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Guest view: How will Trump's tariffs on China impact commercial real estate?

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Mike Kushner is the president of Lower Paxton Township-based Omni Realty Group.
Mike Kushner is the president of Lower Paxton Township-based Omni Realty Group. - (Photo / )

Earlier this summer, President Donald Trump approved tariffs on about $50 billion in Chinese imports.

Some fear this is certain to escalate a trade war between the world's two largest economies. While others argue the short-term setbacks are outweighed by the long-term political and economic benefits. Which side will prove to be right? Only time will tell.

What we can expect, with a great deal of certainty, is that these tariffs will have a ripple effect on the U.S. commercial real estate industry. CRE professionals should be on high alert for several, short-term impacts that stand to reshape the investment decisions we make for the next five to ten years.

Keep in mind, the tariffs must still undergo a review process, with hearings this month; however, should they be approved, here are the near-future impacts CRE professionals must be prepared to manage.

Impacts

Higher permanent debt costs and construction costs

CRE professionals should prepare for a 10-Year Treasury of about 3.5 to 4 percent. Additionally, it's reasonable to expect an increase in both permanent debt costs and construction costs. Higher prices for commodities, like steel, will hurt construction and infrastructure projects. The U.S. is already seeing more than 5 percent materials inflation in construction, and given these recent actions, it's reasonable to predict this number could rise as high as 10 percent.

CRE renovations over new construction

If the prices of construction materials increase as expected, this will change the landscape for how CRE professionals are investing in commercial real estate. An increase in raw material prices (aluminum and steel) would accelerate the trend for inflated construction cost that has already been going for years. Foremost, higher construction costs will make buying an enhancing existing commercial real estate the smarter investment over new construction.

Temporary decrease in GDP

Even though the third quarter is normally the strongest quarter of the year, the addition of these tariffs could cause the GDP to fall below 3 percent this fall. However, this decrease in GDP will only be temporary if Trump prevails. It will take a patient economy to "ride the wave" until 2019 when it’s expected that GDP will reach 4 percent with exports rising.

Increased inflation

In the short-term, these tariffs and counter-tariffs are predicted to add to the currently elevated 2.8 percent annual inflation. Let's not forget that this inflation has already caused the Fed to raise rates in June and provides guidance for two more hikes in the second half of 2018.

What this boils down to for commercial real estate

Commercial real estate (as well as residential real estate), is intricately linked to virtually every aspect of our nation’s economy; we often look to our construction and housing markets as a barometer to gauge current economic temperature, endurance, and vulnerability. The recent tariffs not only increase the costs of materials, but they may also ignite a global trade war, both of which can have a significant, negative impact on both local and national commercial real estate.

However there is one positive angle to consider. While much of the industry may feel the squeeze of elevated costs, the recent aluminum and steel tariffs don't mean doom and gloom for the entire commercial real estate vertical.

There is one sector that actually stands to benefit from the recent market flux: current property owners. Landlords of existing buildings won't have to worry about increasing rents to cover new and unforeseen materials costs. These building owners can offer extremely competitive rent prices to potential tenants, ultimately undercutting the competition and stealing market share.

What other impacts do you anticipate Trump’s trade tariffs to have on the U.S. economy, within CRE or beyond? Do you feel short-term impacts outweigh long-term benefits or not?

Mike Kushner is the owner of Lower Paxton Township-based Omni Realty Group.

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