FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Germany's credit toward the European Central Bank set a new record in December as money flowed into the euro zone's strongest economy for a sixth straight month, albeit at a slower pace, ECB data showed on Wednesday.


Germany's net claims on the ECB hit 754.2 billion euros ($813.7 billion) in the final month of 2016 according to the Target 2 data, which tracks cross-border payments in the euro zone.


The German inflows are testament to its strong exports but also reflect savers' preference for parking their money in what is perceived to be the euro zone's safe haven while banks in countries such as Italy are under pressure, and anti-euro sentiment is on the rise.


As these payments are not settled by national central banks, their total amount represents the money that each of them would have to pay or receive from the ECB if the currency club dissolved, as ECB President Mario Draghi recently said in a letter to two Italian lawmakers.


Italy, where euroskeptic voices are growing louder, has the largest debt with the ECB at 356.6 billion euros, despite a small decline in December after eight straight months of outflows.


The threat of defaults on cross-border debts has often been credited as one element keeping the euro zone together throughout the financial crisis.

The ECB has maintained its own huge bond buying-program, where many of the sellers are foreign investors with accounts in Germany, was largely responsible for the growing Target 2 imbalances.

But recent data from the Bank of Italy showed Italians had been shifting away from domestic government and bank bonds and are putting more and more of their savings into foreign assets.

(Reporting By Francesco Canepa; Editing by Toby Chopra)