Guest Post: Is Donald Trump Broke?

Tyler Durden's picture

Doug Litowitz raises a speculative contrarian position on Donald Trump's exact worth, based on what was released to the FEC. The bottom line is that no one knows Trump's net worth, but the speculation usually starts in the billions. Doug Litowitz explores the opposite possibility, namely that Trump is, in relative terms, broke. This is solely his speculation and is not meant as a factual statement but a possibility that has been ignored in the mainstream press.

Submitted by Doug Litowitz via,

I’ve just slogged through all ninety-two pages of Donald Trump’s financial disclosure submission to the Federal Election Commission, and I can’t make heads or tails of it. 

I cannot tell how much Trump is worth, if anything. His empire, if he has one, is as mysterious as his haircut, and as impervious as his skyscraper in Chicago - a gigantic phallic mirror named after himself.

In terms of real, lasting assets - is Donald Trump worth roughly $10 billion?

The mainstream press erred horrendously by taking seriously Trump’s disclosure to the FEC, by asking reporters to sit down with the document and try to understand it on its own terms, so to speak. This approach yielded nothing but exhaustion and bewilderment. No one dared speculate that Trump’s purpose in disclosing so much was to disclose so little. It was a 52-Card Pickup, a maze of trees without a forest. The assets - some as small as the single-digit thousands - pile up like obsessive compulsive do-dads in the claustrophobic home of a hoarder. The range of projects goes beyond greed and passes into desperation. High rise buildings and golf courses are one thing, but the list of assets quickly degrades into obscure wineries, Israeli vodka and energy drinks, a mattress and clothing line, television shows, a pension from the screen actors guild, bottled water, book royalties, speaking gigs, and endless inchoate and impossible to value ‘marks’ (i.e. trademarks) and positions in partnerships that have his own name.

This is why the New York Times threw up its hands and proclaimed with cool intrigue that Trump’s income and wealth were “hard to pinpoint.”

The Wall Street Journal punted, saying tautologically that Trump’s disclosures contain disclosures totaling at least $1.5 billion, but conceding that the actual numbers are not known.

Forbes puts his wealth at $4 billion, Bloomberg at $2.9 billion. Trump said recently that he is worth $10 billion and that his wealth has increased by more than $1 billion in the last year due to spiraling real estate prices (this was probably supposed to impress people, but it actually shows a dangerous volatility). The FEC form allows the filing party to value assets and liabilities within a range or at an upper limit, and most of Trump’s assets are vague interests of indeterminate worth and undisclosed indebtedness.

Trump’s illiquid assets and unknown liabilities may or may not offset each other – and he isn’t telling.

What does that leave?

Not much. A relatively small amount of money in a couple of hedge funds, and brokerage portfolios of garden-variety stocks, a couple hundred thousand in gold, and other ho-hum assets consisting almost entirely of his ‘marks.’ He could be worth hundreds of millions, theoretically, but if leveraged, his worth could be negative. Who knows?

This ambiguity plays into Trump’s hands: he loves a playing field where there is no difference between reality and fantasy, where the majestic paneled board room is really a stage set, where he is Making America Great by manufacturing clothes in Bangladesh, where he insults Mexicans and then sues a Spanish television network for not showing the Miss USA pageant, a paean to female innocence brought to us by a womanizer on his third marriage. This is Trump-territory: a nowhere land in which he threatens to sue anyone who disparages the size of an empire that he refuses to disclose. 

You will never figure out Trump’s worth by looking at numbers. He’s far too slick for that, he can hide the ball forever.

So let’s put aside the numbers. Instead, let’s look at his FEC submission as a psychological document, a testament, a confession. 

Here we are faced with a paradox: Trump does not speak, act, or behave like a normal billionaire, nor even like a renegade or eccentric billionaire. He behaves like someone who is desperately broke.

I know that sounds odd. Improbable. Counterintuitive. And I don’t – I can’t – I won’t - say for certain whether he is broke. But I think it is a very distinct possibility.

I base this judgment on many years of working closely with very rich people. I’ve had the pleasure – though that is not quite the right word – of spending a lot of time around people who are extremely wealthy, and none of them behaves remotely like Trump.

For one thing, true billionaires hate seeing their name in the papers or being discussed in public. They don’t want people stealing their ideas, they don’t want scrutiny from regulators, they don’t want others to control the narrative about their business dealings, and frankly there is no financial advantage to being well known among ordinary people who don’t have money to invest.

