Wholesale inventories data points to first quarter GDP downgrade

WASHINGTON, Wed May 9, 2012 – Stocks of unsold goods at wholesalers rose modestly in March, according to government data on Wednesday that suggested a downward revision to the initial first-quarter growth estimate.

Wholesale inventories increased 0.3 percent to a record $480.4 billion, the Commerce Department said, after an unrevised 0.9 percent rise in February.

The increase was half what economists polled by Reuters had expected, leaving them to conclude that the government would likely lower its first-quarter GDP estimate to an annual pace of 1.9 percent from the 2.2 percent rate it reported last month.

The change in inventories is a key component in the calculation of GDP. However, the actual size of the revision would be depend on data next week on overall business inventories for March.

Trade data for March to be released on Thursday will also have an impact on the first-quarter GDP estimate. The government used estimates for both business inventories and the trade balance for its first GDP estimate, published last month.

Economists said the wholesale numbers, particularly the ex-autos component that goes into the GDP calculation, had come in softer than the government’s assumptions.