U.S. wholesale inventories increased 0.3% in January versus consensus forecasts of a 0.3% decline, government data showed. Wholesale sales, meanwhile, dropped 3.1%, the biggest decline since 2009, according to the U.S. Commerce Department. The larger-than-expected inventories bring the number of months required to empty warehouses to the highest level in nearly six years.
Economists, though, did not express initial concern, blaming the inventory spike on low crude oil prices. “In the current situation, it is only an issue for the oil industry because of the collapse in price,” Steve Blitz, chief economist at ITG Investment Research in New York, told Reuters. “There is far less evidence of anything being amiss among other U.S. industries.”
A strengthening job market is another likely signal that the sales dip will be temporary. The National Federation of Independent Business reported that its Small Business Optimism Index gained 0.1 point last month, bringing it to 98, the third-highest reading since early 2007. In the survey of 716 small-business owners, more than half reported hiring or trying to hire, though many reported difficulty in finding skilled applicants. Job openings increased to 5 million in January, according to the Labor Department. That’s the highest number reported in 14 years.