(Adds central bank lending growth estimates)
BRASILIA, March 25 (Reuters) - Bank lending in Brazil rose slightly in February while credit defaults were stable, the central bank said on Wednesday.
Commercial lending expanded 0.5 percent in the month, while revised figures showed a drop of 0.16 percent in January from December.
Loans in arrears for 90 days or more, the benchmark gauge for delinquencies in the nation’s banking system, were 4.4 percent of outstanding loans in February. In January, loan defaults were also 4.4 percent.
The sharp depreciation of Brazil’s currency, the real , explains the slight increase in commercial lending, with a rise in loans to corporate exporters, the central bank said.
The central bank estimates overall lending will expand 11 percent in 2015, down from its previous forecast of 12 percent. Private-sector banks are expected to increase lending by 7 percent, compared with the 9 percent the central bank forecast previously.
Lending by state-run banks will likely grow 14 percent in 2015, the bank said.
The average cost of credit continued to climb due to increased caution by commercial banks, which are worried about dwindling economic activity and rising central bank interest rates.
A contracting economy is pushing private-sector banks to boost already high levels of credit-loss provisions to deal with rising corporate defaults.
The economic downturn and an investigation into a multibillion-dollar corruption scheme at state oil company Petrobras is tightening credit in Latin America’s biggest economy.
Spreads, or the difference between the rate that banks charge on a loan and the cost of their funding, widened to 28.3 percentage points from 27.2 percent percentage points, the report showed. (Reporting by Luciana Otoni; Writing by Alonso Soto; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Peter Galloway)