Trump's attacks on Federal Reserve to lower interest rates could save his company millions

Jonathan O'Connell, David A Fahrenthold, Heather Long
Donald Trump stands to save millions of dollars if his attacks on the Federal Reserve pay off: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Donald Trump stands to save millions of dollars annually in interest on outstanding loans on his hotels and resorts if the US Federal Reserve lowers rates as he has been demanding, according to public filings and financial experts.

In the five years before he became president, Mr Trump borrowed more than $360m (£293m) via four loans from Deutsche Bank for his hotels in Washington, DC, and Chicago, as well his 643-room Doral golf resort in South Florida.

The payments on all four properties vary with interest rate changes, according to Mr Trump’s official financial disclosures.

That means he has already benefited from falling interest rates that were spurred in part by a cut the Federal Reserve announced in July, the first in more than a decade.

His payments could drop by millions of dollars more annually if the central bank grants Mr Trump’s wish and further lowers short-term rates, experts said.

“It will reduce his borrowing costs quite a bit if he gets what he wants,” said Phillip Braun, a finance professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

Mr Braun said Mr Trump’s savings could be even greater if Deutsche Bank permits his company to pay down the loans more quickly without a penalty, which banks sometimes allow.

The White House and the Trump Organisation did not respond to requests for comment.

While his adult sons, Donald Trump Jr and Eric Trump, are managing the family business, the president insisted on retaining ownership of his company after his election, bucking the practice of past presidents.

That decision, ethics experts warned, would lead to potential conflicts of interest between his personal interests and public policy goals.

The Trump administration has argued that lower interest rates would spur more consumers to buy homes and cars and businesses to invest in new factories.

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Cutting rates also typically lowers the value of the dollar, making US products cheaper to overseas buyers, a goal of the president.

But most economists and business leaders say Mr Trump’s trade war is the biggest threat to the economy, not interest rates, which are already at historically low levels.

Since taking office, Mr Trump has aggressively sought to lower interest rates and rejected the mostly hands-off approach other presidents have taken to the Federal Reserve, repeatedly blasting chairman Jerome Powell – whom Mr Trump appointed to the post last year – for not falling in line.

On Friday, after Mr Powell made no announcement of a rate cut and instead voiced concerns about Mr Trump’s trade war with China, the president immediately attacked him on Twitter, writing that “as usual the Fed did NOTHING!” and comparing Mr Powell to Chinese president Xi Jinping.

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“My only question is, who is our bigger enemy, Jay Powell or Chairman Xi?” Mr Trump posted.

Mr Trump and his advisers have privately discussed creating a rotation among the Federal Reserve governors that would reduce Mr Powell’s influence, The Washington Post reported this week.

Asked on Friday night if he wanted Mr Powell to resign, the president responded, “If he did, I wouldn’t stop him.”

The central bank’s benchmark rate is one factor in determining interest owed on variable-rate loans, the kind the president has on his properties. Mortgage rates have also been driven down because of the trade war with China and anxieties about global growth.

Experts said it’s difficult to ascertain exactly how much Mr Trump would save if he gets the reduction in short-term interest rates that he has urged, from 2.25 percent to 1.25 percent – a move typically reserved for economic emergencies.

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But the president would be substantially impacted by a rate cut, they agreed.

Beginning in 2012, Deutsche Bank provide Mr Trump’s company with about $364m (£296m) in loans by working through the bank’s private wealth division, rather than through traditional commercial lending units, according to public loan documents.

The borrowing was for two loans totalling $125m (£101m) to buy and renovate the Doral golf resort in Florida, a $170m (£138m) loan to renovate Washington’s Old Post Office Pavilion into a Trump hotel and a $69m (£56m) loan to refinance an existing Trump hotel in Chicago.

Mr Trump’s financial disclosures and loan records indicate that all four of the loans remain outstanding.

