By Pam Martens and Russ Martens: September 26, 2016
Donald Trump has made a big deal about Hillary Clinton being beholden to Wall Street. That’s true. Wall Street’s mega banks and hedge funds have been major donors to Clinton’s campaign committees after showering her and Bill Clinton with millions of dollars for speeches. But Donald Trump is just as beholden to Wall Street’s mega banks because they are financing his business empire, doing so frequently behind an opaque curtain.
On August 21, the New York Times ran a front-page article by Susanne Craig that pegged Trump’s business debt at $650 million. Three days later, Fortune’s Shawn Tully took a closer look and pegged Trump’s debt at $1.11 billion.
According to Trump’s financial disclosure form updated in May of this year, hundreds of millions of dollars of Trump’s business debt will “mature” over the next seven years. But we don’t actually know what “mature” really means. Are these adjustable rate loans and the interest rate will simply reset on the maturity date? Are these interest-only loans with balloon principal payments at maturity? Are the loans subject to rollover based on a positive reappraisal of the value of the underlying collateral of the commercial real estate?
On September 19 Bloomberg News reported that banks are scaling back lending for commercial real estate “as slowing global economic growth, uncertainty over interest-rates increases and pockets of overbuilding spark concern that commercial real estate prices are due for a fall after almost doubling in six years.”
Trump has said that his adult children will run his business enterprises should be become president. But Trump will be in a position, just as a President Hillary Clinton would, to grant Wall Street mega banks their wish list for Chair of the Federal Reserve, Treasury Secretary, Securities and Exchange Commission Chair and appointees to head other Federal bank regulators. That certainly adds some leverage to the art of the deal.
Fortune’s Tully pointed out another issue with Trump’s real estate debt in his August 24, 2016 article: it’s highly concentrated in just a handful of properties. Tully explains that “$846 million of Trump’s $1.11 billion borrowings” are owed on just five buildings, “or almost 80 cents of every dollar in debt, using the best estimates of the liability side of his balance sheet.” Those five buildings are in just three markets: New York City, Washington D.C. and San Francisco. If commercial real estate is in a bubble, those markets are unlikely to escape the downturn.
A quick glance at Trump’s financial disclosure form doesn’t produce the names of the big, bad Wall Street banks, other than Deutsche Bank, which the Department of Justice is currently negotiating with over a proposed $14 billion settlement for allegedly selling fraudulent mortgage investments. (If the settlement discussions drag on, of course, Donald Trump might be able to appoint the new Attorney General who might finalize the terms of that settlement billions of dollars lower. Deutsche has said it doesn’t plan to pay anything near $14 billion.)
The other major Wall Street banks are definitely involved in Trump’s loans, however, through an entity listed on his financial disclosure form as Ladder Capital. According to Ladder Capital’s prospectus for its initial public offering (IPO), its underwriters were Deutsche Bank Securities, Citigroup Global Markets, Wells Fargo Securities, Merrill Lynch, and J.P. Morgan Securities. As Wall Street On Parade reported in March, the prospectus outlines the close relationship Ladder Capital has to these mega Wall Street banks:
“Some of the underwriters and their affiliates have engaged in, and may in the future engage in, investment banking and other commercial dealings in the ordinary course of business with us or our affiliates. They have received, or may in the future receive, customary fees and commissions for these transactions. Examples include but are not limited to:
“Deutsche Bank Securities Inc., Citigroup Global Markets Inc., Wells Fargo Securities, LLC, Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Incorporated and J.P. Morgan Securities LLC acted as underwriters in connection with the offering of our Notes by two of our subsidiaries;
“Deutsche Bank Securities Inc., Citigroup Global Markets Inc., Wells Fargo Securities, LLC, Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Incorporated and J.P. Morgan Securities LLC, or certain of their affiliates, have had and may in the future have certain roles in connection with our securitizations, including but not limited to, as underwriter, co-manager, trustee, certificate administrator and/or master servicer;
“Deutsche Bank Securities Inc., Citigroup Global Markets Inc., Wells Fargo Securities, LLC, Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Incorporated and J.P. Morgan Securities LLC, or certain of their affiliates, are counterparties to financing arrangements with certain of our subsidiaries, including, as applicable, our existing revolving credit facility, master repurchase agreements relating to loans and/or securities, global master securities lending agreements and a master mortgage loan securities contract;
“An affiliate of Deutsche Bank Securities Inc. is, and certain other underwriters or their affiliates may be, lenders under our new revolving credit facility, which is currently being negotiated, for which Deutsche Bank Securities Inc. is acting as lead arranger;
“Deutsche Bank Securities Inc., Citigroup Global Markets Inc., Wells Fargo Securities, LLC, Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Incorporated and J.P. Morgan Securities LLC, or certain of their affiliates, are counterparties to International Swap Dealers Association, Inc. Master Agreements with one of our subsidiaries;
“Affiliates of Wells Fargo Securities, LLC act as loan servicer for our conduit loans, document custodian for all of our loans and custodian for our managed account securities; and
“J.P. Morgan Securities LLC and its affiliates act as our prime broker and also provide us with securities pricing services;
“From time to time, we may also co-fund commercial real estate mortgage loans or enter into other commercial real estate financing transactions with certain of the underwriters and/or their affiliates.”
The other elephant in the room at tonight’s presidential debate between Clinton and Trump will be the five justices on the U.S. Supreme Court that enabled the campaign finance corruption that has placed America on a trajectory of serial economic disasters by voting to allow unbridled corporate financing of political advertisements in their Citizens United decision. Those five justices are: Justice Anthony Kennedy (author of the decision), Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Antonin Scalia, Justice Clarence Thomas, and Justice Samuel Alito.
If you are repulsed by what you hear tonight during the presidential debate, feel free to curse those five men and think about what Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in his dissenting opinion, which was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Stephen Breyer. Stevens wrote:
“The conceit that corporations must be treated identically to natural persons in the political sphere is not only inaccurate but also inadequate to justify the Court’s disposition of this case. In the context of election to public office, the distinction between corporate and human speakers is significant. Although they make enormous contributions to our society, corporations are not actually members of it. They cannot vote or run for office. Because they may be managed and controlled by nonresidents, their interests may conflict in fundamental respects with the interests of eligible voters. The financial resources, legal structure, and instrumental orientation of corporations raise legitimate concerns about their role in the electoral process. Our lawmakers have a compelling constitutional basis, if not also a democratic duty, to take measures designed to guard against the potentially deleterious effects of corporate spending in local and national races.”