UPDATE 1-US Feb wholesale inventories up, sales fall

(Adds details, background)

WASHINGTON, April 8 (Reuters) – U.S. wholesale inventories
rose in February, but sales unexpectedly fell to post their
largest decline in nearly two years, a government report showed
on Friday.

Total wholesale inventories increased 1.0 percent to
$437.99 billion, the highest level since December 2008, the
Commerce Department said, following an unrevised 1.0 percent
rise in January.

Economists polled by Reuters had expected stocks of unsold
goods at U.S. wholesalers to rise 1.0 percent in February.

Sales at wholesalers fell 0.8 percent, the largest drop
since March 2009, after rising by a downwardly revised 3.3
percent in January.

The decline in sales was the first since June 2009 and
suggested that retailers were anticipating a slowdown in demand
from consumers. Consumer spending got off to a slow start in
the first two months of 2011 after a brisk pace in the fourth
quarter, held back by bad weather and rising gasoline prices.

Analysts had expected sales at wholesalers to rise 1.8
percent in February after a previously reported 3.5 percent
surge in January.

Sales at wholesalers in February were weak almost across
the board, although groceries saw their biggest increase since
January 1997. Petroleum sales fell 1.0 percent, but stocks rose
9.3 percent– the largest since June 2008.

The weak sales pace raised the inventory-to-sales-ratio,
which measures how long it would take to clear shelves at the
current sales pace, to 1.16 months from 1.14 months in
January.
(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani, Editing by Andrea Ricci)

UPDATE 1-US Feb wholesale inventories up, sales fall