WASHINGTON — Sales of merchant wholesalers dropped 1.6% to $414.7 billion in March, the Commerce Department reported Thursday.

The March sales decline followed a revised 1.5% gain in February, originally reported as a 1.7% advance. Wholesale sales last experienced such a steep drop between February and March 2009, when sales plunged 3.6%.

The March sales figures were well below the expectations of economists polled by Thomson Reuters, who expected a median 0.1% increase.

Sales of durable goods were down 0.6%, while non-durable goods dove 2.5% courtesy of a 7.5% fall in petroleum sales. That was the sharpest decline of wholesale fuel sales since a 7.6% drop recorded between February and March 2009.

Overall, the March sales total was 1.3% above the level for the same month a year ago.

Inventories ticked up 0.4% to $503.1 billion in March after falling an unrevised 0.3% the previous month, the Commerce Department said.

The inventories figure was in line of the economists' projections, as they had expected a 0.3% inventory advance. Durables were up 0.5%, and nondurables rose 0.1%. The overall March inventory level was 4.7% above the level of a year ago.

March's inventories/sales ratio for merchant wholesalers, except manufacturers' sales branches and offices, was 1.21, above both the 1.19 February ratio and the 1.17 ratio a year ago.

Subscribe Now

Independent and authoritative analysis and perspective for the bond buying industry.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.