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Businesses boost stockpiles for 14th month

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. businesses added to their stockpiles in February for a 14th straight month and sales increased for an eighth consecutive month. The gains suggest factory orders will rise in the coming months.

Business inventories rose 0.5 percent in February, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday. Combined sales by manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers increased 0.2 percent during the month.

Healthy gains in sales and inventory restocking should translate into strong orders placed with U.S. factories.

Manufacturing activity has increased in all but two months since the recession ended in June 2009, according to the Institute for Supply Management. Factories have benefited not only from increased U.S. demand but also from stronger export sales.

The string of increases in inventories pushed stockpiles to $1.46 trillion in February. That is a level that economists consider to be normal for this stage of the recovery. It is 10.7 percent higher than the recent low of $1.32 trillion reached in September 2009.

Businesses had slashed their stockpiles to control costs during the recession.

For February, manufacturers increased their stocks by 0.8 percent and wholesale inventories rose 1 percent. Retailers reduced their inventories by 0.4 percent.

Sales rose at the manufacturing and retail levels, but declined 0.8 percent at the wholesale level.