LONDON (AP) -- Britain's economy contracted by a worse-than-expected 0.3 percent in the last three months of 2012, raising the possibility that it might fall back into recession for the third time since the global financial crisis.
The Office for National Statistics said Friday that there was no growth in the nation's big services industry while output of production industries fell by 1.8 percent, including a 1.5 percent drop in manufacturing.
Britain emerged from a nine-month recession in the third quarter, when GDP grew by 0.9 percent. But if the economy shrinks again in the first quarter of 2013, it will be officially back in a technical recession, defined as two consecutive quarters of economic contraction.
"Today's numbers have greatly increased the risk of a new recession and a downgrading of the U.K.'s AAA credit rating," said Chris Williamson, chief economist at financial data company Markit.
All three of the big rating agencies -- Moody's, Standard & Poor's and Fitch -- have placed Britain's rating on negative watch.
The latest figure was worse than the market consensus of a contraction of 0.1 percent, and came just two days after the chief economist of the International Monetary Fund said it was time for the government to reassess its focus on spending cuts.
"Our early advice is still very much there," Olivier Blanchard said on Wednesday. "If things look bad at the beginning of 2013, there should be reassessment of fiscal policy. We still believe that."
Treasury chief George Osborne, however, said he was not minded "to abandon a credible deficit plan."
The GDP figure released Friday is subject to revision. It was the fourth quarter of negative growth out of the past five and leaves the economy 3.3 percent smaller than it was at the start of a steep 15-month recession in 2008-2009.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.