FRANKFURT - Euro zone lending growth held steady last month while a broader indicator of money circulating in the economy surged, data showed on Monday, defying multiplying signs of gloom in the 19-member currency bloc.
With the area's three biggest economies - Germany, France and Italy - barely growing last quarter and sentiment indicators heading lower, banks were expected to tighten lending, putting a further brake on growth.
Yet figures published by the European Central Bank on Monday remained at or near their post-crisis highs, supporting the ECB's argument that bloc was experiencing a slowdown and not a downturn or the start of a recession.
Household lending held steady at post-crisis high of 3.3 percent while corporate lending expanded by 4.0 percent, not far from its post-crisis peak of 4.3 percent hit in September.
ECB President Mario Draghi warned last week that the growth dip could be bigger and longer than previously feared but stuck to his previous view that the slowdown was temporary and not the beginning of a recession.
Still, markets now see almost no chance of an interest rate increase this year and instead see more stimulus measures from the ECB, possibly fresh loans to the bank sector, in part to maintain ample liquidity and the flow of credit to the corporate sector.
Still, lending may slow in the months ahead after banks in a key ECB survey recently predicted a slowdown and tighter lending standards.
The annual growth rate of the M3 measure of money supply, which often foreshadows future activity, jumped to 4.1 percent from 3.7 percent in November, beating market expectations for 3.8 percent. It was the best M3 reading since last June.