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.