Consumer Confidential: Spending up (sort of); Nissan, Jeep probed; Skype glitch
--Consumers spent more in April, and that's good news for the economy. The bad news is that we spent a big chunk of that on gas and food, which are growing increasingly expensive. After discounting for the jump in energy and food prices, spending barely budged and after-tax incomes were flat for a second straight month. Consumer spending rose 0.4%, according to the Commerce Department. Excluding price changes, spending rose a much smaller 0.1%. Incomes rose 0.4% but after-tax incomes adjusted for inflation were flat. Analysts are worried that weak income growth and big gains in gas and food prices are leaving consumers with little left to spend on other products. That could dampen economic growth. Consumer spending is closely watched because it accounts for 70% of economic activity.
--Heads-up if you drive a Nissan Altima or Jeep Wrangler. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says brake fluid can leak on the Altima, causing a loss of stopping power. The investigation covers about 440,000 Altimas from the 2007 and 2008 model years. The agency says the brake master cylinder can leak internally, causing a warning light to illuminate. If the light is ignored, the cars could eventually lose braking power. Meanwhile, the Jeep Wrangler, made by Chrysler Group, is being probed because the front driver's-side air bag can fail to deploy because of a broken electrical circuit. The investigation covers about 222,000 vehicles from the 2007 and 2008 model years. Nissan and Chrysler say they're cooperating with the investigations.
--Another heads-up: The online phone service Skype says a "small percentage" of users have been unable to sign in but the company is taking steps to resolve the problem. Skype says a "corruption issue" on computers using Windows, Linux or Macintosh operating systems is behind the access denials. The company, which is being purchased by Microsoft for $8.5 billion, says it has released a new version of Skype for Windows and plans to release an update for Mac. Linux users were told to follow instructions for a manual update. Skype says people using the service on their cellphone, TV or other device should be able to continue to sign in as normal. About 170 million people worldwide use Skype regularly for calls and chats.
-- David Lazarus
Photo: Consumer spending is up, but much of that cash went to gas and food. Credit: Justin Lane / EPA