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According to the Monthly Wholesales Report, inventories were up 6.2 percent in January from a year ago and 0.3 percent from December. Coupled with weak sales data (sales fell by 3.1 percent from December 2014 and 1 percent from January 2014), the inventory to sales ratio increased to 1.35 in January from 1.33 in December 2014. It means that it would take 1.35 months for businesses to clear shelves, the highest inventory-to-sales ratio since July 2009.
Why is data on business inventories so important? The answer is that the changes in the inventory to sales ratio indicate any supply or demand imbalances in the economy. Inventories rise when supply is greater than demand. Inventories rising relative to sales mean that sales fail to meet demand projections. Thus, the inventory to sales ratio usually reaches its cyclical peak in the middle of the recession, when the economy is slowing down. Indeed, please note three things.
First, that inventories of durable goods jumped the most – by 7.7 percent from year ago, which is generally in line with weak data on news orders for durable goods. Second, contrary to the historical declining trend (due to improved inventory management), we are witnessing a gradual rise since 2013 and particularly since the summer of 2014. Actually, the inventory to sales ratio has reached the highest level since the Great Recession (see the chart below). Third, inventories are rising despite low prices. Thus, this indicates week global demand.