Income or revenue? - Sizing up Donald Trump’s wealth

Donald Trump has once again made his income and wealth objects of fascination and confusion in the US 2016 presidential race, this time, by filing an updated personal financial disclosure form with the Federal Election Commission.

“I filed my PFD, which I am proud to say is the largest in the history of the FEC,” Trump said on Tuesday.

“I have built an incredible company and have accumulated one of the greatest portfolios of real estate assets, many of which are considered to be among the finest and most iconic properties in the world. This is the kind of thinking the country needs,” he said.

While Mr Trump’s iconic, but relatively modest, real estate portfolio hasn’t actually allowed him to claim membership in the top tier of major New York real estate developers for decades now — the new personal finance disclosure did give him the opportunity to put more public clothing on his finances.

What were the “incredible” numbers the presumptive Republican presidential nominee disclosed in the new filing?

More than $557m (€497m) in “income,” up from $362m he disclosed last July.

Hold on, though. In a press release, the Trump team also described that $557m as ‘revenue’. 

As he did in his July release, Mr Trump appears to be conflating income and revenue in his public disclosures.

These figures also look a little odd when paired with reporting from Crain’s Aaron Elstein, which showed that Mr Trump received a New York State tax break reserved for households with annual incomes of $500,000 or less.

Mr Trump received the breaks automatically because he was on a list of eligible recipients. 

“Could a reason be that his income in certain years was actually under the $500,000 threshold?” Mr Elstein asked. 

“No one who knows will say,” he said. 

Mr Trump’s representatives and state officials agree that taking the break was a mistake.

Mr Trump also noted in the press release this week that his net worth had recently ballooned to an unspecified figure “in excess of $10bn.” 

That has soared handsomely from the $8.7bn he said he was worth when he announced his presidential run last June, and the $10bn he said he was worth only a month after that.

There’s a method to all of this for Mr Trump. 

Despite a long history of major business failures, he has used claims of outsized wealth as proof that he’s a business titan and savvy deal-maker — skills he claims will accompany him to the White House.

(Disclosure: I wrote a Trump biography, TrumpNation,’ for which he sued me in 2006 because, among other things, it questioned the size of his fortune. The suit was later dismissed.)

Mr Trump has courted inclusion in the Forbes 400 list of the wealthiest Americans ever since the tally was first launched in 1982.

In 2004, while I was trying to assess Trump’s wealth, he told me that he was worth $4bn to $5bn before lowering the figure later that day to $1.7bn.

My sources were individuals who worked with Mr Trump and had a good sense of his finances. They thought he was worth $150m to $250m.

Mr Trump sued me for publishing that figure as part of a range of assessments of his wealth, saying it had damaged his reputation and business.

Among the documents discussed during the litigation was a Deutsche Bank assessment from 2005 that put Trump’s net worth at about $788m; at the time, Forbes had pegged Trump at $2.7bn, he was telling bankers and regulators that he was worth $3.6bn, and he was telling me he was worth $5bn to $6bn — a billion or two more than what he had told me the year before.

By any measure, Mr Trump is a really rich dude.

However, his fixation on ceaselessly tossing out sky-high figures displays a routine neediness that’s cause for concern in a candidate for the presidency.

It also is something you don’t see in wealthy business people such as Rockefeller and Buffett to Gates and Zuckerberg — all of whom chose to do other things than brag about their riches.  

* This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg


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