(Adds fourth-quarter reading)
PANAMA CITY, March 2 Panama's economy grew 2.4
percent in 2009 after expanding 3.5 percent in annual terms
during the fourth quarter, the government said on Tuesday.
Panama's economy weathered the global economic crisis
better than most other Latin American countries because of its
relatively strong financial sector and increased construction
"Panama had one of (Latin America's) most stable banking
sectors, which was relatively isolated from the crisis," said
independent Panamanian economist Horacio Estribi.
Increased activity in telecommunications and the ongoing
$5.25-billion expansion of the Panama Canal also propped up
growth, the government said.
However, traffic through the Panama Canal -- a major
economic driver -- fell in 2009, and overall economic expansion
was down sharply from 2008's 10.7 percent growth rate.
But at the same time, higher toll fees led the canal to
generate more revenue last year, which helped government
coffers and aided public spending.
The government expects growth this year of 5 percent.
(Reporting by Sean Mattson; Editing by Andrea Ricci)