Business inventories were down 1.0% and sales levels fell 1.6% in March, according to Commerce Department data released yesterday.

Business inventories slid to $1.404 billion following a revised 1.4% decline to $1.418 billion in February, originally reported as a 1.3% decrease. Thomson Reuters had projected that business inventories would be off 1.3% in the month. Overall inventories were 4.8% below the March 2008 level, according to Commerce.

Stocks of autos — by far the largest component of inventories — fell 2.0% in March, following February’s 2.8% decrease. The category is down 15.0% from the previous March.

The 1.6% decrease in overall business sales brought the category to $971.7 million. The March figure followed a revised unchanged level of $987.9 million in February, originally reported as a 0.2% rise.

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