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Costa Rica was the only Central American country to increase financial penetration in the past four years, according to a new report by ratings agency Fitch.
Between December 2007 and December 2010, Costa Rica reported a 3.5% increase in its loans to GDP ratio.
The five other main Central American countries have all shown a decrease during the period. Panama led the contraction with a drop of some 10% in the loans-GDP ratio.
Although Panama's loan portfolio grew 40% in 2007-10, the increase has not kept pace with the rapid expansion of the country's economy.
Costa Rica led the loan growth with a 55% cumulative loan book increase. Nicaragua's credit portfolio stagnated during the period, and El Salvador registered a 5% decline.
"Banks have strengthened their capitalization levels over the past few years," Fitch said. "El Salvador excelled at its capitalization, as did to a lesser extent Costa Rica and Guatemala. Although Panama is well capitalized, its solvency has not changed materially over the past four years."