WASHINGTON — Business inventories advanced 0.8% to $1,592.0 billion in July, while sales jumped 0.9% to $1,240.6 billion, the Commerce Department reported Friday.

The July inventory gain followed an unrevised 0.1% gain in June. The increase surpassed the expectations of economists polled by Thomson Reuters, who predicted a 0.3 % rise. The gain was the strongest since January, and inventories were 5.4% higher than in July 2011.

The increase in July sales followed a revised 1.2% decline in June, originally reported as a 1.1% decrease. The July gain was the largest since December 2011, and the month's sales were 2.8% above sales in July 2011.

The total business inventories/sales ratio based on seasonally adjusted data at the end of July was 1.28, a tick below the 1.29 ratio of the previous month but above the 1.25 July 2011 ratio.

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