Inventory number outpaces forecast

NEW YORK -- Inventories held by wholesalers rose by a larger-than-expected amount in February while sales increased for the 11th consecutive month.

The Commerce Department said Friday that inventories at the wholesale level were up 0.6 percent in February, better than the 0.4 percent increase analysts had expected. Sales rose 0.8 percent, surpassing the 0.5 percent rise economists had forecast.

The gains were an encouraging sign that stronger demand is prompting businesses to restock depleted shelves, a development that will help sustain the economic recovery.

Alcohol sales still off, marketer says

ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- Constellation Brands, which markets Mondavi wine, Svedka vodka and Corona beer, offered a lackluster outlook for its alcoholic drinks Friday as U.S. sales of wine and imported beers remained sluggish in bars and restaurants through the holiday season.

The world's biggest wine company by volume, with brands such as Clos Du Bois, said its fiscal fourth-quarter loss from December through February narrowed to $51 million on sliding sales on spirits and beer and lingering weakness in the key North American market.

North Face settles parody line lawsuit

ST. LOUIS -- The North Face Apparel Corp. has settled its lawsuit against The South Butt, a company started by a Missouri teenager that markets parody clothing. Friday's agreement didn't disclose terms.

The South Butt was started two years ago by Jimmy Winkelmann. It put out products with the tag line, "Never Stop Relaxing," a parody of The North Face line, "Never Stop Exploring." The North Face sued to stop the company from making, marketing and selling its clothes.

Coke to up stake in U.K. beverage firm

NEW YORK -- Coca-Cola said Friday that it will increase its stake of Innocent Drinks to take a majority ownership of the British fruit and smoothie drinks maker, but Innocent will retain control of the business.

The increased stake announced Friday by the world's largest drink maker comes a year after Coca-Cola bought an 18 percent stake for 30 million pounds, or about $44 million. Coca-Cola spokeswoman Kerry Kerr said Coca-Cola will buy an additional 40 percent, giving it 58 percent ownership. Terms have not been disclosed.

Coca-Cola and other major drink makers have been trying to add more healthy drinks to their lineups as shoppers seek out juices and teas rather than soft drinks.

Calif. court picked for Toyota lawsuits

MIAMI -- A panel of federal judges Friday chose Southern California federal court as the location to consolidate dozens of lawsuits filed in the aftermath of Toyota's recall of millions of vehicles over acceleration problems.

The decision centralizes more than 200 lawsuits against Toyota around the country before U.S. District Judge James V. Selna, a 2003 appointee of former President George W. Bush. Selna, 65, whose court is near Los Angeles, will hear pretrial motions, leading to trial, settlement or dismissal of the lawsuits.