Total new lending to small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) here fell to its lowest level since 2016 during the first three months of this year, according to new data from the Central Bank.

While gross new lending to SMEs in core sectors excluding finance and property totaled €781m between January and March, the lowest level since the Central Bank began recording the data.

But despite the reduction in new lending in recent months, over the past year new lending to core SMEs reached €3.6 billion, a year-on-year increase of 4.2%.

The amount of new loans to all SMEs during the first three months of the year stood at €1.1bn.

Overall, gross new lending in the year to the end of March, was €5.4 billion, up €225 million or 4.4% compared to the four quarters to end of March of last year.

The period in question was the first quarter during which the impact of Covid-19 was felt on the economy here.

The Central Bank says it expects the impact on lending and deposits will be greater during the current quarter because of the strict restrictions that have been in place.

Interest rates on outstanding loans rose slightly during the three months, by 1 basis point to 3.6%, while the cost of new loans rose by 17 basis points over the quarter to stand at 4.05% at the end of March.

On the savings side, Irish businesses put aside an additional €2bn in savings during the quarter.

But the savings habit during the early phases of the Covid-19 crisis here was not universal, with firms in the financial intermediation sector responsible for the bulk of the increase.

Companies involved in sectors such as business and administration as well as information and communications also contributed to the growth.

However, the deposits of manufacturing and primary industries actually fell during the quarter.

In total, at the end of March, total deposits for private sector organisations stood at €120.6bn.