WASHINGTON - Sales of merchant wholesalers dropped 0.8% to $409.6 billion in May after rising a revised 0.6% in April, originally reported as a 1.1% gain, while inventories rose 0.3%, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday.

The 0.8% decrease for May 2012 stood in contrast to the median 0.2% increase projected by economists polled by Thomson Reuters, and was the steepest decline since a 3.6% dive in March 2009.

The drop was attributable to a 4.7% decline in the sales of petroleum and petroleum products, but was somewhat softened by a 1.4% increase in the sales of computer peripherals and software.

The May sales figure was 5.7% above the level for the same month a year ago.

Inventories were up 0.3% to $484.1 billion for May after a revised 0.5% gain in April, originally reported as a 0.6% advance.

The 0.3% gain matched the median increase estimated by economists polled by Thomson Reuters. Driving the increase was a 1.3% spike in inventories of machinery and equipment, a force which was partially offset by a 5.1% decline in the inventories of farm product raw materials.

The May level of inventories was 6.4% above the level the same month a year ago.

The May inventories/sales ratio for merchant wholesalers, except manufacturers' sales branches and offices, was 1.18, a slight increase from the previous month's 1.17 ratio, which was the same as the May 2011 figure.

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.