Bank lending to euro zone companies slowed for the fourth straight month as an economic downturn and increased caution from lenders appear to be taking their toll, European Central Bank data showed on Monday.

Lending to businesses in the 20 nation currency bloc expanded by 5.7% in February after a 6.1% rise a month earlier while household credit growth slowed to 3.2% from 3.6%.

Lending has slowed sharply in recent months on an economic downturn and the fastest rate hikes by the ECB on record, with surveys pointing to even weaker lending figures in the months ahead.

The monthly flow of loans to companies was a negative 2.6 billion euros after a mere 1.4 billion euro expansion a month earlier.

Growth in the M3 measure of money circulating in the euro zone meanwhile slowed to 2.9% from 3.5%, coming below expectations for 3.2% in a Reuters survey. (Reporting by Balazs Koranyi Editing by Francesco Canepa)