His company has paid down at least $19m (£15m) of the Chicago loan, according to the filings, though the documents do not show the amount of the remaining balances for any of the properties.

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Mr Trump could save at least $600,000 (£489,000) and as much as $1.1m (£0.9m) annually on just the larger of the two Doral loans if the Federal Reserve made a percentage point reduction, depending on the loan agreement, according to Clifford Rossi, a professor at the University of Maryland’s business school.

Even a quarter-point reduction, which most Wall Street investors now predict will occur in mid-September, could save Mr Trump as much as $275,000 (£224,000) annually on that single Doral loan.

“If you’re a consumer borrower with a car loan or a credit card, a quarter-point reduction is significant savings,” Mr Rossi said.

Mr Trump “has more loans and a bigger dollar size, so he would get certainly a larger reduction on the amount owed than most Americans out there.”

An analysis by Bloomberg News found that for every quarter-point reduction, Mr Trump could save $850,000 (£692,000) in annual interest rate payments, which would mean more than $3m (£2.4m) in annual savings if the Federal Reserve dropped rates a full percentage point as Mr Trump has demanded.

During his years as a real estate developer, Mr Trump was famous for his aggressive efforts to save money, even when it meant breaking up relationships or shattering professional norms.

Mr Trump has been sued dozens of times for non-payment of bills, by building contractors, bartenders and even his own lawyers.

He used money from a non-profit charity to pay off legal settlements for his for-profit businesses. He once sued his own lender, Deutsche Bank, to get out of a large mortgage.

Before entering politics, Mr Trump often advocated for lower interest rates, which are key for a business that relies on large sums of debt.

“Interest rates are very critical to the real estate industry, and [Trump has] spent his whole career there, so he has strong opinions about where interest rates should be,” said James Bullard, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of St Louis.

“Every real estate person I’ve ever met in my life has always wanted lower rates in all circumstances, so I think that’s part of [Trump’s] nature.”

In the 1980s, Mr Trump became one of the most aggressive borrowers in the country, using cheap loans to finance an Atlantic City casino empire that ultimately failed and forced four of his companies to file for bankruptcy.

In the wake of that collapse, Mr Trump was largely frozen out by big banks. He used cash to fund much of his company’s more recent real estate expansion, then turned to an increasingly risk-taking Deutsche Bank for some big loans starting in 2012.

Democrats in Congress have subpoenaed his Deutsche bank records, but Mr Trump sued to stop the bank from responding and the matter remains mired in court.

Previous presidents have avoided publicly criticising the Federal Reserve to maintain the board’s insulation from politics.

Mr Trump decided otherwise from the get-go and as global economic concerns mounted in recent weeks, he escalated his already routine attacks on Mr Powell.

He tweeted at different times in July that “the Federal Reserve doesn’t have a clue!” and “they raised rates too soon, too often, and tightened, while others did just the opposite”.

Four former Federal Reserve chairs, collectively appointed and reappointed by six presidents, then published a Wall Street Journal op-ed urging that the Fed be allowed to act “free of short-term political pressures and, in particular, without the threat of removal or demotion of Fed leaders for political reasons”.

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Mr Trump further amped up the pressure on Friday after Mr Powell spoke at a meeting of central bankers in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

The chairman said the US economy was in a “favourable place” but that the trade war Mr Trump launched against China had created a “complex, turbulent” situation.

Mr Trump responded with a tirade on Twitter, blaming China for a boatload of issues and demanding that US companies avoid doing business there.

Stock market investors, already wary of a shaky bond market and declining consumer confidence, began a sell-off that resulted in steep market losses.

Mr Braun, the Northwestern professor, said Mr Trump’s constant pressure on the Federal Reserve chairman and his colleagues to adjust rates to suit the president’s liking could hurt the US economy.

“I don’t think the Fed should be accommodating Trump’s trade war, and the risk is potential inflation and the reputation of the Fed in the future,” he said.

The Washington Post

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