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December, 4, 2016

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Eurozone loan growth creeps up in October

FRANKFURT AM MAIN -- Growth in borrowing by businesses and households in the eurozone picked up only slightly in October, the European Central Bank said Monday, firming up analysts' expectations it will extend monetary easing next week.

ECB policies are aimed at boosting growth and investment by pushing banks to lend to households and businesses in the real economy.

The bank insists its measures are working, but loan growth has failed to show the sharp uptick hoped for since its last batch of monetary policy moves in March.

October saw loans to businesses and households grow by 2.0 percent compared with the same month in 2015.

That was a slight pick-up in growth compared with September's 1.9 percent.

Correcting for some strictly financial transactions, loan growth hit 2.2 percent in October, also up slightly from September's 2.1 percent.

Looking at the results in detail, loans to households grew at 1.9 percent in October — slightly slower than in September — as growth in mortgage lending fell back slightly, while credit for consumption grew faster.

Meanwhile, growth in loans to non-financial corporations increased more sharply, hitting 1.7 percent compared with 1.4 percent the previous month.

The loan data adds to a "mixed picture" for the ECB in recent indicators, Howard Archer of IHS Global Insight wrote.

While inflation has begun to pick up in the 19-nation single currency zone, it remains well short of the ECB's target of just under 2.0 percent.

Growth also remained lackluster in the third quarter and could take a blow from global uncertainty following the election of Donald Trump to the White House.

Analysts predict the central bank could use its Dec. 8 meeting to extend unconventional monetary policy beyond existing deadlines.

"There is a compelling case to try and fuel the improvement given past hiccups," Archer argued.

In March, the ECB sank interest rates to new lows, upped its bond-buying program to 80 billion euros (US$85 billion) per month and offered a new round of low-interest loans to banks, in a bid to prime the financial system with cash.

The ECB is unlikely to further drop interest rates, Archer said, as they are already at historic lows that have prompted grumbling from eurozone banks over falling profits.

Instead, it may extend its bond-buying program past the current March 2017 cut-off point.

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