Thursday, September 03, 2015

Trump says he's "really rich." But is he really bright?

Before the citizens of this country put Donald Trump in charge, we should take a closer look at how he handled his own finances. He didn't have a hardscrabble beginning, unless you call getting $40 million from his father in 1974 hardscrabble.

True, he is allegedly worth billions today -- although sources differ as to how much he actually has. (Don't expect to see The Donald's tax returns.) But as Vox points out (in a piece derived from this National Journal article) Trump would be probably be worth roughly the same amount of money "if he had taken $40 million from his dad and thrown it into an index fund."

In other words, his fortune has nothing to do with investment savvy.
But if you compare Trump's performance since 1982, when the stock market started to take off after the early-'80s recession, it looks pretty abysmal. Forbes estimated that Trump was worth $200 million that year. If he'd put that money in an index fund that year at a 0.15 percent fee, he'd have $6.3 billion today after dividend taxes, almost certainly more than he actually does. This jibes with analyzes prior to Dáte's which have found that Trump has underperformed compared with the market since 1988; an AP analysis found that if he'd put his money in an index fund that year, he'd have $13 billion today; the S&P calculator similarly suggested he'd have $11.3 billion, after fees and dividend taxes.
The point is that after decades of touting his business acumen, his ability to negotiate tough deals and spot good investments, and after spending this entire campaign season arguing that he's qualified for the presidency based on his skills in the market, Trump nonetheless has an investment record that at best roughly matches and at worst underperforms the market.
Side note: Inspired by Bill Maher, I had planned to make a joke about Trump's father, Fred Trump. The joke was going to involve the claim that the elder Trump made his initial grubstake by appearing on the Today show under the name J. Fred Muggs.

A quick visit to Google uncovered a surprising fact: J. Fred Muggs is still alive. He made his first appearance on the Today show in 1953.

The average lifespan of chimp in captivity is 60 years, so the former Today Show mascot has already sailed past that number. The average lifespan of a chimp in the wild is 30 to 40 years. The average orangutan in captivity lives 50 years. Fred Trump died in 1999 at the age of 93. Either Bill Maher is wrong or Fred beat the odds.

Incidentally, Fred Trump's middle name was Christ. And the family name was originally Drumpf.
Many years ago at the end of an Apprentice season the prize given to the non-celebrity apprentice winner was overseeing luxurious condos that were going to be built either in Florida, California, or Mexico. People watching the show called in to make down payments on these condos for anywhere from 100,000 to 250,000 dollars.
The condos were never made and the investors LOST all their money. These were middle class people with 401'Ks who figured buying a condo on the front end on the cheap would be a terrific investment because they would get to own it outright, live in it, and the value would grow. Instead the investors lost all their money. The weirdest part was NOTHING GOT BUILT. It's not like the condos got built halfway, or only half of the condos were made, NOTHING was made but the artist drawings and probably very little else. How did Trump get away with that? If he is going to brag about what a great businessman he is, he has to address CondoGate and explain why a mulit-billionaire did not give even a partial refund to his blue collar investors.
Trump might also explain his Trump University scam or his dealing with less than savory, Tony Soprano types in his casino holdings/buildings. The idea of Trump having an 'ashes to riches' story to win American hearts is a sad joke. He made his money the old-fashion way--he inherited a small fortune, which [according to a number of financial analysts] would have landed him in the same money pot had he merely invested Daddy's money in the stock market over the last 30+ years. Instead, he slapped up ugly buildings with his name scrawled all over them, the behavior of a willful child. Have you seen the Trump bldg on the outskirts of Las Vegas? What an eyesore!

Is Trump really bright? There's all sorts of definitions to that question. He is very clever and market savvy, running circles [at the moment] around his political competition and the yelping press that cannot get enough of the Trumpster and his latest bizarre, contradictory proclamations.

As for his supporters? I have no reasonable explanation beyond nihilism is in vogue right now.

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