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March 8, 2019

TRADE POLICY
Roundtable Warns of Potential Economic Harm if New Duties are Imposed on Fabricated Structural Steel Imports

INFRASTRUCTURE
House Ways and Means Committee Explores Funding for National Infrastructure Improvements

FOREIGN INVESTMENT, JOBS & ECONOMIC GROWTH
Rural-Urban Coalition Supports Legislative Reforms for Stronger EB-5 Investment Program In Lieu of Inadequate Regulations

CAPITAL & CREDIT
Business Coalition Urges Implementation Delay for FASB’s ‘Current Expected Credit Loss Accounting Standard’ (CECL), Pending Impact Analysis


TRADE POLICY

Roundtable Warns of Potential Economic Harm if New Duties are Imposed on Fabricated Structural Steel Imports

The Commerce Department has initiated investigations into whether a key material used in major real estate and infrastructure projects – fabricated structural steel (FSS) from Canada, China and Mexico – is being sold in the U.S. for less than fair value.  (Commerce Department announcement, Feb. 26)

   Structural Steel x200 construction

The Commerce Department has initiated investigations into whether a key material used in major real estate and infrastructure projects – fabricated structural steel (FSS) from Canada, China and Mexico – is being sold in the U.S. for less than fair value.

  • The Roundtable on March 4 wrote to the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) urging a cautious approach to the investigation, emphasizing the potential economic harm that new tariffs could cause.  Roundtable President and CEO Jeffrey DeBoer concludes in the letter that “… unless supported by conclusive evidence of unfair dumping or subsidies, I urge you to reject calls for new tariffs on U.S. imports of fabricated structural steel.”  (Roundtable comment letter, March 1)

  • The antidumping and countervailing duty investigations are based on petitions from the American Institute of Steel Construction.  If  Commerce and the ITC affirm that dumped and/or unfairly subsidized U.S. imports of fabricated structural steel from Canada, China, and Mexico are causing injury to the U.S. industry, punitive duties could be imposed on those imports.  (Reuters,  Feb. 26)
  • The Roundtable letter emphasizes the negative effects of FSS tariffs.  “New duties could have a chilling effect on job creation and productive investment, slowing economic growth and reducing employment in industries directly and indirectly affected by real estate development,” DeBoer states.
  • In 2017, imports of fabricated structural steel from Canada, China, and Mexico were valued, respectively, at an estimated $658.3 million, $841.7 million, and $406.6 million  (Commerce Department Fact Sheet).
  • Rising costs due to the shortage of skilled labor are currently putting pressure on new real estate development.  Steel prices in the United States also rose significantly after the imposition of 25 percent tariffs on many steel imports last March. (Roundtable Weekly, March 9, 2018)
  • The declining competitiveness of domestic steel fabricators could be attributed to the unfortunate downstream economic consequences of steel tariffs imposed last year – and may not reflect clear evidence of dumping or illegal subsidies.
  • As The Roundtable letter notes, “… there is significant cross-border integration and cooperation in the fabricated structural steel industry.  Foreign fabricators operate facilities in the United States, utilize U.S.-made steel in their finished products, and regularly form joint ventures with U.S. firms to take on large and complex projects.”
  • DeBoer also states, “… rather than spurring real estate and infrastructure developers to purchase fabricated steel from domestic sources, unjustified government intervention in the form of new duties may lead potential U.S. buyers to shelve projects that would create well-paying jobs and produce a lasting economic impact in communities.”

The ITC is scheduled to make its preliminary determinations by March 21, 2019.

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INFRASTRUCTURE

House Ways and Means Committee Explores Funding for National Infrastructure Improvements

The tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee held a hearing this week on the need to launch a national infrastructure improvement program and potential funding sources.  

 JCT cover Infra pay for report x200

The Joint Committee on Taxation issued an “Overview Of Selected Internal Revenue Code Provisions Relating To The Financing Of Public Infrastructure.”

    • Highway Trust Fund
    • Airport and Airway Trust Fund Excise Tax
    • Inland Waterways Trust Fund Excise Tax
    • Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund Excise Tax
    • Tax-Exempt Financing for Public Infrastructure; and
    • Public-Private Partnerships

The hearing covered the looming shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund and the viability of potential revenues sources – such as an increase in the gas tax and the imposition of a Vehicle Miles-Traveled fee– to help finance increased infrastructure spending.

Chairman Richard Neal x200

House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-MA) said President Trump’s interest in “a massive infrastructure package,” shows Congress has “a real opportunity to work together and do something big here.”  (Chairman Neal statement, March 6)commercial real estate market

  • Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-MA) noted how “meaningful, sustained investments in our nation’s infrastructure” would create more jobs, encourage a more competitive business climate and revitalize local communities.  Neal also said President Trump’s interest in “a massive infrastructure package,” shows Congress has “a real opportunity to work together and do something big here.”  (Chairman Neal statement, March 6)
  • President Trump stated during his January State of the Union address, "I know that Congress is eager to pass an infrastructure bill. And I am eager to work with you on legislation to deliver new and important infrastructure investment, including investments in the cutting edge industries of the future. This is not an option, this is a necessity," Trump said.  (Roundtable Weekly, Feb. 8)
  • The Roundtable’s 2019 Policy Agenda notes that every $1 billion spent on infrastructure creates an estimated 13,000 jobs.  “The quality of infrastructure systems—including transportation, utilities, and telecommunications—has been cited as the most important factor influencing real estate decisions around the world. The productivity of our cities, towns and workforce depend on systems that safely and reliably transport people, supply power, and share information across the built environment,” according to the report.   (The Roundtable's 2019 Policy AgendaInfrastructure section.)

