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US business inventories pick up in February

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U.S. business inventories rose in February amid strong gains at retailers and wholesalers, suggesting that inventory investment could contribute to economic growth in the first quarter.

Inventories increased 0.4% after being unchanged in January, the Commerce Department's Census Bureau on Monday. The pick up in inventories, a key component of gross domestic product, was in line with economists' expectations.

Inventories advanced 1.0% year-on-year in February.

Private inventory investment cut 0.47% percentage point from GDP growth in the fourth quarter after providing a big boost in the third quarter. The economy grew at a 3.4% annualized rate in the October-December quarter. Growth estimates for the first quarter are currently as high as a 2.7% pace.

Retail inventories increased 0.6% in February, instead of 0.5% as estimated in an advance report published last month. They rose 0.4% in January. Motor vehicle inventories climbed 0.8%, rather than 0.9% as previously estimated. They gained 0.8% in January.

Retail inventories excluding autos, which go into the calculation of GDP, increased 0.4% as reported last month. They rose 0.3% in January. Wholesale inventories increased 0.5% in February, while stocks at manufacturers gained 0.3%.

Business sales rebounded 1.6% in February after falling 1.0% in January. At February' sales pace, it would take 1.38 months for businesses to clear shelves, down from 1.39 months in January.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

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