AUTO INDUSTRY
Toyota boosts U.S. investment plan

Toyota, leery of President Trump’s threats to raise tariffs on cars and auto parts, is adding about $3 billion to a years-long U.S. investment plan announced just before the “America First” president took office.

The added spending raises the amount Toyota is investing in the United States to almost $13 billion over a five-year period ending in 2021. This includes a new $750 million outlay across several plants, the most noteworthy being for retooling a factory in Kentucky to build gas-electric versions of the top-selling RAV4 crossover and Lexus ES sedan.

“Today’s news really builds on our already expansive presence in the U.S.,” Jim Lentz, chief executive of Toyota Motor North America, told reporters Thursday on a conference call. “At a time when others are scaling back, we believe in the strength of America.”

Japan’s largest automaker has tried to work its way into Trump’s good graces after being a target of his tweets when he was president-elect in January 2017. Days after drawing criticism for plans to build Corolla cars in Mexico, Toyota announced a $10 billion, five-year investment plan. In August of that year, it unveiled plans with Mazda to jointly build a $1.6 billion factory in Alabama.

Lentz said the decision to further expand the investment reflects Toyota’s credo to build cars where they’re sold, as well as increasing U.S. demand for its vehicles. But he also said a new North American trade deal and tariff threats also contributed to the moves.

“I’d be disingenuous if I said we didn’t have an eye on trade,” he said.

— Bloomberg News

ECONOMY
Unemployment benefit applications increase

The number of Americans filing applications for unemployment benefits increased more than expected last week, suggesting the labor market was slowing, but probably not to the extent implied by a near-stall in job growth in February.

While other data on Thursday showed import prices rising by the most in nine months in February, the trend in imported inflation remained weak. Import prices dropped on a year-on-year basis for a third straight month in February.

News on the housing market remained downbeat, with new-home sales dropping more than expected in January. The stream of data remains broadly supportive of the Federal Reserve’s pledge to be “patient” before raising interest rates further this year. “If the Fed is reading the tea leaves, the economic brew of data are distinctly on the weak side today and will keep Fed policy cemented in place at next week’s meeting,” said Chris Rupkey, chief economist at MUFG in New York.

— Reuters

Also in Business

Home furnishing retail chain Pier 1 Imports has tapped debt restructuring lawyers to navigate potential negotiations with lenders as it struggles with falling sales, people familiar with the matter said on Thursday. Known for selling wicker chairs and scented candles, Pier 1 has suffered financial losses amid an increasingly competitive retail landscape dominated by Amazon and Walmart. (Amazon founder Jeffrey P. Bezos also owns The Washington Post.)

UPS workers at a distribution hub in Ohio are suing the company over what they say have been racist acts and discriminatory hiring decisions. The 19 employees near Toledo say white employees in 2016 put up a noose and Confederate flags, directed racist language at black workers, and displayed a stuffed monkey wearing a UPS uniform. UPS said in a statement Thursday that it responded quickly and fired two employees.

OPEC on Thursday cut the forecast of global demand for its crude oil this year as rivals boost production, building a case to extend a supply-cutting deal with Russia and other allies beyond the first half of 2019. In a monthly report, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries said 2019 demand for its crude would average 30.46 million barrels per day, 130,000 bpd less than forecast last month and below what it is currently producing.

Coming today

9:15 a.m.: The Federal Reserve releases industrial production for February.

10 a.m.: The Labor Department releases job openings and labor turnover survey for January.

— From news services