New Central Statistics Office figures show that the balance of payments current account was €1.045 billion in deficit in the first quarter of 2012.

This compares with a deficit of €1.918 billion the same time last year.

The figures show that total service exports rose by €2.1 billion to €21.105 billion between the first quarter of 2011 and the first quarter of 2012.

This was mainly due to computer services, which rose by €1.4 billion and business services which grew by €0.5 billion.

Total services imports rose by €690m to €21.046 billion due mainly to an increase for royalties and licences, the CSO said.

Today's figures also show that the direct investment income abroad of Irish resident businesses rose by €1.2 billion while the corresponding income outflows of foreign owned businesses in Ireland increased by €1.5 billion between the first quarter of last year and the first quarter of this year.

The CSO said that direct investment in Ireland increased by €13 billion, while direct investment abroad grew by €4.9 billion.

In separate figures, the CSO said that the economy shrank by 1.1% in the first three months of the year compared to the final quarter of 2011.

The Quarterly National Accounts, which were accidentally leaked by the Central Statistics Office yesterday, showed that a drop in net exports and in personal consumption were the main reasons for the fall. Government spending and capital investment were up on a seasonally adjusted basis.

The figures also mean the economic performance for last year is better than had been thought earlier.

The CSO revised upward its growth estimate for the fourth quarter of 2011 to 0.7% of GDP, compared to a previous figure of -0.2%. As a result, the full year growth figure for 2011 was stronger than previously thought at 1.4%, compared with a previous estimate of 0.7%.

The figures showed a big drop in output in the distribution, transport software and communications sector, which decreased 9.7% between the first quarter of 2011 and the corresponding period this year. Agriculture, fishing and forestry fell 0.7% over the same period, while public administration fell 2.3%. Industry grew by 2.2% and services grew by 1.5% compared with a year earlier.

Personal spending fell by 2.2%, while government spending fell by 3.3%. Capital investment increased by 8% compared with the first quarter of 2011, and there was a large increase in net exports (exports minus imports) of €1.99 billion.

The figures from the CSO are keenly watched by investors as a gauge of the health of the Irish economy. The accidental leak comes on the same week at the Troika is conducting its review of Ireland's bailout programme.

CSO says downturn not as severe as previously estimated

Today’s release also incorporates significant revisions to estimates of national income extending back several years. The CSO now estimates that the downturn was not as severe as previously estimated.

The estimated contraction in GDP in 2009 - the most intense year of recession - is now put at 5.5% from 7% previously. Similarly, GNP contraction in the same year is now estimated at 8.1% from 9.8% previously.

Ulster Bank's chief economist Simon Barry said that taking all the revisions on board, the cumulative contraction in the economy’s output over the downturn is now estimated at 10.8% in real GDP terms (was 12.5%), and 14.6% in real GNP terms (was 17.3%).

''An outcome such as this whereby statisticians revise their historical estimates of economic aggregates such as GDP doesn’t alter the true-life - in this case extremely painful - experience of many households and businesses over these years of course,'' the economist said.

''But the updated figures should provide a more accurate picture of how the economy has fared, as they incorporate information from a number of sources (including more detailed tax return data from the Revenue Commissioners, and the recent results of the latest Household Budget Survey) that were not previously available'', he added.