The Roundtable sent a comment letter to President Trump in Jan. 2018 offering specific suggestions on how innovative financing sources may be used to help pay for infrastructure improvements – and how restructuring a lengthy permitting process and cutting unnecessary red tape will help control project costs and delays. 

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FOREIGN INVESTMENT, JOBS & ECONOMIC GROWTH

Rural-Urban Coalition Supports Legislative Reforms for Stronger EB-5 Investment Program In Lieu of Inadequate Regulations

Comprehensive legislative reforms to the EB-5 investment program are needed to provide stronger safeguards to combat fraud and safeguard national security while balancing rural and urban areas’ access to the program, according to a coalition of 11 national industry organizations. (Coalition letter, March 8)

  2019-03-08 image OIRA letter

A coalition of 11 national industry organizations recommends comprehensive legislative reforms to the EB-5 investment program are needed to provide stronger safeguards to combat fraud and safeguard national security while balancing rural and urban areas’ access to the program. (Coalition letter, March 8)

  • The coalition—in a letter sent today to the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) Director Mick Mulvaney—maintains that regulations proposed during the Obama era lack national security and anti-fraud provisions essential to overhaul the program.  These proposed regulations also do not provide for a “set aside” of EB-5 investment visas for projects in so-called “Targeted Employment Areas” – a key policy component of stakeholder negotiations to encourage fair access to EB-5 capital in urban, suburban, and rural communities.
  • The letter also recommends that EB-5 Targeted Employment Areas should overlap with Opportunity Zones designated by the Treasury Department in June 2018.  Both geographic designations are census tract-based and share the common objective to channel investment capital to the nation’s distressed communities.  “We cannot discern a sound policy basis to establish two different sets of census tract designation criteria to achieve the same policy objective,” the organizations wrote.
  • President Trump on December 12, 2018 signed an Executive Order directing all federal agencies (including OMB) to consider how their programs can enhance revitalization efforts in new Opportunity Zones.  (White House statement and PBS Video, Dec. 12, 2018)
  • The coalition letter concludes that final publication of these rules by the Department of Homeland Security would undermine congressional efforts to improve and sustain the EB-5 program over the long term.  “Our organizations continue to believe that congressional action is the best way to achieve lasting reform,” the letter states.  

Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) – who led the effort in Congress for enactment of the Opportunity Zones program – discussed its goals and incentives on Jan. 29 in a discussion with Roundtable member Geordy Johnson (CEO, Johnson Development Associates, Inc.) during The Roundtable's State of the Industry Meeting (Roundtable Weekly, Feb. 15)

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CAPITAL & CREDIT

Business Coalition Urges Implementation Delay for FASB’s ‘Current Expected Credit Loss Accounting Standard’ (CECL), Pending Impact Analysis  

A business coalition that includes The Real Estate Roundtable on March 5 wrote to the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to urge a delay in the implementation of the proposed Current Expected Credit Loss (CECL) accounting standard, which may begin to reduce aggregate bank lending as early as next year. (Coalition Letter, March 5)

 KPMG CECL survey cover x200

The March 5 coalition letter cites a 2018 KPMB survey showing companies are struggling to make certain accounting, modeling and data decisions to be in compliance with CECL. (KPMG, Financial institutions feeling the crunch in countdown to CECL implementation)

  • The new CECL model will change the way banks calculate reserves on assets, requiring certain financial institutions to estimate the expected loss over the life of a loan beginning in January 2020.  For real estate, there is concern is that banks may reduce lending volumes as they build up additional capital reserves to be in compliance with CECL. 
  • The accounting rule change was issued by the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) in June 2016 as a result of the 2008 financial crisis.
  • The regulatory change in how banks estimate losses in their allowance for loan and lease losses (ALLL) will require substantial changes in data analytics and financial methodologies.  The March 5 coalition letter cites a 2018 KPMB survey showing companies are struggling to make certain accounting, modeling and data decisions to be in compliance with CECL.  (KPMG, Financial institutions feeling the crunch in countdown to CECL implementation)
  • According to Trepp’s Looking at Historical CRE Losses for CECL, “To benchmark and fine-tune loss methodologies for CECL, the key for banks will be a four-letter word: data.  Unfortunately, many banks have very little in the way of granular historical data, and a number of those that do have good data have taken few to no losses in their history. This has made it difficult for those banks to effectively model future losses.”  (Trepp article by Joe McBride, April 21, 2017)
  • To avoid unintended economic consequences, the coalition states in its letter, “We believe it is important to delay implementation of CECL in order to allow for time to conduct a quantitative impact analysis and to consider potential alternatives, while allowing for post-issuance field testing. Time for further assessment will also allow regulators to better understand and address the key consequences of any proposal for capital and other regulatory purposes.”

The 8 signatories to the coalition letter are the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, American Bankers Association, Bank Policy Institute, The Real Estate Roundtable, Commercial Real Estate Finance Council, Mortgage Bankers Association, National Association of Realtors, Credit Union National Association and National Association of Federal Credit Unions.

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For questions about Roundtable Weekly, please contact The Roundtable's Scott Sherwood at rweekly@rer.org or (202) 639-8400.

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