U.S. businesses added to their inventories for an 11th consecutive month in November as sales posted another strong increase.
Inventories rose just 0.2 percent in November, the smallest advance since a similar gain last May, the Commerce Department reported Friday. Sales rose 1.2 percent in November after an even bigger 1.5 percent October increase.
The November rise in inventories pushed them to $1.42 trillion, up 7.7 percent from the recent low of $1.32 trillion hit in September 2009.
The smaller gain in inventories in November likely was affected by the strong sales pace, which can make it difficult for businesses to keep shelves stocked. Economists believe inventory rebuilding will continue as long as businesses have confidence that sales will improve.
Gains in inventories have been a key factor supporting the overall economy. Rising orders to factories have led to increased production and hiring gains in manufacturing. The Federal Reserve reported Friday that industrial production rose 0.8 percent in December, the biggest increase in five months.
For November, inventories held by manufacturers increased 0.8 percent while inventories at the wholesale level fell 0.2 percent and retail inventories were unchanged.
The rise in total business sales in November reflected strong gains at the manufacturing, wholesale and retail levels. A separate report Friday showed that retail sales also rose in December, climbing 0.6 percent. Retailers enjoyed their best holiday shopping season in four years.
Economists are hoping that the tax-cut package that takes effect this month will provide further support for consumer spending in the coming year.
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