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Boston Properties on potential tax reform impact: Too early to tell

Boston Properties Inc.'s leadership is not losing sleep about the prospect of a recession or the potential fallout from comprehensive tax reform, CEO Owen Thomas said on the company's 2016 year-end earnings call.

"We're not overly concerned about the near-term recession given currently low interest rates and the prospects for fiscal stimulus and tax reform," Thomas said on the Feb. 1 call. "We're continuing to execute the capital strategy we've been employing over the last few years, which entails growth through aggressive leasing, selective development of pre-leased projects and target acquisitions of underleased assets."

Thomas acknowledged the recent chatter about potential changes to the tax code that could come under the new leadership in Washington, D.C., including a possible lowering of the corporate tax rate as well as the potential abolition of 1031 exchanges and the deductibility of interest expense, but said these eventualities are not affecting corporate planning at present.

"While a corporate tax decrease would be beneficial to our customers and the other changes could impact our capital strategy, and we are analyzing various scenarios, we think it's again too early to determine the exact provisions of potential tax reform," he said.

On the leasing front, Apple Inc. is expanding its footprint at its flagship Fifth Avenue "cube" store in New York, to 77,000 square feet from 32,000 square feet, President Douglas Linde said on the call. The electronics retailer will open in the renovated space in late 2018.

Executives on the call were generally positive about the state of the Washington, D.C., office market, even as the "aging beauties" of the market the class A buildings of yesteryear remain somewhat challenged. Law firm consolidation has run its full course, according to senior executive vice president Raymond Ritchey, and a "Trump dynamic" has overtaken the market, with corporations engaging law firms and lobbyists to assist them with navigating the new economic and political climate.

Ritchey also identified an uptick in demand in the last month from the defense and intelligence-related community. He framed President Trump's planned federal hiring freeze as a net positive, insofar as the demand for the services government agencies provide will not abate, but merely shift to private contractors, which he deemed a net positive for landlords.

"One may view the glass [as] half full. I view it as a glass almost to the top," he said. "We're feeling very good about the upper-end space."