WASHINGTON — Sales of merchant wholesalers climbed 0.9% to $405.4 billion in August after falling a revised 0.2% in July, originally reported as a 0.1% decline, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday.

The August increase followed three consecutive months of decreases, and easily outpaced the 0.5% advance projected by economists polled by Thomson Reuters.

Inventories were up 0.5% to $487.5 billion for August after jumping a revised 0.6% the previous month, the Commerce Department reported, outpacing the 0.5% increase the economists projected for August. The July increase was originally reported as a 0.7% gain.

Sales of both durable and non-durable goods rose 0.9%, with automotive sales rising 2.0% and petroleum sales spiking 5.6% to lead the way.

The August sales figure was 2.1% above the level for the same month a year ago.

Leading the advance were inventories of non-durable goods, which rose 1.2%. Petroleum inventories acted as the key driver, rising 9.4%. That represents the largest spike in petroleum inventories since a 12% jump in June 2008.

The August inventory level was 5.3% above the level of a year ago.

The month's inventories/sales ratio for merchant wholesalers, except manufacturers' sales branches and offices, was 1.20, a slight decrease from July's 1.21 ratio. One year ago, the ratio was 1.17.

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