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Ahead of the Bell: Business Inventories

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Businesses likely boosted their stockpiles in October but at a slower pace than in September.

Economics forecast that stockpiles grew 0.3 percent in October, according to a survey by FactSet. The Commerce Department will release the new report at 10 a.m. EST Thursday.

Faster restocking helped boost economic growth over the summer. Most economists expect inventory growth is slowing in the final months of the year. That's because businesses are nervous about looming tax increases that are set to take effect in January without a budget deal.

A report earlier this week showed that businesses at the wholesale level boosted inventories by 0.6 percent in October even though sales fell 1.2 percent, presenting a mixed sign for the economy.

More restocking leads to more factory production, which boosts economic growth. Faster restocking was a key reason the economy grew from July through September at an annual rate of 2.7 percent.

The worry is that slower sales could force companies to cut back on restocking in coming months. That could hold back growth in the October-December quarter.

Businesses and consumers may be cutting back on spending because they are worried about the "fiscal cliff." That's the name for steep tax increases and government spending cuts that will take effect next year unless Congress and the Obama administration strike a deal before then to avert them.

Consumer spending slowed slightly in the July-September quarter and may show only modest gains in the final three months of the year.

Companies did keep creating jobs last month. Employers added 146,000 jobs in November. That suggests businesses may not be too nervous about the fiscal cliff. And if a budget deal can be reached to avoid the cliff, most analysts expect hiring and economic growth could accelerate next year.

Officials at the Federal Reserve, trying to provide more support to bolster economic growth, said Wednesday that they plan to keep interest rates at ultra-low levels even after unemployment falls close to a normal level as long as inflation remains tame.

The Fed, wrapping up its final meeting of 2012, also announced that they would keep spending $85 billion each month to buy Treasury bonds and mortgage bonds in an effort to push long-term interest rates down as a way to boost growth and job creation.