas Stern, NACM editorial associate