WASHINGTON (AP) — 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 percent in January after being unchanged in December, the Commerce Department reported Tuesday.
Business sales were down 0.4 percent in January after a 0.7 percent 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 percent in stockpiles held by wholesalers as well as a 0.3 percent gain in retail stockpiles. These offset a 0.4 percent 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 totaled $1.81 trillion after seasonal adjustments, up a modest 1.8 percent from where inventories stood in January 2015.