U.S. business inventories rose a stronger-than-expected 0.4 percent in January as stocks of autos and building materials grew, a Commerce Department report showed on Tuesday.

Wall Street analysts polled by Reuters had forecast a 0.3 percent rise in inventories at retailers, wholesalers and manufacturers after an upwardly revised 0.8 percent gain in December.

Business sales rose at a faster pace than inventories, increasing 1.3 percent, down slightly from the upwardly revised 1.4 percent growth in December. This pushed the inventories-to-sales ratio, a measure of how long it would take to deplete stocks at the current sales pace, down to 1.24 months, a record low, from 1.25 months in December.

At a more detailed level within the report, retail inventories rose 0.5 percent in January, while retail sales rose 2.9 percent.

Motor vehicle and parts inventories rose 0.6 percent after an upwardly revised 1.1 percent increase in December. Automotive sales, however, jumped 4.2 percent, pushing the sector's inventories-to-sales ratio down to 1.96 months from 2.03 months in December.

Building material and supply stores reported 1.0 percent growth in January inventories.

Manufacturers' inventories rose 0.5 percent, while their sales rose 0.3 percent. Wholesalers' inventories rose 0.1 percent, while their sales rose 1.0 percent