MetroPCS Grows As Economy Shrinks

metroPrepaid mobile phone provider MetroPCS (s PCS) today reported profits of $14.6 million for the fourth quarter on sales of $723.6 million. The carrier didn’t meet Wall Street earnings expectations after writing down more than $90 million in auction rate securities, but it has added a significant number of new subscribers thanks to its expansion into new markets and the economic turmoil driving folks to consider pre-paid phone plans.

MetroPCS added 519,519 new subscribers in the fourth quarter — its best quarter ever for subscriber additions. New subscribers during the last three months of the year comprised 37 percent of its 1.4 million net adds for the year. During the fourth quarter, 73 percent of new subscribers were from new markets. On an annual basis, 12 percent of Metro PCS growth came from its core markets and 83 percent from expansion markets.

It also plans to continue its growth into new markets (most recently launched were New York and Boston), although it said it would reduce capital expenditures for 2009 to $700-900 million, compared with spending of $1.2 billion last year.

The economy may be working its favor, but the two smaller U.S. carriers, T-Mobile and Sprint (s S) are ratcheting up the pressure with Sprint’s $50 unlimited data and talk plan through its Boost Mobile subsidiary and T-Mobile’s $50-a-month retention plan.