Wholesale inventories rose 0.4% in March as strong sales emptied shelves, dropping the inventories-to-sales ratio to a record low, the Commerce Department reported yesterday.

The inventories-to-sales ratio dropped to 1.13 months in March, the lowest on record dating back to January 1992. That compares with a 1.39 month supply in March 2009. The steady decline in the inventories-to-sales ratio is a harbinger of increased factory production and economic growth.

Wholesale sales rose 2.4% in March, more than twice economists’ expectations, as nondurable sales increased 2.8%. Economists expected wholesale inventories to grow 0.5% and sales to rise 1.1%.

The February gain in wholesale sales was revised upward to 1.2% from the 0.8% increase originally reported last month. The 0.6% gain in February inventories was unchanged.

Inventories of durable goods rose 0.8%, the strongest monthly gain since August 2008. Inventories of autos increased 0.9%, computer equipment gained 2.6% and metals grew 3.6%.

Nondurable inventories decreased 0.2%, the first decline in three months.

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