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Solomon retail chief: How a border tax will threaten retail M&A

A border adjustment tax will slow merger and acquisition activity in the U.S. retail sector, analyst Cathy Leonhardt said Monday.

"This political uncertainty and economic uncertainty creates challenges to doing deals," the Peter J. Solomon Co. co-head of global retail told CNBC's "Squawk Box." "If you're levered and you're staring down the barrel of border tax adjustment, you won't do it. You'll pause."

And great leverage is scarce among retailers, according to Leonhardt, who is also the managing director in Solomon's mergers and acquisitions group.

"The debt markets don't like the retail sector, with the exception of home improvement, home furnishings," she said. "There are some sectors that they'll underwrite. But they've been very conservative and very selective in retail."

That creates headwinds for retailers, which could be pushed to seek leverage in the face of higher costs on imports imposed by President Donald Trump's proposed tax. Most major U.S. retailers stock their shelves with imported products.

Leonhardt said that if implemented, the tax would create winners and losers and could prove disastrous.

"It's really sectors that have low margin[s] that are going to be negatively and disproportionately impacted. So ... that's mass market retailers like Wal-Mart, it's chain retailers, it's grocery store retailers and it's footwear and apparel," Leonhardt said.

"But on the other hand, higher-margin businesses like tech and pharma would be much less impacted. So this is clearly bad for the retail industry," she said.

As for Trump's recent tiff with Nordstrom over the department store's discontinuation of his daughter's brand, Leonhardt urged retailers not to get involved for the sake of the business.

"I think brands and retailers are being pulled into these partisan arguments, and it's frightening. And if you're a retailer or brand, stay away from it. That's my advice – as far as you can," she said. "Because customers are hard to get. They're hard, they are expensive to acquire, and you don't want to lose them."

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