WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Wholesale inventories rose more than expected in February as petroleum recorded the biggest increase in a year, but there were little signs of an unwanted piling up of goods amid rising sales.
Total wholesale inventories increased 0.9 percent to a record $478.9 billion, the Commerce Department said on Tuesday, after an upwardly revised 0.6 percent rise in January.
Economists polled by Reuters had expected stocks of unsold goods at U.S. wholesalers to rise 0.5 percent in February after a previously reported 0.4 percent gain in January.
Inventories are a key component of gross domestic product changes and accounted for much of the economy's annual 3 percent growth pace in the fourth quarter.
A similar contribution is not expected for the first three months of 2012. Data next week on overall business inventories for February could shed more light on how much of a boost restocking will be to first-quarter GDP.
So far, GDP growth estimates for the quarter are around 2 percent.
The value of petroleum stocks jumped 5.6 percent in February, the largest gain since February 2011, after rising 2.8 percent in January.
Automobile inventories fell 0.9 percent in February, reflecting strong demand for motor vehicles, after rising 0.6 percent.
In February, sales at wholesalers rebounded 1.2 percent after being flat in January. Economists had expected sales to increase 0.7 percent in February.
Sales at wholesalers in February were mostly broad-based. Auto sales gained 0.2 percent, while petroleum increased 3.9 percent.
At February's sales pace it will take 1.17 months to clear shelves at the current, unchanged from January.
(Reporting By Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Neil Stempleman)