Unprecedented flooding and storms that hit key exports such as coal and iron ore caused Australia’s economy to shrink by 1.2 percent in the first quarter of this year compared to the last quarter of 2010, government data showed on Wednesday.

It was the largest quarterly contraction in GDP since 1991, when Australia experienced its last recession. It is also the first time that GDP has fallen since the last quarter of 2008, at the height of the global financial crisis.

Treasurer Wayne Swan said he was not surprised by data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics that showed flooding and cyclones had slowed annual growth to 1 percent through March 2011. That was down from 2.7 percent in calendar year 2010.

Lost production totalled AU$12 billion with AU$6.7 billion of that in the March quarter alone.

Mr/ Swan predicted a “strong rebound” in the quarter ending in June, due to the underlying strength of the economy.

A cyclone in Western Australia state in February disrupted iron ore shipments while another cyclone and flooding in eastern Australia last November disrupted production at a majority of coal mines while damaging railway lines and ports.

While Australia was the only wealthy country to avoid recession during the global economic crisis, the data point to a weak spot in an economy heavily reliant on Chinese hunger for raw materials. China and other emerging Asian economies are major importers of coal, Australia’s biggest export.

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