Chinese banks cut back lending in February from January, official data showed, due to a tightening of liquidity and fewer working days last month because of the Lunar New Year holiday.
Domestic banks extended 620 billion yuan ($99.3 billion) worth of new loans in February, down from 1.07 trillion yuan in January, the central bank said in a statement on Sunday.
The figure was below market expectations for 700 billion yuan, according to a median forecast of 13 economists polled by Dow Jones Newswires.
Economists said the figure was distorted by the Lunar New Year which fell in February this year, and was also a sign of the central bank's efforts to restrain credit growth from January, when new yuan loans more than doubled from December.
"We believe this reflected a combination of Chinese New Year distortions and the PBOC's (People's Bank of China's) intention to tighten liquidity from a very loose level in January," Goldman Sachs said in a research note on Monday.
"The PBOC's view on the appropriate level of liquidity supply is probably better represented by the combined January and February data," the investment bank said, adding credit growth in March may rebound from February.
Lu Ting, a Hong Kong-based economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, said China's monetary policy stance may be shifting from relatively loose to "neutral".
"The current economic recovery may not be solid enough, and inflation is surely not a big threat now to force for an imminent tightening," he said in a research report on Sunday.
The government on Saturday announced a series of economic indicators for February, including slowing industrial production growth and retail sales increases, providing further signs that a budding recovery may be fragile.
But China's inflation hit a 10-month high of 3.2 percent in February, up from January's 2.0 percent, data also showed, as holiday season spending and rapid credit growth accelerated price rises.