Switzerland officially entered a recession in the first quarter when its economy shrank by 0.8% compared to the previous three months, government data show today.

The country's gross domestic product (GDP) had shrunk by 0.3% in the last quarter of 2008, according to the data from the economy ministry. A recession is defined as two quarters of GDP contraction in a row.

The economy ministry also revised its gross domestic product (GDP) figure for the last three months of 2008, saying that the economy had shrunk by 0.6% instead of 0.3%.

On a 12-month comparison, Swiss GDP fell even more sharply, down 2.4% in the first quarter compared with the same period in 2008.

The contraction was caused mainly by weakness in exports, which fell 5.4% in the quarter. The Swiss federal customs office had said in March that Switzerland's trade surplus was cut by more than 27% in the first quarter owing in part to a boom in imports of gold ornaments from Asia which are being melted down and made into bullion.

Meanwhile, the Swiss watch industry had been reporting double-digit declines in watch exports for the past four months.