Take whatever stigma you've attached to economics and check it at the door. This stuff can really get you going. I know it gets me fired up. Of course, with all of the chatter about recession vs. recovery, inflation vs. stagflation, and bailout vs. bankruptcy, keeping abreast of the latest economic events can be a Herculean task.

Fear not, Fools. In this regular series, we're here to compress the week's economic developments into a simple-to-understand summary. And we promise to keep it completely free of the hieroglyphics and eight-syllable words that weasel their way into standard academic forecasts. Here's the latest scoop.

Confidence on clearance
Consumer confidence fell in May -- the fifth consecutive monthly decline -- to the lowest level in 16 years. The one-two punch of surging gas and food prices coupled with rising unemployment and foreclosures doesn't give consumers the warmest of feelings, leaving a wary sense of what the future might hold. The likely victims? High-end retailers like Tiffany (NYSE:TIF), Nordstrom (NYSE:JWN) and Saks (NYSE:SKS) -- companies that produce non-essential merchandise -- will likely be the first ones shunned when consumers shut their wallets in anticipation of further hardships.

246 billion and falling
America's driving habits are starting to bow under the pressure of the relentless surge in gas prices. Drivers pared back total vehicle miles driven by 4.3% in March compared to last year. The decrease shaved 11 billion miles off the estimated 246.3 billion miles logged during the month. Cutting back will certainly relieve some strain on drivers, but the news is about as agonizing as it gets for auto giants Ford (NYSE:F) and General Motors (NYSE:GM). Ford announced last week it was ditching its original plan to return to profitability by 2009, as consumers continue to shift preference to more economical, less profitable, automobiles.

It could be worse
The U.S. economy grew slightly faster than anticipated, but still trudged along at a sluggish pace. Gross domestic product grew a revised 0.9% annual rate in the first quarter, up from the 0.6% growth originally reported. That's important for those eagerly anticipating whether or not the economy will slip into a recession, since -- at least by the technical definition -- GDP must decline for two consecutive quarters to merit recession status. But, the heck with definitions, Warren Buffett says it how it is …

He said it.
The U.S. economy is "already in recession ... the people are already feeling the effects. It will be deeper and last longer than many think." Those were the words of Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK-A) (NYSE:BRK-B) Chairman and CEO Warren Buffett last week, suggesting that, for all intents and purposes, the adversity placed on consumers is severe enough to call whatever type of rough patch we're in a recession.

It ain't no fun if the homies can't have none
Despite our troubles here at home, much of the world is chugging along nicely. The high cost of crude has been a boon to countries flush with black gold, particularly in the Middle East -- and that's fueling growth within their own borders. Since 2004, oil consumption in Saudi Arabia has increased almost 23%, leaving less oil for parts of the world that rely on the kingdom for energy. Combine that with dwindling output in countries like Mexico and Norway, and oil prices are in quite a pickle. The U.S. is 60% reliant on foreign oil imports, making any cutback in exportable supply another thorn in consumers' sides.

That's the latest for this week. Check back in next Friday for the latest economic roundup.

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