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Analysis — May 2009

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Wholesale sales in current dollars fell 0.3% to $40.1 billion in May, its lowest level since December 2005. In volume terms, wholesale sales were unchanged in May. Weaker sales in the machinery and equipment, food, and metal products trade groups were the major factors contributing to the decrease during the month. With May's decline, wholesale sales have fallen for eight consecutive months.

Chart 1

In current dollars, four of the seven sectors, accounting for just over half of total wholesale sales, declined in May.

Sales in the machinery and electronic equipment sector fell 0.2% in May. Almost half of this sector is accounted for by the machinery and equipment trade group, which declined 2.3%. Sales in this trade group have declined almost 20% since their September 2008 peak.

Note to readers

Wholesale sales in volume terms are calculated by deflating current dollar values using import and industry product price indexes. Since many of the goods sold by wholesalers are imported, fluctuations in the value of the Canadian dollar can have an important influence on the prices of goods bought and sold by wholesalers.

The wholesale sales series in chained (2002) dollars is a chained Fisher volume index with 2002 as the reference year.

The food, beverage and tobacco products sector declined 1.2% in May. This was due to lower sales in food products, which account for about 90% of the sector.

Wholesale sales in the building materials sector rose 0.1%, as increases in building supplies offset declines in metal products.

Sales of building supplies rose 2.8% in May after declining 3.4% in April. This coincides with an increase in housing starts as reported by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

In contrast, sales in the metal products trade group were down 7.7%, the seventh consecutive monthly decrease. The economic slowdown, and, in particular, the drop in activity in the oil and gas industry, have been major contributors to lower sales since the latter part of 2008.

Largest declines in the West

In dollar terms, Alberta posted the largest decline in May. The 2.5% sales decrease for Alberta's wholesalers was attributable primarily to weakness in the machinery and electronic equipment and "other products" sectors. These two sectors make up close to half of wholesale sales in Alberta. Sales in the province have declined every month since November 2008.

In Manitoba, sales declined 2.1% in May. Lower sales in the "other products" sector were behind much of the decrease for the month.

The only western province to show an increase was British Columbia, where sales rose 1.0%.

Ontario and Quebec, which account for about 70% of Canada's total wholesale sales, both saw increases of 0.1%. In Quebec, higher sales in the personal and household goods and automotive products sectors contributed to the advance. This follows eight consecutive months of declines.

Inventories fall again

Wholesale inventories (-0.8%) fell for the third month in a row to $57.2 billion in May.

Overall, 11 of the 15 wholesale trade groups reported lower inventory levels. The largest declines in dollar terms were in "other products" (-3.0%), metal products (-2.5%), household and personal products (-1.5%) and pharmaceuticals (-1.2%). These decreases were partly offset by higher inventories in motor vehicles (+1.0%) and motor vehicle parts and accessories (+1.0%).

The sharper decline in inventories than in sales translated into a decrease in the inventory-to-sales ratio from 1.44 in April to 1.43 in May.

The inventory-to-sales ratio is a measure of the time in months required to exhaust inventories if sales were to remain at their current level.

Chart 3