Euro zone corporate lending staged a small bounce last month, European Central Bank data showed, suggesting the bloc’s modest recovery continued, but doing little to reduce pressure on the ECB to ease policy again next month.
Small signs of improvement in lending were unlikely to keep the ECB from acting on March 10 as euro zone inflation expectations lingered at their lowest level on record and global growth slowed, particularly in emerging economies such as China.
Lending growth to non-financial corporations picked up to 0.6 percent in January from 0.1 percent a month earlier, extending a modest and uneven recovery that started in 2014. Household lending growth held steady at 1.4 percent.
The ECB is buying 60 billion euros worth of assets a month, hoping to kick-start lending to drive up inflation and is expected to cut its deposit rate again at its next meeting.
But inflation is slowing and will likely dip into negative territory in the coming months, having missed the ECB’s target of close to 2 percent for three straight years.
“The numbers are not so bad,” Matthias Thiel, an economist at private bank M.M.Warburg & CO in Hamburg, said.
“But to me, what’s more important is that inflation is too low and economic risks are increasing. These are the factors that will weigh on the ECB’s decision next month.”
The annual growth rate of the M3 measure of money circulating in the euro zone, which is often an indicator of future economic activity, accelerated to 5.0 percent from 4.7 percent, beating expectations for an unchanged reading.
Growth in M3, which includes items such as deposits with a longer maturity, holdings in money market funds and some debt securities, peaked at 5.4 percent in April and has been more or less flat-lining since.
The ECB is expected to cut its inflation estimates at its March meeting and unveil a package of measures including a cut to its already negative deposit rate and tweaks to its asset-buying programme.
One of the ECB’s favourite measures of longer-term inflation expectations in the euro zone, the five-year, five-year euro zone breakeven forward, was at its lowest level on record on Thursday at 1.3983 percent.