WASHINGTON - Sales of merchant wholesalers were up 0.5% to $411.1 billion in March after rising a revised 1.1% in February, while inventories were up 0.3% to $480.4 billion, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday.

The February gain was originally reported as a 1.2 % increase. March's sales mark represents a 6.5% rise from the March 2011 level.

The 0.5% sales climb for March 2012 fell short of the median 0.7% increase projected by economists polled by Thomson Reuters, while the 0.3% inventories gain didn't reach the median 0.6% increase estimated by economists. Leading the sales increase were sales of petroleum products, up 2.7%, and farm product raw materials, up 4.3% from the previous month.

Inventories were up an unrevised 0.9% in February, the Commerce Department said.

The March level of inventories was 8.4% above the March 2011 level.

Lumber and construction materials inventories rose 2.1% from February, while inventories of petroleum products fell 5.9%

The March inventories/sales ratio was 1.17, unchanged from the previous month but above the March 2011 ratio of 1.15.

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