Consumer Confidential: Toyota stalls probed, confidence up, Barnes & Noble struggles


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Here’s your take-on-me Tuesday roundup of consumer news from around the Web:

-- Toyota is back in the crosshairs. Federal authorities have opened a preliminary investigation into reports of stalling engines in more than 40,000 Toyota Highlander hybrids. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says it has received 32 complaints of stalled engines in Highlander hybrids from the 2006 model year. The probe involves 43,491 hybrids and was opened last week. There have been no crashes or injuries reported, and no recall is planned at this time. Toyota has recalled more than 12 million vehicles worldwide over safety problems since 2009. The new investigation involves reports of Highlanders stalling at speeds of 40 mph or more.


-- Consumers are apparently feeling upbeat about the prospects for economic recovery. Consumer confidence rose in February to its highest point in three years, according to the Conference Board, a private research group. The organization’s Consumer Confidence Index climbed to 70.4 this month, up from a revised 64.8 in January, hitting its highest level since February 2008. It was the index’s fifth consecutive monthly increase. The strength of the stock market and falling unemployment are boosting spirits in spite of rising gasoline and food prices, not to mention a still-weak housing sector. In addition, Americans started seeing more money in their paychecks in January after a cut to the Social Security tax, which could translate into stronger spending.

-- First Borders, now Barnes & Noble? The nation’s largest bookstore chain, just days after rival Borders filed for bankruptcy protection, has suspended its dividend to preserve shrinking cash reserves and reported disappointing holiday quarter results. B&N also decided not to give investors a sales and profit forecast for the current quarter, saying that going-out-of-business sales at 200 locations operated by its bankrupt rival could pressure it in the short term. ‘We intend for Barnes & Noble to be a leader in the exploding market for digital content,’ CEO William Lynch said on a call with analysts, estimating that his company now commands 25% of the U.S. e-books market. That’s all well and good, but it doesn’t exactly bode well for the chain’s brick-and-mortar stores.

-- David Lazarus