The euro zone's balance of payments posted a deficit of €42.4 billion in the first quarter of 2009.

The figures from the European Central Bank show that the euro zone economy shrank at the fastest pace ever.

The biggest deficits by the 16-nation zone were with China, Russia, Japan and the US, while large surpluses were posted with Britain and new European Union member states.

The euro zone economy shrank by 2.5% in the first three months of 2009, the biggest fall since records began in 1995, according to the Eurostat agency.

However, the ECB reported a new inflow of €141 billion, as more money was ploughed into euro zone assets than was invested abroad by euro zone companies and institutions.

The balance of payments is an overall measure of all current payments into and out of a country or region, and is a closely watched indicator of the ability of the area concerned to pay its way in the world.

It is important for the long-term confidence of investors and trading partners.