U.S. wholesale inventories unexpectedly fell in January, while sales rose much faster than expected to their highest level since October 2008, a government report showed on Wednesday.

The rise in sales pushed the inventory-to-sales ratio, a measure of how long it would take to sell stocks at the current sales pace, to a record low of 1.10 months' worth from December's 1.12 months, the Commerce Department said. The ratio has trended lower for three straight months.

Total wholesale inventories slipped 0.2 percent, smaller than the revised 1.0 percent drop in December, which was previously reported as a 0.8 percent fall.

Economists polled by Reuters had expected stocks of unsold goods at U.S. wholesalers to rise 0.2 percent in January.

A sharp slowdown in the pace at which businesses are liquidating inventories contributed to the U.S. economy recording its fastest growth rate in more than six years in the fourth-quarter.

The rebuilding of inventories is expected to lend support to growth in the first quarter of 2010. The economy resumed growth, with an additional boost from government stimulus, in the second half of last year following the worst downturn since the 1930s.

Sales at wholesalers rose 1.3 percent, the 10th straight increase, to $346.7 billion in January, after rising by a revised 1.2 percent the previous month. December sales were previously reported as 0.8 percent higher. Analysts had expected sales at wholesalers to rise 0.7 percent in January.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Neil Stempleman)