WASHINGTON — Sales of merchant wholesalers rose 1.7% to $422.5 billion in February, while inventories fell 0.3%, the Commerce Department reported Tuesday.

The February sales advance followed an unrevised 0.8% decline in January. The February increase was beyond the expectations of economists polled by Thomson Reuters, who expected a median 1.3% increase. It was the largest month-over-month increase since a 2.2% increase between October and November of 2012.

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