Saturday, June 11, 2016

Take the money and run: Trump edition

Growing up, I heard adults use the term 'four flusher' to mean something like 'phony', 'show-off'---someone who pretended to have a lot of money but really didn't, someone who drove a Cadillac but had a hard time paying the electric bill. I haven't heard people use that term for decades, but if it were still in use, it would be exactly appropriate for one Mr. D. Trump. The New York Times explores yet another aspect of Trump's pretense to business expertise.
“Atlantic City fueled a lot of growth for me,” Mr. Trump said in an interview in May, summing up his 25-year history here. “The money I took out of there was incredible.”
His audacious personality and opulent properties brought attention — and countless players — to Atlantic City as it sought to overtake Las Vegas as the country’s gambling capital. But a close examination of regulatory reviews, court records and security filings by The New York Times leaves little doubt that Mr. Trump’s casino business was a protracted failure. Though he now says his casinos were overtaken by the same tidal wave that eventually slammed this seaside city’s gambling industry, in reality he was failing in Atlantic City long before Atlantic City itself was failing.
But even as his companies did poorly, Mr. Trump did well. He put up little of his own money, shifted personal debts to the casinos and collected millions of dollars in salary, bonuses and other payments. The burden of his failures fell on investors and others who had bet on his business acumen.
The worry is, of course, that Trump's business plan for America copies his business plan for his failed casinos. Borrow lots of money at high interest rates, build shoddy projects, stiff your workers, bond holders and vendors, and walk away.
His casino companies made four trips to bankruptcy court, each time persuading bondholders to accept less money rather than be wiped out. But the companies repeatedly added more expensive debt and returned to the court for protection from lenders.
After narrowly escaping financial ruin in the early 1990s by delaying payments on his debts, Mr. Trump avoided a second potential crisis by taking his casinos public and shifting the risk to stockholders.
And he never was able to draw in enough gamblers to support all of the borrowing. During a decade when other casinos here thrived, Mr. Trump’s lagged, posting huge losses year after year. Stock and bondholders lost more than $1.5 billion.
All the while, Mr. Trump received copious amounts for himself, with the help of a compliant board. In one instance, The Times found, Mr. Trump pulled more than $1 million from his failing public company, describing the transaction in securities filings in ways that may have been illegal, according to legal experts.
And as usual, he stiffed his contractors.
“He put a number of local contractors and suppliers out of business when he didn’t pay them,” said Steven P. Perskie, who was New Jersey’s top casino regulator in the early 1990s. “So when he left Atlantic City, it wasn’t, ‘Sorry to see you go.’ It was, ‘How fast can you get the hell out of here?’”
....something many in today's GOP are probably saying to each other.
In retrospect, David Hanlon, a veteran casino executive who ran Merv Griffin’s Atlantic City operations at the time of the Resorts battle, said, Mr. Trump succeeded in repeatedly convincing investors, bankers and Wall Street that “his name had real value.”
“They were so in love with him that they came back a second, third and fourth time,” Mr. Hanlon said. “They let him strip out assets. It was awful to watch. It was astonishing. I have to give Trump credit for using his celebrity time and time again.”
In 2014, the casino company filed for bankruptcy protection for the fifth time. The chief executive cited the debt level after the 2009 bankruptcy as the primary reason.
For a time, Mr. Trump lent a glamorous sheen to the faded resort city. But some of his former investors no longer see the value.
“People underestimated Donald Trump’s ability to pillage the company,” said Sebastian Pignatello, a private investor who at one time held stock in the Trump casinos worth more than $500,000. “He drove these companies into bankruptcy by his mismanagement, the debt and his pillaging.”
 Let bankers Trump stiffed have the last word:
Mr. Trump’s longtime investment bankers at Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette had backed out of a deal with Mr. Trump to invest in the company shortly before the bankruptcy was filed. Suing for $26 million in fees, the bankers said in court papers that the casinos would be back in bankruptcy court within five years because Mr. Trump’s revenue projections were too rosy and the company was still carrying too much debt.
The Trump name does not connote high-quality amenities and first-class service in the casino industry,” lawyers for the investment bank said. “Rather,” the Trump name is associated with “the failure to pay one’s debts, a company that has lost money every year, and properties in need of significant deferred maintenance and lagging behind their competitors.” [my bolding]

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