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.

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