Business World

Wednesday 21 March 2018

Is Trump's fortune big enough to withstand the damage his mouth does to his brand?

Finance Minister Michael Noonan meeting Donald Trump. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Finance Minister Michael Noonan meeting Donald Trump. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Richard Curran

Richard Curran

The constant diatribe of cheap and inflammatory comments from US presidential hopeful Donald Trump is beginning to attract corporate attention. The man who has offended women, Mexicans, Muslims and many others has seen something of a squeeze come on his brand.

Last weekend's 'Financial Times' ran a story under the headline 'Brand Trump lands in the rough'. This referred to the fact that a Dubai developer had decided to remove the Trump name and image from a multi-billion dollar golf complex.

Just this week, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, golf's governing body based in Scotland, decided the Trump-owned Turnberry course can no longer host The Open.

Back in July when he appeared to equate illegal Mexican immigrants with rape, the PGA pulled its Grand Slam of Golf tournament from Trump National Golf Club in Los Angeles. The PGA issued a statement at the time that his remarks "do not reflect the views of our organisations".

Also, on the back of his comments about Mexicans, American TV broadcaster NBC pulled out of showing the Miss Universe pageant, in which Trump is a shareholder.

Trump did a deal with Reelz and the event was watched by 1.2 million viewers instead of the previous year's 5.6 million on NBC.

Some brand experts in the US have suggested that the Trump brand stood for success and luxury but now it stands for something else and it might not recover.

Yet none of these business hits are convincing Trump to tame his inflammatory comments or even come close to apologising. There are several reasons why in the case of Trump, the old adage of hurting him in his wallet, simply isn't working.

Firstly, at 69 years of age he probably has just one shot at making it to the White House. As long as the comments continue to gather traction with potential voters, he is likely to keep going.

Furthermore, it appears that Trump just doesn't care about the implications. Back in June when asked whether he was worried that his anti-immigration comments would affect his golfing businesses, he said: "That doesn't matter to me. I have to do what's right… We were talking about illegal immigration. So if it does, it does."

Secondly, the nature and source of Trump's wealth means he is largely insulated from many of the consumer reactions that can wipe out a business fortune. Trump says he is worth around $10bn. He filed public documents with the Electoral Commission which pointed to a fortune of at least $8.8bn.

Forbes Magazine estimated his fortune at around $4.5bn while Bloomberg put it somewhat lower at $3bn. Trump sees everything as a publicity opportunity so instead of saying nothing about Forbes attaching a fortune of $4.5bn to him, he attacked the magazine saying their figures were all wrong.

Bloomberg attaches most of his wealth to American real estate. This includes a 30pc stake in two office buildings in Manhattan and San Francisco (valued at $640m net of debt); Golf and resort properties valued at $570m, although he claims they are worth $2bn; Trump Tower is valued at $490m before debt, including a 30,000 sq ft penthouse apartment and a Gucci store valued at $250m; a leasehold at New York's 6 East 57th St, which houses Niketown, valued at $470m.

He also has unsold luxury apartments in Manhattan, including full floor units on Park Avenue valued at around $200m. The Bloomberg calculation also put in $300m in cash, shares and aircraft and a total of just $375m in debt.

Trump values his own name and brand at several billion dollars, something which doesn't feature in the Bloomberg calculations as a standalone asset.

A decline in the value of the "Trump brand" shouldn't have any major impact on the value of these real estate assets. Some residents of Trump Tower in Chicago, say they are a little embarrassed with his name on it now, but that shouldn't matter unless he wants it on another one.

Trump does however have assets which rely on consumers and consumer sentiment.

These include golf resorts and hotels, including in Turnberry in Scotland and Doonbeg in Co Clare. It also includes royalties he receives for the use of his name. This is believed to generate several million dollars per year and includes a range of home furnishings, like lamps, and jewellery. One retail chain with 195 stores in the Middle East has stopped stocking the range.

Similarly, Damac, the Dubai developer, has removed Trump's name from its new resort. The fact that so many resorts trade under the Trump name, gives the impression that he owns a lot more assets around the world, than is actually the case. Loss of revenue on his name from those, might not hurt his wallet that much.

He also runs two ice skating parks in New York, including one in Central Park. He even owns the trademark on the name Central Park for the sale of certain goods such as beds, tables, desks, lamps and even flashlights. It is hard to say just how valuable this business really is.

An extension of the Trump brand is his TV celebrity. He presented 'The Apprentice' TV show for 14 years and has claimed in his electoral filing that he was paid $213m during those 14 seasons of the show. That figure has not been confirmed by NBC.

Trump is a classic case of the chief executive being the brand. But as the sole shareholder, in many cases, he doesn't have to worry about pressure from business partners. There is clearly a momentum building across the corporate world to respond in some way to Trump's comments.

Yet, when he made his most controversial suggestion that all Muslims be temporarily banned from entering the US, three polls suggested that close to 60pc of US voters agreed with him, including around 18pc of Democrat voters.

Donald Trump is unlikely to receive the Republican Party nomination for US president. He is extremely unlikely to make it to the White House. As a businessman seeking a nomination to run, he doesn't hold any power.

Corporations have been slow to respond to his remarks because he doesn't hold any public office and really has a big wallet and a big mouth. Over 500,000 people in the UK have petitioned for him to be banned from visiting, but the British government isn't taking the bait. They might prefer if his candidacy just imploded and he went away.

He may not hold any public office but he clearly has influence. He has already moved the US presidential candidate debate further to the right. He has run up so many political kites that other contenders can simply watch and learn from the reactions in the polls. This in turn might make other Republican candidates like Ted Cruz seem almost "moderate" or "middle of the road" in some people's eyes, when in fact they are far from it.

Democrats will hope that in key states he makes them look reasonable and he represents the ugly side of Republican politics.

Trump is on course to lose a lot of money and some business clout from his presidential bid. He looks like he isn't bothered at all.

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