WASHINGTON — Sales of merchant wholesalers climbed 0.5% to $416.6 billion in April, the Commerce Department reported Tuesday.

The April sales increase followed a revised 1.4% slide the previous month, originally reported as a 1.6% drop. The April sales figures were much stronger than the expectations of economists polled by Thomson Reuters, who expected a 0.1% decrease.

Inventories ticked up 0.2% to $504.8 billion in April after rising a revised 0.3% the previous month, the Commerce Department said. The March inventory increase was originally reported at 0.4%.

The April inventories figure matched economists' projections. Durables were up 0.2%, and nondurables rose 0.1%. The overall April inventory level was 4.1% above the level of a year ago.

Sales of durable goods were up 1.6%, while non-durable goods dipped 0.5% thanks to a 2.7% fall in petroleum sales. Overall, the April sales total was 0.7% above the level for the same month a year ago.

April's inventories/sales ratio for merchant wholesalers, except manufacturers' sales branches and offices, was 1.21, a hair below the 1.22  March ratio but above the 1.17 ratio a year ago.

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