Donald Trump brags he’s worth more than $US10 billion.
While he keeps his tax returns private (bar the odd leaked snippet), putting a number on his fortune is a rough science. But new estimates say he’s worth a lot less.
Among other assets, including golf courses, Mr Trump owns a number of buildings, including five at exclusive addresses in Manhattan. But his stakes are all held as part of syndicates, and some involve debt.
Dropping the silver spoon
In 1974, Donald Trump took over the real estate empire his immigrant father built in New York. As with all things Trump, the details are sketchy, but some reports say that as the family’s oldest son he inherited between $US40 million (about $US400 million, allowing for inflation) and $US200 million (about $US1 billion today), depending on how the fortune was split with siblings.
According to an S&P calculator, if Mr Trump had put that $US40 million into an S&P 500 index fund, and reinvested all dividends, he would be worth $US3.4 billion today.
But, of course, he didn’t do that. He created a hotel and casino business that twice went to the wall, and had failed adventures creating an airline, vodka, steak and tertiary education brands before rebounding with property from the mid-1990s.
So what is his wealth? Here’s how some recent estimates stack up.
- Trump himself: $US10 billion
- Forbes: $US4.5 billion (update: Forbes just revised its figure to $US3.5 billion)
- Bloomberg: $US2.9 billion
- The New Yorker: $US2.56 billion
If you're wondering, Forbes calculates Hillary Clinton's net worth at around $US30 million. Her last tax return said she had around $US25 million in investments; Bill Clinton is estimated about $US55 million.
Little money on tap
Even the lowest estimate would make Mr Trump easily the richest man to run for president in modern times, even if far below the top tier of US billionaires occupied by the likes of Bill Gates ($US79 billion), Warren Buffett ($US67 billion) and Michael Bloomberg ($US37 billion).
The Wall Street Journal also notes that the presumptive Republican candidate has relatively little money on hand. “When his campaign began last summer, a financial disclosure Mr Trump filed said he had between about $US78 million and $US232 million in cash and relatively liquid assets such as stocks and bonds.” In terms of a US presidential race, that’s chump change.
The Journal dives deep into Mr Trump’s assets, looking at the ability of each to generate cash over the months ahead. It’s conclusion: he likely won’t be able to afford a self-funded presidential race unless he sells some of his properties, or borrows against them.
The value of the Trump brand
Bloomberg’s valuation is one of the most detailed. The business publisher goes to some effort to assess the value of La Donald’s holdings by calculating the market rents that are likely to be generated by his real estate holdings and market valuations. It includes a breakdown.
How to explain the discrepancy? The key difference is that Mr Trump values his own brand as worth “billions.” How many? Enough to fill the difference between any publications’ estimate of his wealth and $US10 billion.
The value of a brand is a pretty nebulous concept of course, which usually only comes into focus when a company is up for sale. The impact of the campaign so far on Mr Trump's personal brand is hard to access. His stock has gone up with Joe Sixpack, but the tone of his comments on immigration has seen him lose TV deals.
Won't release tax return
In political terms, Mrs Clinton will continue to make hay from Mr Trump’s refusal to make his tax returns public (and in turn, perhaps, revealing his wealth is not what he says). While Mr Trump is the master of spin, hiding something is never a good look.
Does money even matter?
Mr Obama ($US722 million) had a big fundraising lead over Republican rival Mitt Romney ($US450 million) at the last US election.
But the election was really won in the ground war. Mr Obama simply had a lot more people in the field in swing states like Ohio, and a much better get-out-the-vote campaign (something that could be crucial this year if some Republicans are dithering about voting for the anti-Trade, pro-tax increase Mr Trump).
And while nothing is more expensive than buying airtime on US media, Mr Trump gets untold coverage free. After spending a few seconds on a controversial tweet, he can dominate the news cycle for the next 24 hours.
By contrast, Jeb Bush and political action committees supporting him spent a staggering $US130 million during the early primaries, with almost nothing to show for it.
And we have a parallel here at the last election, where Colin Craig's Conservative Party and Kim Dotcom’s Internet Party spent more than $5 million each and Winston Peters’ NZ First a mere $188,000. You know who cleaned up.