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Trump’s businesses were already in a ‘billion-dollar hole’ before the Capitol riot fallout

Ben Werschkul
·Senior Producer and Writer
·7-min read

By almost any metric, the Trump administration has taken extraordinary measures to help the president’s businesses profit during his four years in office. The administration pushed to hold the G7 summit at President Trump’s private club and the President himself visited one of his own properties on approximately one out of every three days he’s been in office.

But the striking thing, based on the limited information we have about the inner workings of Trump’s company, is how little these moves helped the profitability of the business itself.

“They were already in trouble,” Robert Maguire, research director of watchdog organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), told Yahoo Finance. This was “before the pandemic, and then the pandemic hits and it's a huge blow.”

Forbes has been estimating Trump’s net worth for years. In March 2016, when the earliest figure was available, his net worth stood at an estimated $4.5 billion. Soon after he was inaugurated president, that figure had dropped to $3.5 billion. “We now have him at $2.5 billion,” said Dan Alexander, a Forbes senior editor and one of the people behind the data. “That's a very substantial hit.”

The coronavirus pandemic has gutted businesses across the country, with 10 million fewer jobs in the U.S. than before the pandemic began. That overall factor, combined with a host of companies cutting ties with the Trump Organization following the president’s role in inciting the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, is likely to damage the president’s business further.

TOPSHOT - US President Donald Trump waves to the media outside the White House on January 12, 2021 in Washington,DC before his departure to Alamo, Texas. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)
President Donald Trump outside the White House before a recent trip to Texas. (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

“Politics has not – despite what a lot of people think – been good for his business,” said Alexander, who also wrote a book on the subject called "White House Inc.”

6 years of apparent losses

Another way to measure the health of Trump’s businesses is what we know about his revenue. CREW has analyzed the revenues from the Trump Organization, which he still owns but says is currently under the day-to-day control of his two adult sons, and finds that the money coming in has likely flatlined.

According to multiple analyses of Trump’s personal financial disclosures, the Trump Organization – which includes a range of assets from office buildings in Manhattan to hotels and golf courses around the world, and other revenue sources like licensing deals – generated a minimum of around $452 million in revenue in 2017. That figure fell to $434 million in 2018, and was $446 million in 2019, the last year for which data is available.

The business has been under intense pressure since 2015 when Trump announced his run for office by calling Mexican immigrants “rapists” before adding, “some, I assume, are good people.”

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 16:   Business mogul Donald Trump rides an escalator to a press event to announce his candidacy for the U.S. presidency at Trump Tower on June 16, 2015 in New York City.  Trump is the 12th Republican who has announced running for the White House.  (Photo by Christopher Gregory/Getty Images)
Donald Trump heads down an escalator to a press event announcing his candidacy for the Presidency on June 16, 2015. (Christopher Gregory/Getty Images)

The list of groups that cut ties back then was longer and included more prominent names than this past week. Corporations from NBCUniversal to Macy’s to NASCAR to Serta all rushed to cut ties. Another wave of Trump business backers ran for the exits in 2017 after he responded to violent protests in Charlottesville, Va., that featured white supremacists, by saying "you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides."

Then of course, came the COVID pandemic that has hit Trump’s hospitality-centric business hard over the last year. Trump’s Washington, D.C. hotel, for example, remains open to guests but the lobby and restaurant – which long served as a hub for Trump officials to meet and spend money – has been closed by the virus even as hotel officials have repeatedly pushed to open up.

Zach Everson runs a website devoted to tracking the comings and goings at Trump’s D.C. hotel, and noted in a recent interview that there are far fewer people broadcasting their stay at the Trump hotel on Instagram now than in the past. “It's just been tough trying to see what exactly can be attributed to the riots and what was just ongoing because of COVID,” said Everson.

‘They're not going to need to curry favor with him anymore’

The one bright spot in Trump’s empire has been at places he frequented as president. According to Trump’s personal disclosures, places like his Bedminster, N.J., golf club and his Washington-area golf resorts, which he visits regularly, have seen revenue increases.

Maguire noted that these businesses were often “promoting the possibility that the president would drop in on your wedding or something like that,” which helped business, “and so it makes sense that these properties that he frequented the most are the ones that would see the most benefit.”

US President Donald Trump greets supporters during a Bikers for Trump event at the Trump National Golf Club August 11, 2018 in Bedminster, New Jersey. - Trump welcomed approximately 180 bikers made up of Veterans, law enforcement, supporters and members from the Bikers for Trump New Jersey chapter. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP)        (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)
President Trump often greeted his supporters - including a Bikers for Trump event in 2018 - at his Bedminster, New Jersey club. (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

Maguire predicts that “we're going to see a drop-off in the kinds of events that we saw during his presidency for that very fact that they're not going to need to curry favor with him anymore.”

There is also a slight chance, in addition to barring him from further office, that Washington lawmakers could cut off another stream of revenue for the soon-to-be former president: the taxpayer-funded trappings usually afforded to former presidents.

“There are many members [of Congress] who are concerned about his continued benefits as an ex-president, the huge transportation budget, Secret Service” he would get, said Rep. Don Beyer (D., Va.) in an interview with Yahoo Finance. “I'm not quite sure the Senate will want to go that far as to take them away, but certainly people are talking about that.”

What’s next for the organization

Either way, Alexander of Forbes said any taxpayer funds would only be a drop in the bucket compared with Trump’s expected financial (and legal) challenges in the years ahead. He has reported that the company’s total debt is over $1 billion.

“Stopping in at Turnberry [Trump’s golf course] and forcing your Secret Service to stay there? Yeah. It's going to bring you money,” he said. “But it's not going to fix the billion-dollar hole.”

A host of businesses have cut ties with Trump in recent days, from the PGA to Shopify to, reportedly, his real estate brokerage firm Cushman & Wakefield. New York City also canceled contracts worth $17 million at two ice-skating rinks and a golf course.

Perhaps the most significant will be Deutsche Bank’s (DB) reported move to eventually sever its relationship with Donald Trump and his companies. The multinational bank has long been a key holder of Trump’s debts and has helped finance his business for decades.

The Trump Organization, for its part, is claiming that the business will thrive in the coming years, built around Trump’s die-hard supporters.

“You have a man who would get followed to the ends of the Earth by a hundred million Americans,” the president’s younger son Eric Trump said in a recent interview with the AP. “He created the greatest political movement in American history and his opportunities are endless.”

A spokesperson for the Trump Organization didn’t respond to repeated inquiries from Yahoo Finance on various aspects of the business.

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 11: NYPD officers stand in front of a barricaded Trump Tower as a march against police brutality passes by the building on June 11, 2020 in New York City. Demonstrations against systemic racism have continued for over two weeks since the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, by a Minneapolis Police officer on May 25th.(Photo by Scott Heins/Getty Images)
The streets outside of Trump's building - including Trump Tower last summer - often feature heightened security and protests. (Scott Heins/Getty Images)

The big question, according to Alexander, focuses on the leases that Trump holds across New York City and the country. These sources of income constitute the heart of Trump’s empire and may hurt his bottom line more seriously than anything else

As just one example, Business Insider recently reported that the Girl Scouts of New York are exploring ways to get out of its lease in Trump’s building at 40 Wall Street. That lease isn’t set to expire until almost 2030.

For all four years “really the big question is: when is this going to hit the leasing empire? And I think that's kind of the stage that we're at right now,” said Alexander.

Ben Werschkul is a writer and producer for Yahoo Finance in Washington, DC.

Correction: A previous version of this article misidentified Charlottesville as in West Virginia. It is in Virginia.

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