MILAN, April 15 Italian bank lending fell further in March, but at the slowest pace since August 2012, industry association ABI said on Tuesday, pointing to an easing in the credit shortage that is seen holding back the country's economic recovery.
Loans to families and non-financial companies fell 1.9 percent last month, compared with a 2.6 percent annual drop in February.
It was the 23rd consecutive monthly fall, but the pace of contraction has been slowing down since the end of last year.
"We are seeing the first tentative signs of a turnaround for Italian banks," Gianfranco Torriero, head of research at ABI, told journalists during a conference call.
Gross non-peforming loans (NPLs) continued to rise but ABI said that sales of bad debt had helped lower the stock of net NPLs to 78.2 billion euros in February, from 79.2 billion euros in January.
Gross non-performing loans topped 162 billion euros ($224 billion) in February from 160.4 billion euros in January, ABI said, in line with data published earlier this month by the Bank of Italy.
($1 = 0.7238 Euros) (Reporting by Francesca Landini and Stefano Bernabei, editing by Valentina Za)