The truly wealthy seek to be known in the right circles and not to the general public. It’s a fair bet that if the richest twenty hedge fund managers walked down the street, no one in the general public would turn their head; conversely, it is a also a fair bet that the twenty guys at the airport talking loudly into their cell phones about how they are returning to the head office after closing a big deal in Baltimore are actually worth next to nothing. Powerful people have secrets, barriers, walls. If Trump really had special ideas or assets, he would crave secrecy, not publicity.

Second, the truly wealthy do not brand themselves. Whatever you may think of how Bill Gates or Warren Buffett or Steven Cohen made their fortunes, they did not get into the bottled water industry to compete with “Trump Ice,” nor do them sponsor beauty pageants or have television shows where they send out contestants to make ice cream cones and then berate them mercilessly for choosing $1.45 as a price point. There is a very revealing type of bullying taking place on Trump’s show The Apprentice.

He never puts himself up against equals in world of finance, but surrounds himself with childlike sycophants whose fate he controls with an iron hand. By demonstrating so much power against unequal opponents, and by expressing this power in an artificial setting, he actually conveys his own powerlessness in the real world. In attempting to come off as patrician, he devolves into sanctimonious self-aggrandizement while flanked by his robotic and obedient offspring who are displayed like products.

Third, billionaires do not announce how much money they have. It’s déclassé. And they don’t want to boast because it gives the Internal Revenue Service, the SEC, and regulators another bite at the apple. If someone says you are worth $1 billion and you are really worth $10 billion that can be great news! Use it to your advantage.

Finally, real billionaires also choose their deals carefully, weighing risk and return. They don’t start clothing lines or energy drinks because the risks (bad reviews, parodies, lawsuits) outweigh the rewards. What kind of person starts their own Trump University and then lets it dissolve a few years later amid lawsuits and investigations by the New York State Attorney General that the students were being defrauded. What is the economic advantage to a billionaire 10 times over of having a brand of bottled water that brings in $280,000, or a beauty pageant, or a line of cheap clothing, or a modeling agency, when the money can just sit in an account that mirrors the market and makes double digit growth? Some of these eponymous projects can be dismissed as flights of narcissism; but there are so many that something other than narcissism is at work here.

It smells of overreach, desperation, and pettiness.

Fourth, consider how Trump reacts with vituperative indignation when anyone has the temerity to question his supposed wealth. When comedienne Rosie O’Donnell claimed that Trump was a “snake oil salesman” who had been bankrupt, he threatened to sue her for defamation (presumably because the bankruptcy of Trump casino was not a personal bankruptcy for Trump himself). When MSNBC reporter Lawrence O’Donnell suggested that Trump was worth less than $1 billion, Trump threatened to sue. A decade ago he sued the author of a book about him for claiming that he was only worth a few hundred million instead of the nearly $3 billion that he claimed to be worth at the time. He even threatened to sue his ex-wife Ivana for talking too much about his finances, in violation of her agreement to keep quiet. 

Methinks he doth protest too much.

Why threaten to sue someone for underestimating your wealth . . . unless . . . unless . . . unless the sole valuable asset that you have is the general belief that you are worth $10 billion? Unless, that is, if you are really much poorer, and you have nothing to fall back on besides your reputation, and your main asset is the impression you convey. In that case, you might consider doing precisely what Trump does.

Here is where I am heading: Could it be the case that Trump is an empty suit with no meaningful net assets other than his persona, his brand? That like a shark, he has to keep moving and keep projecting the image of great wealth, or else his empire will sink? This is consistent with the FEC disclosure document where so many of his assets are ‘marks’; in other words, he makes money by lending his name.

Trump’s FEC document impresses me as the statement of a person who does not have much of anything other than himself – he is his own product. He is the professional wrestler of the financial world – a person who is famous for being famous, the tragic product of a society that produces images instead of actual things.

Yes, he has built a few golf courses and buildings, but so have others – on a bigger scale; what he has really built is himself, or rather a caricature of himself. My suspicion is that Trump has nothing other than himself. He invented himself. He is his own brand, and that is all he is. Any crack in the mask will cause the whole thing to crumble down. 

It is fitting that he gets a pension from the Screen Actors Guild.

He is an actor who plays a man worth $10 billion.

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steveharless's picture


Looney's picture

Hey, Doug Litowitz, you lost me at the “Trump’s haircut”, you fuckin’ hairCUNT!


Squid-puppets a-go-go's picture

cant tell if he's broke or not?

He must use Mark to Oligarch accounting

0b1knob's picture

Since most of his wealth is based on highly leveraged real estate, I doubt that even he can figure out what it is really worth.

You never know what real estate is worth till you actually sell it.

