The numbers: The University of Michigan’s gauge of consumer sentiment fell to a preliminary May reading of 57.7 from an April reading of 63.5. That is the lowest level since November last year.

Economists polled by the Wall Street Journal had expected a May reading of 63.

Americans view on near-term inflation moderated slightly in May. They now expect the inflation rate in the next year to average about 4.5%. Inflation expectations had surged to 4.6% in April from 3.6 in March.

Inflation expectations over the next five years rose to 3.2% from 3% in April. That’s the highest reading since 2011.

Key details: A gauge that measures what consumers think about their financial situation — and the current health of the economy — fell to 64.5 from 68.2 in April.

Another measure that asks about expectations for the next six months moved down to 53.4 in May from 60.5 in the prior month.

Big picture: Consumer spending is the engine of the economy. If households grow concerned about the outlook and pull back, it could push the economy into recession.

And Federal Reserve officials won’t be pleased to see expectations of inflation over the long-term increase. They view expectations as a key source of future inflation pressure.

What UMich said: “Consumers’ worries about the economy escalated in May alongside the proliferation of negative news about the economy, including the debt crisis standoff,” the press release said.