U.S. wholesalers boosted their stockpiles in November and their sales rose at the fastest pace since the spring of 2011, encouraging signs for the economy.
Wholesale business stockpiles grew 0.6 percent in November compared with October, the Commerce Department said Thursday. That's twice October's increase of 0.3 percent, which was revised lower.
Sales in November surged 2.3 percent, rebounding from a 0.9 percent decline in October. It was the biggest one-month sales gain since March 2011.
With the November increase, wholesale inventories grew to $498.9 billion. That's 29.6 percent above the post-recession low hit in September 2009.
More restocking leads to more factory production, which boosts economic growth. Faster restocking helped the economy grow at a 3.1 percent annual rate from July through September.
Even with the gain in November, some economists are sticking with their predictions for slower economic growth in the October-December quarter.
Peter Newland, an economist at Barclays, noted that the November increase in restocking was offset by slower gains in October than initially estimated. Newland said that should still keep economic growth weak. He kept his estimate for growth at a 2 percent annual rate.
Still, economists had worried businesses would slash their inventories at the end of the year, in part because of uncertainty in Washington to avoid the fiscal cliff. The growth in wholesale stockpiles and sales is among a number of signs that companies and consumers shrugged off those tense negotiations.
The economy added 155,000 jobs in December, in line with average job growth for all of 2012. The once-depressed housing market is rebounding. A gauge of U.S. service firms' business activity expanded in December by the most in nearly a year. Auto sales for 2012 were the best in five years. And Americans spent more at the end of the crucial holiday shopping season.
Congress and the White House finally reached an agreement on Jan. 1 — hours past the deadline — to avert sharp tax increases from hitting most Americans. But they delayed more difficult decisions on spending for another two months.