Wholesale inventories rise again


WASHINGTON -- U.S. wholesale inventories rose in September for the eighth straight month as suppliers worked to rebuild depleted stocks.

Inventories grew 0.7 percent in September after rising 0.5 percent in August, the Commerce Department said yesterday. The increase was led by stocks of crops, electrical equipment and imported autos.

Wholesale sales rose 9.3 percent over the past 12 months, virtually twice the pace of inventory growth at 4.8 percent, as wholesalers struggle to keep enough goods on hand to meet demand.

"Inventory levels are very, very lean," said Jeffrey Palma, economist at Warburg, Dillon, Read in Greenwich, Conn. "In addition to the Y2K concerns, you're seeing buildup because the stocks are so low."

Meantime, wholesalers are trying to plan for shortages that could be caused by year 2000-related problems. Importers in particular are focusing on building stockpiles because year 2000 computer problems are expected to occur more commonly overseas than in the United States.

"With Y2K, importers would like to boost inventory" growth, said Michael Englund, chief economist at Standard & Poor's MMS in Belmont, Calif.

Separately, the Labor Department reported yesterday that U.S. businesses paid higher prices for imported goods in October largely because of more expensive oil.

The import price index rose 0.5 percent last month after gaining 1.1 percent in September, previously reported as up 0.7 percent. Excluding petroleum, import prices rose 0.1 percent last month.

Wholesale sales increased 0.5 percent in September, after rising 1.1 percent in August. Sales of groceries, paper and electrical equipment registered the biggest gains.

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