UPDATE 1-Panama economic growth slows to 8.4 pct in 2013
(Adds details on growth, background on infrastructure spending)
By Lomi Kriel
PANAMA CITY, March 20 (Reuters) - Panama's economy slowed in 2013 after two straight years of double-digit growth, but remained one of Latin America's fastest expanding economies thanks to heavy government infrastructure spending, official data showed on Thursday.
Panama's economic activity rose 8.4 percent last year compared to a downwardly revised 10.2 percent in 2012, the government statistics agency said, figures in line with what the finance ministry had projected for the year.
The easing in growth comes as investments in large-scale infrastructure projects, including the $5.25 billion expansion of the Panama Canal, draw to a close.
The Central American country escaped the worst of the global recession, expanding at an average rate of 8 percent over the past six years and notching double-digit growth in 2011 and 2012.
Much of Panama's growth is credited to the public infrastructure spending, including the construction of the trademark canal's third lane and Central America's first metro.
President Ricardo Martinelli, whose term ends in May, has also poured money into new roads and hospitals and cleaning of Panama Bay, boosting the construction industry's growth by 30 percent in 2013.
The spending has created a budget deficit of 2.7 percent of GDP, Finance Minister Frank De Lima said, which some analysts find worrying given the strong growth the country has had. Continuación...