Berspankme's picture

Bingo. I can say my property is worth $1 million. When I put it up for sale I will find out what it's worth

remain calm's picture

"Hey you fucking Jew hatcket, you didn't present one fact or piece of evidence. All hyperbole and innuendo. Why don't you go write for Huffington post, you cock sucker. You dumb fucking hilary criminal cunt supporter." Donald Trump

TeamDepends's picture

If he has "a couple hundred thousand in gold" (could be millions for all this tool knows) he is far far far from broke.

Richard Chesler's picture

As shady as Obongo and just as committed to jew banksters. In other words, the right man for the job. Lol


greenskeeper carl's picture

It's funny to me that the author mentions that trump prefers to surround himself with a bunch of sycophants. If that's the case, he would LOVE you guys.

Maybe her really is that loaded, maybe he isn't. But he shares a lot of characteristics and personality traits with a childhood friend of mines father who liked to go around pretending he was loaded, always talking about how much better this years BMW is than the two year old one he just got rid of (always leased) to everyone else in the neighborhood. Anyway, turns out he was dead broke and in debt up to his eyeballs due to constantly trying to one up all the neighbors.

We've all known someone like that, and you can't say trump doesn't remind you of them.

JLee2027's picture

No one appears to be able to label or quantify Trump.  That's good. 

The9thDoctor's picture

Debating wealth vs. broke is irrelevant because we live in the post Bretton Woods era where debt makes one rich, and savings makes one poor.

Donald Trump has declared bankruptcy multiple times, and still lives the high life. Other people live frugally, and pinch every penny and have nothing to show for it. It's all a matter of choice.

As for creating a "brand", we all do it. The walmart worker of 10 years angry about only making $2 more an hour than the new hires and "talking" about quitting after all of these years has his own brand too. His brand is only worth $11.50 an hour and his only client is his manager at walmart.

As for the introverted billionaires, they have a "brand" for their inner circle. Donald is more extroverted so that's why he reaches out to masses. It's a personality type.

If the author can't make heads or tails of the financial disclosure statement, then by today's rules, the Don did an excellent job.

My mentor always tells us to own nothing and control everything.

MsCreant's picture

Guess it depends on what is imporant to you. If it is cool to you to lie and use smoke and mirrors to live off of others, then there is your definition of success. You are cool with you, have at it.

I don't think that is okay.


Handful of Dust's picture

I vote for The Don for Pres and The Don's Hair as VP ....

MsCreant's picture

I think the hair runs the whole organism. Notice he does not cut it...Notice it is on top of his brain...Now there is the real expose'.

Donald is hair-brained.

MsCreant's picture

A lessor of 3 evils? Why do we have to pick between evils? Do you see what I am saying here? 

The Fed and this country's relationship to $ is the problem. The banks and corporations literally pay to put someone into the presidency. Why should we bother to pick from who they have PAID to put in there? 

No way any of them represent you and me.

USisCorrupt's picture

This post by Info-Wars gives me another concern as to why Trump is running for President.

Bokkenrijder's picture

Great article and spot on!

Unfortunately, most ZeroHedgers are dumb and naive, you know, the people that think that a totalitarian copy/paste state like China will elevate their gold holdings.

WAKE UP! Trump is like ANY other politician: a charlatan who's in the game for his own personal welfare.

Also, many ZeroHedgers are very contradictory, because if salvation has to come from a single person, then you might as well stop prepping and stop trying to be self-reliant. Better join a cult or a religion instead! ;-)

Oh regional Indian's picture

Hah.....Hair brained indeed......

Does he wear a toupeece suit?

I am just stunned that he is being taken seriously overall.

The fact that so many people here are trump-thumpers is beyond shocking.

Perhaps now the ZH audience too has jumped the shark.


MsCreant's picture

Hair suit? ;-)

Maybe they are so depressed they will cling to any thing that looks hopeful at all. I don't get it.

Kotzbomber747's picture

100% correct Regional Indian.

ZHers are only looking for 2 things;

1) a scapegoat (read: The FED, JPM, gold manipulation etcetera) and
2) a Savior who says what they want to hear (read: China, Trump, KWN, Russia, David Stockman, Peter Schiff etcetera)

So in effect, ZHers are about as mainstream and as dumb as the average Joe Sixpack with a car loan and a mortgage.

