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OTTAWA, March 3 (Reuters) - The Canadian economy grew at a faster pace than expected in the final quarter of last year as consumer spending and a build up in inventories offset a decline in exports, data from Statistics Canada showed on Tuesday.
Still, the 2.4 percent annualized rate for gross domestic product (GDP) in the fourth quarter marked a step down from an upwardly revised 3.2 percent in the third quarter. The fourth quarter surpassed economists' forecasts for 2 percent.
The figures came a day before an interest rate decision from the Bank of Canada. The central bank is expected to follow January's surprise rate cut by holding rates steady at 0.75 percent.
Household spending has been a pillar of the Canadian economy coming out of the global financial crisis and it continued to boost the quarter with final consumption expenditure rising 2.0 percent on an annualized basis.
Exports of goods fell 2.5 percent on an annualized basis. Exports of crude oil and bitumen products fell 6.5 percent, while exports of refined petroleum products slumped 36.3 percent against the backdrop of the sharp decline in crude prices.
Business investment fell 0.4 percent, with firms spending less on plants and equipment. Still, businesses added C$7.4 billion ($5.92 billion) to their inventories.
For December, real GDP rose 0.3 percent, topping forecasts for 0.2 percent as manufacturing picked up. For the year overall, GDP rose 2.5 percent, accelerating from 2013's 2 percent. ($1 = 1.2501 Canadian dollars) (Reporting by Leah Schnurr Editing by W Simon)