WASHINGTON - U.S. wholesalers' inventories rose in October for the ninth straight month, led by growing stocks of appliances and other electrical equipment, the Commerce Department reported Thursday. Sales from inventories rose for the third straight month.

Inventories grew 0.3%, to $299.4 billion in October, after rising a revised 1% in September. It was the biggest gain since August 1998.

Wholesale sales increased 0.7%, to $232.8 billion, after rising 0.6% in September. Sales of imported cars, furniture, and metals registered the largest gains.

"Wholesalers are stocking the shelves prior to Y2K and because of extremely ebullient consumer demand," said Richard Yamarone, senior economist at Argus Research Corp. in New York.

The inventory-to-sales ratio, which measures the time goods sit at wholesalers, was unchanged, at 1.29 months.

Wholesale inventories account for less than a third of all U.S. stocks of merchandise, with factory and retail inventories accounting for the rest. Analysts had expected a 0.4% increase in wholesale inventories after September's previously reported 0.7% increase. September wholesale sales were initially reported as having risen 0.5%.

Inventories of nondurable goods fell 0.3% in October, after rising 1.3% in September. The value of stockpiles of farm products, petroleum, and paper declined.

Inventories of durable goods rose 0.6%, after rising 0.8% a month earlier, as stockpiles of furniture, metals, and professional equipment increased.

Wholesalers' sales of nondurable goods rose 1%, after rising 0.8% a month earlier. Wholesale apparel sales increased 1.1%, and farm product sales gained 2.1%.

Among durable goods, imported auto sales rose 3.1%, furniture sales rose 2.7%, and sales of metals rose 2.9%. Overall, sales of durable goods rose 0.5% in October, after gaining 0.4% in September.

- Bloomberg News

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