MILAN, May 20 (Reuters) - Lending by Italian banks fell further in April, marking the 24th consecutive monthly drop, despite signs of a pickup for mortgage loans in the first quarter of the year, banking association ABI said on Tuesday.
Loans to families and non-financial companies fell 2.2 percent last month, compared with a 2.1 percent annual drop in March.
ABI said there were signs however that demand for loans by households was recovering, with new mortgage loans jumping 20 percent in the first three months of 2014 from a year earlier.
"That is a segment of the market that is recovering, while lending to businesses is still lagging behind," said ABI's central director for strategies and markets, Gianfranco Torriero.
Gross bad loans - which have become the number one problem for Italian lenders - continued to rise in March, totalling 164.6 billion euros from 162 billion euros a month earlier.
So-called sofferenze, or bad loans that are unlikely to ever be repaid, as a proportion of total loans stood at 8.6 percent, the highest level since November 1998.
However, the sale by Italian lenders of some bad debt portfolios prompted a fall in the stock of net non-performing loans to 75.7 billion euros in March, from 78.2 billion euros in February.
Net bad loans have been falling since December 2013 when they reached almost 80 billion euros.
Reporting by Silvia Aloisi and Francesca Landini