Spanish, Italian banks buy govt bonds in March - ECB

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Spanish and Italian banks stocked up on government debt in March, European Central Bank data showed on Friday, as investors took heart from the ECB's pledge to protect the single currency.

The ECB data do not break down which countries' debt banks hold, but with a recent easing of market pressure on the governments struggling most with high debt, foreign and local investors are returning to euro zone bond markets.

Spanish banks added 15.8 billion euros to their government bond holdings after a 7.6 billion increase in February. Their total sovereign holdings, adjusted by market value, rose to 288.0 billion euros.

Italian banks bought a net 10.8 billion euros of government bonds, with their total value rising to 389.5 billion euros.

(Reporting by Sakari Suoninen and Tom Atkins; editing by Patrick Graham)