DisasterCapitalist's picture

Na. ZH'ers like Trump (I sure do) because he's the President that this country deserves...shallow, empty, anti-intellectual, buffoonish. He's the lion-hunting dentist (coward) we can vote for.  He's almost the PERFECT President for our times. It's one thing to quietly laugh at this government (quietly, because they have guns with which to steal everything we own); it's quite another to have permission to laugh out loud at a President and government that obviously is not worthy of existence.  It would be a RELIEF to have Trump as President, because it will give us all permission to be honest about the situation this country it in. Of course Sarah Palin could also have been very good in that role, as would a few others.

artichoke's picture

How is he anti-intellectual?  He calls bs, bs.  That's a necessary and almost sufficient condition for a true intellectual.

philipat's picture

Makes him sound a bit like Kim Kardashian without the tits and ass? Perhaps she would make an ideal running mate, she'd bring in the "Wowen's" vote, the FSA and, by extension, the Jenner crowd.

strangewalk's picture

Carl Icahn, one of the richest men in the world, just announced that he backed Trump and has now accepted Trump's offer of Treasury Chief--after initially declining. Something tells me that people like Icahn are not drawn to phonies.  

sessinpo's picture

TeamDepends    If he has "a couple hundred thousand in gold" (could be millions for all this tool knows) he is far far far from broke.


Um, a couple of hundred thousand in gold is still worth only a couple of hundred thousand. He didn't say a couple of hundred thousand ounces of gold.

Snake's picture

"Trump is America".  Indeed!

Bokkenrijder's picture

Yes, Trump = America = fake = loud mouthed = bankrupt 4 times = real estate 'empire' build on cheap money!

meterman's picture

Trump has never filed for PERSONAL bankruptcy you idiot. Looks like the FOX ploy worked on your little brain. Also,why not enlighten us with your definition of "cheap" money. I'd like to get me some. 

Bokkenrijder's picture

True, he never filed for PERSONAL bankruptcy, so I guess he does not really believe in PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY either, right?

I guess if his arrogant and megalomaniac plans don't work out as expected, he lets someone else deal with the debts. That sounds like a radically new strategy for the USA...NOT! ;-)

GMadScientist's picture

Which is to say ethically, morally, intellectually, and financially bankrupt.

T-Bond's picture

His 2014 tax return has him making 360 million. The lotto isn't that big. I think he is doing just fine.

1033eruth's picture

Where did you get this info?  From a Trump interview?  Was that gross or net?  Sure would like to have a LINK to that info.  

The Big Ching-aso's picture

Well if he's broke becoming Prez means he's set for life just on speaking engagements alone. Plus he gets his iconic hair guarded free forever. So yeah, probably the smartest business move he'll ever make IMO.

GMadScientist's picture

If anyone could inspire the secret service to step out of the way of an incoming bullet, Trump would be the guy.

Jumbotron's picture

LOL !!

There is ALWAYS a reason for everyone to do anything.  And the crazier the stunt, the bigger the reason.

All makes sense now.  Donald needs a paycheck.  And if he doesn't get it....then he can leverage the noteriety of his "campaign" to launch into a new business or reality TV show or both.

Of course, he needs to solidify his deals quick.  His campaign will be ending soon enough.  The MIC won't all it too much longer.  Just like the way the MIC allowed Greece to have it "Fuck You" vote.  And we all saw that it took less than a week to prove that it meant nothing.

Scooby Dooby Doo's picture

Come'on gang lets sign a Scooby Song!

Scooby Dooby Doo where are you?
I'm shilling for Mr. Trumpy.

And Scooby Dooby Doo why do you do that?
Because I'm an undercover joo humpy.

MsCreant's picture

I always thought Scooby was a boy dog.

If ya wanna troll, make it funny, BITCH!

Scooby Dooby Doo's picture

Ohhh. Tough crowd, tough crowd. I'm getting heckled from the cheap seats.

Arhooo roo, Scooby Doo!

Sparkey's picture

Thats right, Forget Trump, Vote Hillary she deserves it, its her turn, no one can accuse her of being broke, she'll bring some class, and the Clinton name to the White House again.

DisasterCapitalist's picture

I think Trump would be a safer choice that Hillary. Hillary is a true thief...she'll steal our money and freedom. Trump just wants to be loved.

TheReplacement's picture

Do you not find it interesting that Fox gave Trump twice (and the most) speaking time of Rand Paul (the least) and yet Paul came out second (distant) in the follow up poll?

Any you think Trump is an outsider...  silly, silly steve.

doctor10's picture

At least he has an American birth certificate and an honest social security number.

William F. Buckley once famously proclaimed he'd prefer federal government under the leadership of the first thousand names in the Boston telephone book than form anybody in DC politics.

Trump can't be any worse than the pack of clowns and so-called "Americans" in DC right now.

And its certain he'll be a whole lot more entertaining.

TeamDepends's picture

The man has that fabulous golden marmot hair, which makes him wealthy beyond compare.

knukles's picture

I'd like to make a pair of golf socks with his hair.

GMadScientist's picture

Why do you all keep forgetting the quotes?!