FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Lending growth to euro zone companies and households picked up last month, suggesting the bloc's slow but steady economic recovery remains on track and easing pressure on the European Central Bank to boost monetary stimulus further.
Pressure has been mounting on the ECB to provide further stimulus as Britain's decision to leave the European Union is expected to dent growth, but solid economic data since the referendum has supported the bank's cautious approach.
Better than expected PMI data this week, an only minor drop in consumer confidence, and supportive data from the bloc's periphery indicate any near-term hit from Brexit will be small.
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Lending growth to households and companies both picked up to 1.7 percent in June from 1.6 percent in May, with figures also benefiting from a broad upward revision of historical corporate lending numbers on a revised methodology.
"The next big test will be the bank stress tests, followed by the unfolding implications of Brexit," JP Morgan economist Greg Fuzesi said. "However, it is certainly encouraging that the incoming data on bank lending remain robust."
In conjunction with the ECB, the European Banking Authority will publish bank stress test data on Friday, giving investors a snapshot of the health of the sector that transmits the bulk of the Bank's policy measures to the real economy.
Hoping to revive borrowing and spending, the ECB has been easing policy for years, cutting rates deep into negative territory, offering ultra cheap loans and buying assets worth 80 billion euros per month.
The cheap cash has been slowly making its way into the real economy, increasing borrowing and investment. But it has yet to revive consumer price growth, the ECB's ultimate goal, with inflation hovering either side of zero for over a year, well short of the bank's target of close to but below 2 percent.
But the ECB has kept a steady policy course since March, when it cut interest rates and expanded its asset-purchase program.
It said earlier this month it would need more data before reviewing policy, with some policymakers arguing for such an assessment only in the fourth quarter.
The annual growth rate of the M3 measure of money circulating in the euro zone, often an indicator of future economic activity, picked up as expected to 5.0 percent in June from 4.9 percent in May.
Growth in M3, which includes deposits with longer maturities, holdings in money market funds and some debt securities, peaked at 5.4 percent in April 2015.
(Reporting by Balazs Koranyi, editing by Larry King and John Stonestreet)