WASHINGTON (AP) — Inventories held by wholesalers rose for a third consecutive month in March while sales increased by more than double the expected amount. Rising demand is making businesses more confident about the future, a key development needed to sustain the recovery.

The Commerce Department says wholesale inventories rose 0.4 percent in March, slightly lower than the 0.5 percent gain that had been expected. Sales shot up by 2.4 percent, more than double the 1.1 percent increase economists had forecast.

It marked the 12th straight month that sales have risen at the wholesale level, an encouraging sign for the economic rebound. The hope is that businesses will step up their ordering and restock depleted shelves, giving a boost to factories and prompting them to rehire laid-off workers.