Analysis — December 2012

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Wholesale sales fell 0.9% in December to $49.0 billion, after rising 0.7% in November. The decrease was largely a result of lower sales in the computer and communications equipment and supplies industry. The same industry was behind November's increase.

In volume terms, wholesale sales were down 0.9% in December.

Chart 1

Computer and communications equipment and supplies post the largest decline

In December, five of the seven subsectors were down. The majority of the decrease was concentrated in the machinery, equipment and supplies subsector.

Sales in the machinery, equipment and supplies subsector decreased by 4.1%. Every industry in the subsector reported lower sales. The computer and communications equipment and supplies industry (-8.6%) accounted for two-thirds of the decrease.

The decline in the computer and communications equipment and supplies industry in December came in the wake of a 6.3% advance in November, which coincided with a sharp gain in imports of communications and audio and video equipment. Sales in this industry can be affected by the timing of new product releases.

The second-largest decline was in the personal and household goods subsector. Sales fell 0.7%, mainly as a result of decreases in the toiletries, cosmetics and sundries industry and the home entertainment equipment and household appliance industry.

The miscellaneous subsector declined 0.6%, its ninth decrease in 2012. In December, four of the five industries in the subsector had lower sales.

The largest increase in dollar terms was in the building material and supplies subsector. Sales were up 1.4% in December, their third consecutive advance.

Lower sales in six provinces

Wholesale sales were down in six provinces in December. The majority of the national decrease was attributable to Ontario, Quebec and Alberta.

Ontario posted a 0.9% decline in sales, the fourth decrease in the second half of 2012. December's decline was largely a result of lower sales in the computer and communications equipment and supplies industry.

In Quebec, weaker sales in the personal and household goods subsector in particular contributed to the 1.9% decline observed in December.

Sales fell 1.3% in Alberta, the first decrease in three months. The December result was due to several industries, including the computer and communications equipment and supplies industry.

Decrease in inventories

Wholesalers' inventories declined 0.6% in December to $60.7 billion, the third decrease in four months. Inventories were down in 12 of the 25 industries.

The largest inventory declines in dollar terms were in the construction, forestry, mining and industrial machinery, equipment and supplies industry (-4.1%) and the motor vehicle industry (-2.9%).

The inventory-to-sales ratio was 1.24 in December.

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.

Widespread growth in wholesale sales in 2012

On an annual basis, wholesale sales totalled about $590 billion in 2012, up 4.5% from the previous year. This increase followed two consecutive years of 6.6% growth.

After peaking in May 2012, the sales of Canadian wholesalers showed a slight downward trend late in the year.

In 2012, five of the seven wholesale trade subsectors posted increases. The motor vehicle and parts subsector had the largest gain in dollar terms, followed by the machinery, equipment and supplies subsector.

At the provincial level, Alberta registered the largest increase in 2012, with a growth rate of more than 10%.

Note to readers

All the data in this release are seasonally adjusted and in current dollars, unless otherwise noted. For more information on seasonal adjustment, see Seasonal adjustment and identifying economic trends.

Total wholesale sales expressed in volume are calculated by deflating current dollar values using relevant price indexes. The wholesale sales series in chained (2007) dollars is a chained Fisher volume index with 2007 as the reference year. For more information, see Sales in volume for Wholesale Trade.

Chart 4