BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese banks extended 1.02 trillion yuan ($162.9 billion) of new loans in February, well above market expectations, while growth in broad money supply quickened, taking some heat off the central bank as it seeks to boost flagging economic growth.
Economists polled by Reuters had expected new local-currency loans to fall to 750 billion yuan in February from 1.47 trillion yuan in January, which marked a lending surge not seen since mid-2009.
Chinese banks, which face limits on how much they can lend annually, tend to front-load their lending in the beginning of each year in a bid to protect their market share.
Total social financing, a broader measure of overall liquidity in the economy, fell to 1.35 trillion yuan in February, versus 2.05 trillion yuan in January.
Broad M2 money supply (M2) in February rose 12.5 percent from a year ago, the central bank said on Thursday, beating expectations of 11 percent and quickening from January's 10.8 percent, which was the weakest since records started in 1998.
Outstanding loan growth was 14.3 percent in February. Analysts polled by Reuters had expected 13.8 percent, versus the previous month's 13.9 percent.
Other data released so far for early 2015 show China's economy may already be at risk of missing the government's annual growth target of around 7 percent, which itself would mark a quarter-century low.
Growth in investment, retail sales and factory output all missed forecasts in January and February and fell to multi-year lows, leaving investors with little doubt that the economy is still losing steam and in need of further support measures.
Exports picked up in the first two months but imports slid some 20 percent, pointing to persistent weakness in the economy, while deflationary pressures in the factory sector have intensified.
But analysts have cautioned about reading too much into economic indicators for January and February alone, given seasonal distortions caused by the timing of the long Lunar New Year holidays. The new year fell on Feb. 19 this year, whereas in 2014 it occurred on Jan. 31.
The central bank aims for 12 percent M2 growth in 2015.
The central bank has cut interest rates twice since November, on top of a cut in bank reserve requirements in February, amid concerns about growing deflationary risks. Economists believe it has embarked on its more aggressive easing campaign since the global financial crisis.
Reporting by Kevin Yao and Judy Hua; Editing by Kim Coghill