China's bank lending and broader credit growth declined in February from the previous month, the central bank announced Thursday, though analysts said the figures remained robust amid ongoing monetary easing.
Domestic banks extended new loans of 1.02 trillion yuan ($163 billion), the People's Bank of China (PBoC) said in a statement, down from 1.47 trillion yuan in January.
January's figure had more than doubled from December, boosted by seasonal factors and monetary easing.
Despite the month-on-month decline, the lending figure "was stronger than most had anticipated", Julian Evans-Pritchard, China economist at Capital Economics, wrote in a note, adding it beat his firm's expectation of 700 billion yuan.
"The fall reflects the usual seasonal pattern -- lending typically surges in January when banks receive fresh loan quotas before falling back in the following months," he said.
China's gross domestic product (GDP) expanded 7.4 percent in 2014, the slowest pace in 24 years, and last week it cut its annual growth target to "approximately 7 percent".
The PBoC cut deposit and lending rates in November to facilitate credit expansion and boost the economy.
In February it also lowered the reserve requirement ratio (RRR), the amount of money banks must put aside as reserves, to encourage lending.
The PBoC followed up those moves with further easing, cutting deposit and lending rates again effective at the beginning of this month.
Zhou Xiaochuan, the central bank governor, provided no hint of further steps at a press conference on Thursday, describing monetary policy measures taken so far as "appropriate" and the overall stance as "stable".
The central bank also said Thursday that total social financing -- a broader measure of credit in the economy -- totalled 1.35 trillion yuan for February, down from the previous month's 2.05 trillion yuan.
The median forecast in a survey of economists by Bloomberg News was for a total of 1.0 trillion yuan.
"We see that further monetary policy easing is still highly needed in China, in order to counter the economic slowdown, head off the deflation risk and facilitate the undergoing de-leveraging process," ANZ economists Liu Li-Gang and Zhou Hao said in reaction to the figures.
They added that they expect the PBoC to further cut the deposit interest rate by another 0.25 percentage point this year and reduce the RRR again as early this month.