The Commerce Department said Friday that inventories at the wholesale level were up 0.6 percent in February, better than the 0.4 percent increase analysts had expected. Sales rose 0.8 percent, surpassing the 0.5 percent rise economists had forecast.
The gains were an encouraging sign that stronger demand is prompting businesses to restock depleted shelves, a development that will help sustain the economic recovery.
The inventory increase followed a 0.1 percent rise in January, which was initially reported as a decline of 0.2 percent.
The rise in sales followed a 0.9 percent January advance and marked the 11th straight month that sales have been up.
Analysts are hoping that the string of sales increases will prompt businesses to begin restocking their depleted shelves on a sustained basis, giving a boost to the economy as it struggles to recover from the worst recession since the 1930s.
The swing from massive inventory reductions contributed about two-thirds of the economy's overall growth in the October-December quarter, a period when the gross domestic product expanded at a 5.6 percent annual rate.
Economists at Barclays Capital said that the gains in wholesale inventories in January and February pointed to further support from inventories in the just-completed first quarter. They are currently projecting a GDP increase of above 3.5 percent for the January-March quarter.