WASHINGTON - Business inventories were up 0.3% to $1,580.2 billion in March, while sales rose 0.6% to $1,241.0 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 polled by Thomson Reuters. 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.

The total business inventories/sales ratio based on seasonally adjusted data at the end of March was 1.27, a tick below the 1.28 ratio of the previous month and a notch above the March 2011 ratio of 1.26.

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