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US companies restocked at slower pace in December

A FedEx sorting facility. Business inventories ticked up 0.1 percent in December from November.

Ben Margot/Associated Press/File 2012

A FedEx sorting facility. Business inventories ticked up 0.1 percent in December from November.

WASHINGTON — US companies restocked their store shelves and warehouses at a slower pace in December, a sign of caution as sales weakened. Slower restocking was a major drag on the economy in the final three months of last year.

Business inventories ticked up 0.1 percent in December from November, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. That was below the 0.2 percent pace the previous month and the smallest increase since June.

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Total sales for wholesalers, retailers, and manufacturers increased 0.3 percent, down from a 0.9 percent clip in ­November.

Slower rebuilding of inventories means factories produced less, lowering overall economic output.

One silver lining: If sales keep growing, companies may have to restock more quickly in the January-March quarter, boosting growth. A separate report Wednesday showed that retail spending ticked up in January.

The slower inventory rebuilding in the final three months of last year than in the previous three months was a big reason the government estimated the economy shrank at an annual rate of 0.1 percent in the October-to-December quarter. That was the first contraction in 3½ years.

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