Moody’s Analytics estimates that commercial and industrial lending in the fourth quarter grew 0.2% from the third quarter, to $1.22 trillion, the first quarterly increase in two years. Moody’s predicts such lending will rise 3% in 2011.

Until recently, a chronic lack of lending to businesses was seen by economists as one of the obstacles to healthy recovery. Commercial and industrial lending “is the last thing that turns in a business cycle,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics.

Coming off the dramatic lending drop after the financial crisis struck, recent increases in commercial lending reported by banks are modest. The amount of business loans outstanding remains well below historical levels. In addition, new activity varies significantly from bank to bank and industry to industry. Still, the uptick is notable, say banking analysts.

Wall Street Journal (12/30/10); Ruth Simon