Consumer Confidential: Wal-Mart cuts gas prices, Toyota's new recall, pricier cereal
--It may be little more than a PR stunt, but it's good news nevertheless. Wal-Mart is cutting gas prices by 10 cents a gallon for three months to help consumers worried about their spending amid a sputtering economy and busy summer travel season. "Our customers have told us that high gas prices are a top budget concern, nearly as large an expense to their households as food and groceries," says Chief Marketing Officer Stephen Quinn. To help ease consumers' pain, the world's biggest retailer says customers visiting participating Murphy USA and Wal-Mart gas stations in 18 states through Sept. 30 will receive a discount on all fuel, gas and diesel purchases when they use a reloadable Wal-Mart gift card, Wal-Mart MoneyCard or a Wal-Mart credit card. The company says the discount will be taken immediately at the gas pump, with no other restrictions or requirements.
--Is Toyota a bad carmaker or just unlucky? Consumers wouldn't be remiss in asking this question as Toyota announces yet another vehicle recall (collect them all!). In this case, it's recalling about 82,200 hybrid SUVs in the U.S. due to computer boards with possible faulty wiring. The recall involves Highlander and Lexus brand hybrid SUVs from its 2006 and 2007 lines. The action covers just the vehicles sold in the U.S., with no other models affected. The recall is the latest setback for Toyota, which is just recovering from the earthquake and tsunami that devastated parts of Japan in March. It involves about 45,500 Highlander Hybrid and 36,700 Lexus Rx 400h vehicles. Toyota says the affected vehicles' hybrid system has a computer board with inadequate soldering that could be damaged during high-load driving. If damage were to occur, the company said the vehicles would either continue to operate under reduced power for a short distance, or coast to a stop. The automaker says it's working on obtaining replacement parts.
--Your Cheerios may soon get more costly. General Mills, the maker of Cheerios cereal and Progresso soups, says it expects costs to rise as much as 11% in the 2012 fiscal year, which began May 30. That's more than double the inflation it had forecast for the previous year. General Mills raised prices earlier this year to offset soaring costs for ingredients such as corn, wheat and dairy products. The company's CEO, Ken Powell, has declined to say whether General Mills will raise prices again, though he says the company has absorbed as many of the cost increases as it can through productivity improvements. And don't forget: Cereal is only half the equation. Dairy prices, including milk, are expected to rise up to 6% this year over last year. That's potentially a bunch more bucks for breakfast.
-- David Lazarus
Photo: At least for a few months, gas will be cheaper at Wal-Mart. Credit: Paul Sakuma / Associated Press