U.S. wholesale sales climbed at the sharpest rate in seven months during October and inventories kept rising strongly, according to a government report on Thursday that suggested optimism about a healthy holiday shopping season.

The Commerce Department said wholesale sales rose 2.2 percent to a seasonally adjusted $362.1 billion -- far ahead of Wall Street expectations - following a 0.5 percent September gain.

Inventories were up 1.9 percent in October to $427.1 billion after a 2.1 percent rise.

Economists surveyed by Reuters had predicted wholesale sales would rise modestly by 0.6 percent and that inventories would increase 0.9 percent.

The stronger -than-expected October inventory and sales data may imply that wholesalers were preparing for a strong sales season in the critical Thanksgiving-through-Christmas period when retail business typically picks up.

The inventory-to-sales ratio that measure how long it would take to deplete stocks at the current sales pace was unchanged at 1.18 months' worth in October.

(Reporting by Glenn Somerville, editing by W Simon )