WASHINGTON — Business inventories were up 0.3% to $1,580.2 billion in March, while sales rose 0.6% to $1,241 billion, the Commerce Department reported Tuesday.

The March gain in inventories followed an unrevised 0.6% gain in February and was lower than the median 0.4% increase estimated by economists. Inventories rose 6.6% over March 2011. Excluding motor vehicles, inventories rose 0.1% over the previous month.

The 0.6% gain in March sales followed an unrevised 0.7% increase in February and was 5.8% above sales in March 2011. Excluding motor vehicles, sales rose 0.8% in March.

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