updated 3/10/2004 10:11:14 AM ET 2004-03-10T15:11:14

Inventories at U.S. wholesalers rose less than expected in January, Commerce Department data showed on Wednesday, and the pace of sales more than halved as demand for cars posted the largest fall in over six years.

Major Market Indices

Commerce said wholesale stocks of goods rose 0.1 percent after a revised 0.6 percent advance in December, and below the 0.4 percent monthly gain expected by Wall Street.

Wholesale sales rose 0.6 in January after gaining a revised 1.5 percent the previous month, but car sales fell 6.6 percent in their weakest performance since December 1997.

The closely watched inventory-to-sales ratio, which measures how long it would take to run down stocks at the current sales pace, was steady at a record low of 1.17 months’ worth.

The ratio indicates the leanness of inventories compared to sales and is a guide to how much wholesalers will have to ramp up sales to rebuild stocks.

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