U.S. wholesale stockpiles fell 0.2 percent in June

U.S. wholesale stockpiles fell 0.2 percent in June
Trucks move into the container terminal at the Port of Wilmington in Wilmington, N.C.
WASHINGTON (AP) - U.S. wholesalers cut their stockpiles in June for a third straight month even as their sales rose again. The combination suggests businesses have underestimated demand, a trend that could lead to stronger economic growth in coming months.

The Commerce Department said Friday that wholesale stockpiles fell 0.2 percent in June from May. That follows a 0.6 percent drop in May - the biggest in 20 months - a modest 0.1 percent decline in April.

Wholesalers haven't shrunk their stockpiles for three months or longer since September 2009, which was three months after the Great Recession ended. The decline shows that many remain cautious and are keeping inventories lean, despite three straight months of solid sales growth.

In June, sales at the wholesale level rose 0.4 percent. That followed a 1.5 percent increase in May and a 0.8 percent gain in April.

Stronger sales could lead to more restocking in the July-September quarter and drive more economic growth. Faster growth in stockpiles means companies are ordering more goods from U.S. factories.

The government reported last month that the economy grew at a lackluster 1.7 percent annual rate from April through June. But economists expect the growth rate to be revised much higher after a report this week showed U.S. companies exported a record number of goods in June.

Some analysts predict second-quarter economic growth could be as strong 2.5 percent at an annual rate. The weaker inventory growth may reduce those more lofty estimates, but only slightly.

Most economists also expect growth is strengthening in the second half of the year. One reason for their optimism: businesses are likely to boost their stockpiles to keep up with growing customer demand.

In June, stockpiles at the wholesale level were $499.7 billion. That's up only 2.9 percent from a year ago but 29.3 percent higher than the recession low in 2009.

Auto stockpiles fell 1.5 percent in June from May, while inventories of metals such as steel declined 0.4 percent.

The sales gain was led by a 1.5 percent increase in furniture and a 0.5 percent rise in auto sales