Today Is the Start of Hurricane Season. Trump's Tariffs Could Make It More Costly.

Everything from preparations through recovery will be more expensive, thanks to tariffs on steel, aluminum, and timber.



Hurricane season starts today. If any dangerous storms roll into the United States this summer, President Trump's tariffs on steel, aluminum, and Canadian timber will make them more costly.

Last year's hurricane season was the costliest in American history, with three major storms—Harvey, Irma, and Maria—making landfall in the United States. Each of those storms caused more than $50 billion in damage, a threshold that had previously been surpassed by only two storms (2005's Katrina and 2012's Sandy).

Even if we avoid a repeat of last year's weather, the tariffs are creating problems for anyone who wants to be prepared. Hurricane shutters, used to protect windows from being shattered by storms, are often made out of steel or aluminum. Shutter manufacturers are charging higher prices this year to make up for the higher costs and uncertainty created by the tariffs.

Sam Zaz, owner of Just Shutter It in Port St. Lucie, Florida, tells WPTV that supplies that cost $11 or $12 per square foot a year ago now cost him $14 or more. If prices keep going up, he'll have little choice but to pass it on to his customers.

And if a major storm does hit, driving up demand for home building materials, there are already worries that shortages could occur as tariffs disrupt international suppliers. Developers are careful to downplay the potential costs of products they are trying to sell, but some tell The Real Deal, a South Florida real estate trade publication, that tariffs could increase the price of housing by "only" 1 to 2 percent.

That may not sound like much, until you realize that it means paying around $3,000 more for a home in Miami-Dade County (median home value: $288,000)—or, worse, paying that much more to rebuild your home after it's been blown away and all your worldly possessions have been lost. Every family has an extra $3,000 stashed away in their survival kit, right?

Protectionism has already proven costly in the wake of major storms. As Reason's Christian Britschgi noted last year, Trump's tariffs on Canadian lumber (approved in early 2017 with far less fanfare than the current round of steel and aluminum tariffs) had a direct impact on the rebuilding process around Houston after Hurricane Harvey caused catastrophic flooding in August.

"It was a significant hike at the time. It was a 20 percent increase," Patrick Mayhan, vice president of purchasing for the Houston-area company Westin Homes, told Britschgi. "We had no choice but to pass that along to our retail pricing for the home. And that's a significant amount, because lumber is a big part of the cost of building a home."

Framing lumber accounts for about 18 percent of a house's final cost, according to the National Association of Home Builders. Bloomberg reported earlier this year that Trump's lumber tariff has increased the price of single-family dwellings by an average of $1,300 as "builders have started to raise their prices to keep profit margins stable."

In April 2017, the month Trump issued his tariff on Canadian timber, prices for framing lumber shot up to 20 percent higher then they had been in January of the same year. This wasn't just a temporary shock to the system or a result of speculators reacting to the tariff announcement. By March of this year, the price of framing lumber had jumped by another 16 percent, according to a price index published by the trade publication Random Lengths.

Most homes along the Gulf Coast and in other hurricane-prone regions are built with concrete and rebar in order to withstand storms. That still requires steel, but it demands far less lumber than the average American home. But last year's hurricane season demonstrates that powerful tropical storms don't always stay where they are supposed to.

Meanwhile, nearly half of America's steel imports are used for construction, and an ongoing jump in steel prices started in early March, when the Trump administration first announced its plans to lay tariffs. That spike occured despite the fact that several of America's top sources for steel were exempt from the tariff until June 1, so another leap could be coming in the near future—just in time for hurricane season.

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  1. But it’s still the Halliburton Hurricane Machine that’s responsible for the hurricanes (or lack thereof!!!1!), correct? Are we sure there isn’t a way to blame them on Trump as well?

    1. We all have contributed to the hurricane machine with our ghg’s. 90% of global warming goes into the oceans providing more energy for increased intensity in the storms.

  2. If the North Koreans nuked Los Angeles, Reason’s headline would be “NORKs nuke Los Angeles but Trump’s tariffs more costly and opioid users hardest hit”

    1. So Mexico, Canada, and the EU have a weather machine and will use it to create hurricanes?

    2. You forgot to include the disparate impact on undocumented future citizens.

    3. When it comes to Trump Reason is increasingly beyond parody, if the articles over the past few days are any indication.

      It’s almost to the point where one suspects the staff at Reason use some type of Trump Story Generator software to write their stories, where they enter the desired subject into the program and it automatically spits out a column with the requisite amount Trump-bashing and doomsday hysteria.

      Shikha has obviously been using the immigration version for the past year.

    4. Trumps tariffs are stupid and counterproductive. They’re going to hurt more people than they help. This is just another way that’s going to happen. It’s the biggest economic story going since the ridiculous budget was signed. I have no problem with Reason continuing to point out how stupid and counterproductive these tariffs are because this is a problem that can actually be fixed (unlike the ridiculous budget that was signed.)

  3. Lessee …. $100B in tariffstaxes on Americans, divided among 340M Americans, that’s $300 per person, roughly $1000 per family.

    That’s all you need to know.

    1. These numbers might be right, but we all know these are made up numbers anyways. When numbers get that high they are just make believe depending on which economist or think tank you choose to talk to.

