Every time the Federal Reserve raises interest rates, it costs President Donald Trump money.
Maybe that’s why Trump has been lacerating the Fed for raising short-term rates, which now stand at a range of 2.25% to 2.5%. That’s 1.75 points higher than when Trump took office at the start of 2017.
Economists have mixed views on whether the Fed should keep raising rates, or slow down and maybe even stop hiking rates for now. But nobody is more certain than Trump that the Fed has got it wrong. And few people pay the price Trump does when rates go up.
Trump’s company, the Trump Organization, holds five commercial loans totaling a minimum of $180 million with variable-rate interest payments, according to the annual financial disclosure Trump is required to file with the federal government. Filers are only required to divulge their assets and liabilities in broad ranges. Trump lists three variable-rate loans of more than $50 million, one between $25 million and $50 million, and another between $5 million and $25 million. Four of the five are from German lender Deutsche Bank.
Bloomberg estimates the total value of Trump’s variable-rate loans at around $340 million, based on additional data from public records related to the properties those loans finance. If so, every quarter point rate hike by the Fed could raise Trump’s borrowing costs by more than $1 million per year. So the seven rate hikes since Trump took office may have raised his borrowing costs by at least $7 million, on a rolling basis, with the bill getting bigger as rates rise further.
Trump’s financial disclosure lists 13 loans in total, including five over $50 million in value. Eight of the loans are at fixed interest rates ranging from 3.25% to 5.5%. The variable-rate loans are pegged either to LIBOR, a benchmark rate maintained by the British Bankers’ Association, or to the U.S. prime rate. Both of those have moved upward in proportion to the federal-funds rate set by the Federal Reserve. On one Trump loan, as an example, the interest rate is prime + 5%.
Many details of the Trump loans are unknown, such as possible balloon-payment clauses that could require smaller payments in the early years of the loan and larger payments toward the end of the loan. Those could reduce Trump’s vulnerability to rising rates today, since the variable rate loans mature in 2023 and 2024. Trump also likely uses many deductions and credits to offset his costs through lower tax payments.
Trump’s net worth is around $3 billion, according to Bloomberg, so higher business costs of around a couple million dollars per year might seem inconsequential. Still, Trump’s financial stake in federal policymaking decisions he is in a position to influence is obviously unusual and problematic.
Conflict of interests abound
Trump already faces lawsuits from Maryland and the District of Columbia arguing he is accepting improper payments from foreigners — forbidden by the Constitution — through bookings at his hotels by officials of other governments. He was pursuing a business deal in Russia while campaigning for president in 2016, without acknowledging so, while also calling for a weakening of U.S. sanctions on Russia. He has boasted in the past about earning “hundreds of millions” of dollars from wealthy Saudis, which might explain his unusually soft stance toward the Saudi leader, Mohammed bin Salman, who’s apparently complicit in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. To this list of apparent and perhaps actual conflicts of interest, we can now add the personal gain that would accrue to Trump from lower interest rates and a reversal of the Fed’s current policy.
There’s no rule or law saying a businessperson with sprawling financial interests can’t be president. But there are definitive laws against using one’s government position for personal gain. And there’s the obvious need for disclosure and transparency when a president stands to gain from a policy he may determine, as a minimal stab at credibility. Not Trump’s style, alas.
Rick Newman is the author of four books, including “Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success.” Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman