DEARBOURN, Michigan: Not for twenty-eight years has Americans' confidence plummeted to the nadir recorded this month by the University of Michigan's closely watched index of consumer sentiment.

Beset by a lethal mix of spiralling fuel prices, mortgage defaults and employment fears, US consumer confidence fell from 63.2 in April to 59.5 in May – its most dismal reading since June 1980.

In that year inflation notched double-digits, Ronald Reagan was elected President, John Lennon was shot dead in New York City, Ted Turner launched CNN and the US led 57 other countries in a boycott of the Moscow summer Olympics in protest at the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

Back in the present, the latest ill tidings drove down the Dow Jones stock index by 30.5 points (0.2%) to 12, 959.7 – despite  unexpectedly encouraging figures from the Commerce Department indicating that housing construction starts rose 8.2% in April.

Comments the University of Michigan on its latest gloom-laden reading: "Record numbers of consumers viewed the economy in recession and saw little hope of recovery anytime soon."

Data sourced from BBC Online (UK); additional content by WARC staff