"I'm really rich," tragically coiffed carnival barker Donald Trump said today during the press conference announcing his run for the presidency. And indeed, he spoke truth. Most everyone agrees that the man has made a fortune in real estate, though its precise size has always been a bit of a mystery. While Trump has long claimed to be a multibillionaire, and offered various degrees of documentation, his numbers have been challenged by ex-wives, journalists, and skeptical fellow real estate developers, with some pegging his net worth in the mere nine digits.
Nonetheless, Trump's success as a businessman, and whatever wealth it may have brought him, are the main justifications for his campaign, which if we are all lucky will at least add a touch of absurdist entertainment to the first couple of GOP primary debates. So today, Trump offered the world another update about his finances. He says he is presently worth $8.7 billion. Forbes, which has tracked the man's affairs obsessively for three decades, thinks he's exaggerating the value of his assets “by 100 percent.” And while, ultimately, it doesn't matter a great deal how many billions the "short-fingered vulgarian," as Spy magazine once dubbed him, actually possesses, it is sort of interesting how Trump may be overstating his riches.
Specifically, Trump claims his name alone is worth about $3.3 billion. The braying reality show host makes a decent amount of money licensing his brand for use on an array of different merchandise—think ties at Macy's—as well as to developers around the world, who pay for the right to plaster the Trump logo on their condos and hotels. Trump does not actually build or own these properties, though his company does have contracts to manage some of the hotels that bear his name. On his financial statement, this line of business shows up as "Real Estate Licensing Deals, Brand and Branded Developments" at a precise value of $3,320,020,000, more precious supposedly than all of the golf clubs and resorts he actually owns in full, or his portfolio of commercial properties.
This is fanciful. Trump is suggesting that his name is more valuable than startups such as Lyft, Slack, Blue Apron, or Warby Parker. Whatever revenue his branding deals are generating these days, it almost certainly isn't enough to justify that sort of megalomaniacal assertion. Moreover, it seems unlikely that anybody would actually buy Trump's naming rights outright, since their value is entirely dependent on his personal reputation. Bloomberg puts the point politely: “It’s unclear what sum, if any, these licensing rights could capture on the open market.” Forbes, which thinks his brand is worth closer to $128 million thanks to his hotel management agreements, is a bit blunter: "Trump apparently thinks that if he spun-out these kind of deals and his good name into a separate company, he’d net over $3 billion for it. Good luck with that."
And yet, delusional as it may be, the $3.3 billion price tag Trump puts on his public persona may actually be a sign of modesty on his part. Just two years ago, Trump's representatives claimed his brand was worth a full $4 billion. Even he seems to realize his name isn't quite what it once was.