Lending to euro zone households and firms rose for the first time in three years in March, European Central Bank data showed today, turning the corner less than two months after the bank launched a massive money-printing programme. 

Loans to the private sector rose by 0.1% on the year after a drop of 0.1% in February, the ECB said.

A Reuters poll had pointed to lending staying flat at 0%. The last rise was in March 2012. 

Sparse lending to companies has dogged the struggling euro zone economy although the picture has been improving and policy setters including ECB President Mario Draghi believe that the bloc is recovering. 

The improvement is due partly to the over €1 trillion plus stimulus scheme to buy chiefly government bonds, which has propped up confidence despite a political impasse with cash-strapped Greece. 

Analysts said that improved credit conditions were"also coming through a compression of margins on risky loans, which suggested the pick-up in lending was broad-based across the currency bloc. 

The M3 money supply measure grew by 4.6% in March, the ECB said.