Analysis — February 2015

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Wholesale sales declined for a second consecutive month in February, decreasing 0.4% to $53.6 billion, their lowest level in six months. Sales were down in three of seven subsectors, accounting for 51% of wholesale sales.

In volume terms, wholesale sales were down 0.7%.

Chart 1

Lower sales in three subsectors

The building material and supplies subsector recorded the largest decrease in dollar terms in February, down 2.7% to $7.4 billion, its lowest level since May 2014. Every industry within this subsector contributed to the decrease, led by a second consecutive monthly decline in the electrical, plumbing, heating and air-conditioning equipment and supplies industry (-5.2%).

In the machinery, equipment and supplies subsector, sales decreased 1.3% to $11.2 billion, their lowest level in seven months. The decline was attributable to the construction, forestry, mining, and industrial machinery, equipment and supplies industry, which fell 6.2% to $3.6 billion, its lowest level since December 2013.

Following an 11.3% decline in January, sales in the motor vehicle and parts subsector decreased 1.4% to $8.8 billion in February, their lowest level in 10 months. The decline was attributable to the motor vehicle industry, which decreased 2.7% to $6.3 billion, its lowest level since April 2014. Imports and exports of passenger cars and light trucks, as well as sales from motor vehicle manufacturers, were lower in February.

Sales rose for the sixth time in seven months in the miscellaneous subsector, increasing 2.1% to $7.4 billion. The agricultural supplies industry (+9.3%) led the gain with its fifth increase in six months, reaching its highest level since May 2008.

The food, beverage and tobacco subsector rose 0.4% to $10.5 billion, a fourth consecutive monthly gain. Higher sales in the food industry (+0.7%) more than offset the decline in the beverage industry (-6.6%). February's decrease in the beverage industry offset most of the 7.1% gain in January.

Sales in the farm product subsector rose 5.1% to $721 million, partially offsetting the decline in January.

Sales down in four provinces

Sales declined in four provinces in February, accounting for 79% of wholesale sales. In dollar terms, Ontario contributed the most to the decline.

Sales in Ontario decreased 1.2% to $25.8 billion, a second consecutive monthly decline, led by lower sales in the motor vehicle and parts subsector.

In Alberta, sales declined for the second time in three months, down 1.7% to $7.0 billion. The personal and household goods subsector and the building material and supplies subsector contributed the most to the decline.

Sales in Quebec decreased 1.0% to $9.7 billion, the fourth decrease in five months. The machinery, equipment and supplies subsector was one of several that contributed to the decline.

In Saskatchewan, sales rose for the sixth time in seven months, up 7.3% to $2.5 billion, the highest level on record, on the strength of gains in the miscellaneous subsector.

Inventories increase in February

Inventories rose 0.6% to $70.7 billion in February, a 14th consecutive monthly increase. Gains were recorded in five of seven subsectors, representing 68% of wholesale inventories.

The personal and household goods subsector (+1.9%) recorded a third consecutive monthly increase as well as the largest gain in dollar terms.

Inventories in the miscellaneous subsector (+1.0%) rose for the 12th time in 13 months, while inventories in the machinery, equipment and supplies subsector (+0.3%) rose for the 12th time in 14 months.

The inventory-to-sales ratio rose from 1.31 in January to 1.32 in February. 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.

Note to readers

All data in this release are seasonally adjusted and in current dollars, unless otherwise noted. For more information on seasonal adjustment, see Seasonally adjusted data – Frequently asked questions.

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.

The Monthly Wholesale Trade Survey covers all industries within the wholesale sector as defined by the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS), with the exception of oilseed and grain merchant wholesalers (NAICS 41112), petroleum and petroleum products merchant wholesalers (NAICS 412) and business-to-business electronic markets, and agents and brokers (NAICS 419).

Chart 3
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