Eurozone households borrow more in January

[FRANKFURT] Growth in borrowing by households picked up in the eurozone in January, data released Monday by the European Central Bank showed, while growth in businesses' appetite for credit remained steady.

The rate of loan growth to firms and consumers is a closely-watched indicator for the economic outlook.

Overall, lending to the private sector grew by 2.2 per cent year-on-year in the 19-nation single currency area, after already growing by the same rate in December.

Correcting for some purely financial transactions, January's figure stood at 2.4 per cent - an increase of 0.1 percentage points over the previous month.

Still, in adjusted terms, household borrowing grew 2.2 per cent in January - 0.2 points faster than in December - while growth in credit to businesses held steady at 2.3 per cent.

The figures meant "a largely pleasing set of news for the ECB," IHS Markit economist Howard Archer commented, representing "evidence that its monetary policy is providing valuable support to eurozone growth".

Loan growth to businesses remained at a seven-year high in January, while growth in credit to households hit its highest level since May 2011, he noted.

The ECB has set interest rates at historic lows, offered cheap loans to banks who lend to businesses and households, and buys tens of billions in corporate and government bonds each month.

Such moves are aimed at stimulating economic growth in the euro area, pushing inflation towards the central bank's target of just below 2 per cent.

Inflation in the single currency zone leapt to 1.8 per cent in January, its second jump in as many months after a rise of 0.5 percentage points to 1.1 per cent in December.

But ECB policymakers argue that the sudden spike is largely down to changing energy prices, and that price growth will likely fall back in the coming months - meaning their monetary stimulus is still needed.

The bank also said Monday that the eurozone's overall money supply, known as M3, increased 4.9 per cent in January, slightly lower than December's 5-per cent reading.

The ECB regards M3 as a barometer for future inflation.

For the European economy, "much will depend on the demand for loans from businesses and households" as time goes on, Mr Archer said.

Strong consumer confidence and business confidence readings for January despite uncertainty over elections in Europe and United States trade and economic policy under President Donald Trump suggest that demand will continue to grow, he noted.


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