Wholesale sales edged up 0.2% to $56.9 billion in November, a second consecutive increase.
Higher sales in four subsectors were partially offset by lower sales in two subsectors. The motor vehicle and parts subsector posted the largest decline, while the miscellaneous subsector, which includes wholesalers of agricultural supplies, chemicals and allied products, and paper, paper product and disposable plastic products, posted the largest increase.
In volume terms, wholesale sales edged down 0.1%.
Sales up in four subsectors
Sales rose in four of the seven subsectors in November, accounting for 48% of total wholesale sales.
The miscellaneous subsector reported the largest gain in dollar terms, up 7.2% to $7.4 billion following two consecutive declines. Sales were up in four of the five industries, led by the agricultural supplies industry, up 17.0% in November following an 11.6% decline in October.
Sales rose in the building material and supplies subsector for a second consecutive month, up 3.8% to $7.9 billion. The lumber, millwork, hardware and other building supplies industry contributed the most to the increase, with sales up 4.5% to a record $4.1 billion in November. Exports of forestry products and building and packaging materials were up in November.
In the machinery, equipment and supplies subsector, sales increased 0.4% to $11.3 billion. Gains in three industries, led by the construction, forestry, mining, and industrial machinery, equipment and supplies industry (+3.6%), offset the decline in the computer and communications equipment and supplies industry (-3.5%).
The farm product subsector rose 6.1% to $652 million, the second consecutive monthly increase following four months of decline. Despite the gain in November, year-to-date sales for this subsector were 11.9% lower compared with the same period in 2015.
Sales in the motor vehicle and parts subsector declined 5.8% to $10.5 billion, the second decrease in eight months. The motor vehicle industry (-6.0%) accounted for most of the decrease in the subsector and reached its lowest level since April 2016. There were lower imports and exports of motor vehicles and parts in November and motor vehicle manufacturing sales declined for a second consecutive month.
In the personal and household goods subsector, sales were down 1.6% to $8.2 billion, the first decrease in four months. The home entertainment equipment and household appliance industry (-7.9%) and the pharmaceuticals and pharmacy supplies industry (-1.5%) contributed the most to the decline.
Sales up in six provinces
Wholesale sales rose in six provinces in November, led by Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador.
Sales in Saskatchewan increased for the first time in three months, up 13.9% to $2.1 billion, led by higher sales in the agricultural supplies industry. Sales were also up in the machinery, equipment and supplies subsector and the farm product subsector.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, sales increased 40.9% to a record $537 million, led by higher sales in the miscellaneous subsector. Sales were up in five of the seven subsectors in November.
Sales in British Columbia increased for a second consecutive month, up 1.2% to a record $5.8 billion in November. Gains were recorded in three subsectors, led by the building material and supplies subsector.
Sales rose in both Manitoba (+4.6%) and Alberta (+0.8%) in November, led by gains in the miscellaneous subsector. It was the first gain in three months in Manitoba and the second consecutive increase in Alberta.
In New Brunswick, sales increased for the first time in three months, up 4.1% to $559 million in November, led by the food, beverage and tobacco subsector.
In dollar terms, Ontario recorded the largest decrease in November, with sales down 1.5% to $28.9 billion. This was the second decline in three months and the largest monthly dollar decline in Ontario since January 2015. Sales were down in three subsectors in November, led by the motor vehicle and parts subsector.
Sales in Quebec decreased for the third time in four months, down 0.8% to $10.4 billion in November. Sales decreased in four subsectors, with the food, beverage and tobacco subsector contributing the most to the decline. Despite the recent declines, sales in Quebec are up 0.3% year-to-date.
Wholesale sales decreased in Nova Scotia (-1.2%) and Prince Edward Island (-6.4%) in November. Sales were down in Nova Scotia for the second time in three months, while Prince Edward Island posted a third consecutive monthly decline.
Inventories edge up
Wholesale inventories edged up 0.2% to $73.3 billion in November, a fourth consecutive advance. Inventories were up in five of the seven subsectors, which together accounted for 65% of total inventories.
In dollar terms, the food, beverage and tobacco subsector (+2.8%) recorded the largest gain, followed by the motor vehicle and parts subsector (+1.4%). Inventories in both subsectors reached their highest level on record in November.
The machinery, equipment and supplies subsector (+0.5%) reported higher inventories for the fourth consecutive month, while the miscellaneous subsector (+0.7%) posted its second gain in nine months.
Inventories in the personal and household goods subsector declined 1.9% in November, which more than offset the gain in October.
The building material and supplies subsector (-0.7%) reported lower inventories for the first time in four months.
The inventory-to-sales ratio was unchanged at 1.29 in November. This ratio is a measure of the time in months required to exhaust inventories if sales were to remain at their current level.
The evolution of wholesale sales in Canada
As 2017 marks the 150th anniversary of Confederation, we take a look back at an aspect of the history of wholesale sales in Canada.
The machinery, equipment and supplies subsector was the top contributor to wholesale sales in 2016, accounting for 20% of total sales, followed by the motor vehicle and parts (19%) and the food, beverage and tobacco (19%) subsectors.
However, in 1930, the top contributor to wholesale trade was the food subsector (groceries and food specialties combined with other food and tobacco) with 52% of total wholesales sales.
The other two main contributors in 2016 were much less prominent in 1930, with the machinery, equipment and supplies subsector accounting for 6% of total wholesale sales and the automotive subsector 3%.
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