WASHINGTON — Wholesale inventories increased more than economists expected in September, rising 1.5% as businesses increased their stocks of nondurable and apparel goods, the Commerce Department reported Tuesday. Wholesale sales for September were up 0.4%.

Economists expected wholesale inventories to rise 0.7% and sales to increase 0.6%. Inventories have expanded nine straight months.

Wholesalers stocked up on nondurable inventories, which rose 2.8% for the month, the largest gain since last November. Stocks of apparel jumped by 4.0%, the largest gain in almost six years. Petroleum inventories rose 3.4%, the largest increase since March.

Durable wholesale inventories expanded 0.7% in September. The inventories-to-sales ratio rose slightly to 1.18 in September from 1.17 in August. The ratio was 1.22 in September 2009.

Wholesale inventories for August were revised upward to a 1.2% increase from the 0.5% gain reported last month. Wholesale sales in August were revised upward to a 0.5% increase from the 0.4% jump reported last month.

Diane Swonk, chief economist at Mesirow Financial, said the rise in September inventories appeared to be due to imports, which act as a drag on growth. “Inventory levels have now been restored from the lows hit during the recession and are not likely to be the tailwind for growth that they once were,” Swonk said. “Indeed, inventories are expected to be a drag on growth in the fourth quarter of 2010 and during much of 2011 as retailers struggle to once again 'right-size’ their stocks.”

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