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Jobs Friday, and Chrysler loses $150 million verdict — 5 things to know today

April 3, 2015, 12:04 PM UTC
Employers Post Most Job Openings In Four Years In June
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 07: A man walks by a "now hiring" sign in the window of a fast food restaurant on August 7, 2012 in New York City. In a further sign that the American economy may be improving the U.S. labor Department said Tuesday that employers posted the most job openings in four years in June. The data comes after Friday?s news that said employers in July added the most jobs in five months. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Photograph by Spencer Platt — Getty Images

Hello friends and Fortune readers.

The big news this morning is the March jobs report, which came in short of expectations.

Two major stories are making the rounds in the auto industry. First, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV was ordered to pay $150 million to a family of a four-year-old boy who burned to death in a 2012 crash. A jury found the carmaker recklessly designed the gas tank for the 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee. Separately, Japan-based Toyota Motor Corp. is planning to build plants again after a three-year hiatus.

Here’s what you need to know to start your day.

1. Jobs data disappoint.

U.S. employers added far fewer jobs in March than economists had anticipated, the government said Friday — the worst showing for the labor market in more than a year and ending a year-long streak of monthly job additions above 200,000. Economists shad expected another month of healthy job gains, but as Fortune recently reported, not all economic indicators suggest 2015 will be another stellar year. The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta provided an indicator that GDP Now, which aggregates the various data that make up a GDP report in real time. Its latest reading on April 2 estimated that the economy grew by a slim 0.1% on an annualized basis this year, which badly trails expectations.

2. Fiat Chrysler loses $150 million verdict

A verdict out of Georgia came down against Fiat Chrysler in the first trial over fires involving several older Jeep models when struck from behind, according to a Bloomberg report. The scenario was reportedly responsible for at least 75 deaths since the late 1990s. The trial over the death of a four-year-old boy has also renewed demand by safety advocates for a massive recall of older Grand Cherokees and Jeep Liberties. Last year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued a letter to Chrysler expressing concern that the manufacturer’s current recall efforts only remedied issues in a slim 3% of affected vehicles of a fleet of more than 1.5 million.
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3. Toyota to spend $1.25 billion on new factories

Toyota is planning to build factories in Mexico and China, people familiar with the matter told The Wall Street Journal, plants that are expected to begin production around 2018 or 2019 and will help expand the auto maker’s capacity by several hundred thousands of vehicles. Toyota, the world’s largest auto maker, had aggressively built new plants about a decade ago but was stuck with too much capacity after the global financial crisis led to a steep slowdown in new vehicle demand across the globe. The company hasn’t made a major new factory investment since 2012 when it unveiled plans to build a new plant in Thailand.

4. Religious freedom laws dividing nation

Arkansas and Indiana have moved to enact changes to controversial state legislation on religious freedom, moves that come after liberal interest groups and large corporations including Wal-Mart (WMT) and Apple (AAPL) lamented the laws could result in discrimination. A new version of the law, which is called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, in Indiana clarified it would not allow businesses to discriminate against gays. Both chambers of Indiana’s legislature passed the changes into law on Thursday. Interestingly, Fortune points out the model to many of the religious freedom laws making their way through state legislative chambers are inspired by a RFRA law that was signed by former Democratic President Bill Clinton. Much of the recent criticism has attached moves backed by Republican representatives and governors.
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5. Wal-Mart wants to fix its grocery business

Wal-Mart knows it has a problem in the grocery aisle, and the world’s largest retailer has unveiled some plans to fix those challenges. Wal-Mart has issued a mea culpa of sorts, acknowledging that customers thought its fresh food was often unappealing and noticing there were empty shelves in the grocery portion of the store due to some supply chain issues. Walmart U.S. CEO Greg Foran told Wall Street the company had too much inventory in back rooms and thus needed to make sure it didn’t over order foods, in particular items that are perishable. He also said that Wal-Mart needed to be willing to mark down items nearing expiration and also build bakery and deli counters in all new “Neighborhood Market” stores, which are the company’s smaller format location.