WASHINGTON (AP) - U.S. businesses boosted their stockpiles by a small amount in January while sales fell for a fourth month.

WASHINGTON (AP) U.S. businesses boosted their stockpiles by a small amount in January while sales fell for a fourth month.

The Commerce Department says inventories held by businesses increased 0.1 percent in January after being unchanged in December. Business sales were down 0.4 percent in January after a 0.7 percent drop in December. Sales were also down in November and October and were flat in September.

American manufacturers have struggled with falling export sales in recent months, reflecting economic weakness overseas and a stronger dollar, which makes American products less competitive on overseas markets.

Economists say that solid gains in employment will bolster consumer sales in coming months, helping to offset the weakness from falling exports and sharp cutbacks at energy companies in response to a plunge in energy prices.