      It is not like we are going to be eating $100 billion either, just that (from what I understand) goods valued at about that much will have a tariff on them.

    2. In an economy with a value of over $20 trillion, $100 B is a rounding error, less than one half of one percent.

      There will be costs, for sure, and there will be losers as well. But there will also be benefits and winners as well.

      1. $300 per person, $1000 per household — they aren’t just rounding numbers to real people.

        1. You are incorrectly assuming every household will bear the same costs of the tariffs, when in reality the costs will be unevenly distributed and for some people they will actually come out ahead.

          And like I pointed out a few days ago, most Americans won’t even notice the effects. For example, there have been wild predictions that brewers will be devastated by what turns out to be at most a dime increase in the cost of a six pack. The average beer drinker won’t even feel it.

          1. Useless quibbling. If half the households see no change, the other half will see twice the change.

            If half the households win $1000, the other half will lose $2000.

            No one is going to see a specific price go up by $1000. No one is going to get a check for $1000. Everybody is going to see $1000 of increased prices all over the map.

            This is not insignificant by any means.

      2. All tariffs produce more losers than winners, and more lo$$e$ than win$.

        1. In general, I agree — to a point.

          But for Trump’s base, they have already had enough of Free Trade and are willing to try tariffs instead. Until you can convince them otherwise the tariffs will stay in place.

        2. All tariffs produce more losers than winners, and more lo$$e$ than win$.

          Especially when you factor in the inevitable reciprocation.

    3. We seem to missing some taxes now since we have said the rich deserve to pay less.

  4. 1) The government should really stop subsidizing seafront property with “flood insurance”; if it was a viable insurance market, they wouldn’t have to be in it keeping prices artificially low.
    2) These tariffs are a horrible idea. I honestly think it would be better if Trump decides to fold (chooses to blink) rather than pursuing this course. It could work, I suppose, but at this point it seems unlikely.
    3) It’s possible that we see a low-hurricane year, or hell, a low-hurricane decade (which is what was happening between 1960 and 2000?that era had far fewer hurricanes than the years prior or afterwards for which we have documentation, which helped fuel a Florida housing boom). That’s the best outcome, but there’s no way for us to control the weather.
    4) Do you think anybody’s told Trump that protectionism doesn’t work? Is this just his “do-something” angle to show the disenfranchised blue-collar workers that yes, he is doing something to try and help them, even if it’ll likely be a net loss not only for the country but for them as well?

    1. For 3), that’s because you’re not a Jew.

    2. 1) Yes, but why do you hate children?
      2) I think the sword of damocles has use but letting them go into effect nullifies that. On the other hand you can’t just threaten indefinitely. It’s a risky strategy but it’s purely instinctual.
      4) Those were my exact thoughts driving in this morning. The impact will be diffuse and hard to quantify while the benefits will be direct an obvious to the groups he’s specifically targeting. No different than all of Barry’s ecolunacy, just different names.

    3. In regards to #4, why does anyone think that Trump’s base actually cares?

      The issue of tariffs illustrates Reason’s blind spot when it comes to Free Trade: to them, it is always an unalloyed good, the benefits of which cannot be questioned.

      The existence of millions of American voters whose lives have been made demonstrably worse by low tariffs creates a cognitive dissonance among the Reason staff, one that they address either by simply ignoring the losers of Free Trade, or by treating them with sneering contempt (Gillespie’s favorite method).

      For a good chunk of Trump’s base, NAFTA has been a disaster. Predictions of Economic Doom will not change their minds, because for most of them things really can’t get much worse.

  5. On the up side, the tax holiday on gov approved storm suppies begins today!…..pply-list/

    1. lol

      “The sales tax holiday does not apply to sales in a theme park, entertainment complex, public lodging establishment or airport.”

      Because batteries bought at the airport don’t work when NHC issues a hurricane warning.

      Fucking lawyers.

  6. “Today Is the Start of Hurricane Season. Trump At Fault.”


    1. And Reason staff says that they do not have TDS. Yea right.

    2. So is Trump responsible for the lowest unemployment in years?

  7. Until all the countries affected by the tariffs get on board with more reciprocal free trade with the USA, that is.

  8. Maybe another hurricane will get Puerto Rico to finally pull it’s head out of it’s ass and start being a state instead of the quasi-unconstitutional abomination of a foreign but not foreign entity.

    1. Puerto Rico is treated like a parriah by the United States. We should of done so much more for them without money sucking disaster capitalism.

  9. Future Reason headlines – 4th of July got more expensive because of Trump tariffs – that wood for you barbecue will bankrupt you

    Free trade, free borders, cops are bad, we get it Reason.

    Tariffs might be stupid, but it’s not the end of the world. Maybe if prices go up and US industry doesn’t pick up the slack people won’t buy extra crap they don’t need.

    1. I don’t want some politician or bureaucrat deciding whether I should buy extra crap I don’t need.

  10. FEMA will spend more. How can it make any sense to tax people here on imports, if we have to pay the increase out in insurance to buy imports that are taxed, again? Any kind of insurance will cost more, just to cover replacement cost for any reason, not just storms.

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