The U.S. Department of Commerce today released its monthly report [opens in PDF] on manufacturing and trade inventories and sales for December 2012.

The value of all distributive trade sales and manufacturers' shipments in the last month of the year came in 0.3% higher than in November. The $1,274.1 billion figure was a healthy 3.6% higher than it was in December of the prior year.

Also reported were businesses' inventory levels, which, despite rising 5.1% year-over-year and edging up 0.1% from November, didn't significantly alter the important inventories/sales ratio. The ratio of inventories to sales was only slightly higher than it was a year ago, rising from 1.26 to 1.27. Very high inventories on hand may indicate an inability to get products off the shelves, as seen during the woes of the financial crisis when inventories outnumbered sales by nearly a 1.5-to-1 ratio.

These most recent numbers are preliminary and still subject to revision, which would be noted in the next monthly release a month from today on March 13.