The economy shrank 6.1 percent in the first quarter of 2009, a higher than expected decline mainly due to sharp cutbacks by businesses and the biggest drop in U.S. exports in 40 years.

The Commerce Department's report, released Wednesday, dashed hopes that the recession's grip on the country loosened in the first quarter.

Economists surveyed by Thomson Reuters expected a 5 percent annualized decline.

Instead, the economy ended up performing nearly as bad as it had in the final three months of 2008 when it plunged to its worst rate of 6.3 percent.

Businesses have cut spending on home building, commercial construction, equipment and software, and inventories of goods.

Sales of U.S. goods to foreign buyers have plummeted as foreign consumers face economic troubles in their respective countries.