WASHINGTON — Sales of merchant wholesalers rose 1.6% to $424.6 billion in May, the biggest gain since November 2012 when they were up 2.1%, Commerce Department reported Wednesday.

Inventories fell 0.5% to $500.9 billion in May, the biggest decline since September 2011 when they were down 1.1%. The May decrease followed a revised 0.1% drop the previous month, originally reported as a 0.2% gain, the Commerce Department said.

The May sales increase followed a revised 0.7% rise the previous month, originally reported as a 0.5% gain. The May increase in sales was much stronger than the median 0.4% gain projected by economists polled by Thomson Reuters. Economists expected a 0.3% rise in inventories.

Sales of durable goods were up 0.3%, while sales of non-durable goods jumped 2.8%. Overall, the May sales total was 4.1% above the level for the same month a year ago.

May inventories of durable goods were down 0.3% from April and for nondurable goods inventories were down 0.8%. However, the overall May inventory level was 3.3% above the level of a year ago.

May's inventories/sales ratio for merchant wholesalers, except manufacturers' sales branches and offices, was 1.18 based on seasonally adjusted data, below the unrevised April ratio of 1.21 and the May 2012 ratio of 1.19.

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