August 2, 2019
The recent Federal Reserve interest rate cut has clear political benefits for President Trump, but it appears the cut will be doubly beneficial to him, as he also now stands to save millions in loan payments in coming years as a result of the rate cut.
Trump reported five mortgages and loans on his 2019 personal financial disclosure at rates that tend to track the rates set by the Fed: the Prime rate, and the LIBOR. Together, he reported variable-rate loans worth at least $180 million. Therefore, the 0.25% cut in Fed rates will likely save Trump hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars on these loans he has taken out on his business properties. After the announcement of the rate cut this week, Trump tweeted that Fed Chair Powell “let us down” and that the market wanted a “lengthy and aggressive rate-cutting cycle”– appearing to push for deeper cuts in the future that could save him millions more.
The Fed’s rate cut ends a long period of interest rate hikes, and is the first time since 2008 that it has reduced rates. In November 2017, Bloomberg estimated that rate increases since Trump’s inauguration may have cost him $5.1 million.
Trump was clearly unhappy with those past rate increases, and reportedly complained to donors at a private fundraiser that he “expected Powell to be a cheap-money Fed chairman.” He even publicly toyed with the idea of firing Powell, before realizing that he could not.
Trump’s intended appointment of Judy Shelton to the Federal Reserve Board shows a willingness to use his appointment power to secure lower Fed rates. Shelton has advocated for a 50-basis-point cut, as well as a return to the gold standard, which would limit the Fed’s power to set rates at all. Further signaling Shelton’s alignment with Trump, she held multiple interviews about her potential nomination and her views on Fed policy from the lobby of Trump’s DC hotel.
This is not the first time Trump has used presidential authority to advance his personal financial interests. One of Trump’s most significant legislative achievements from his first term was a tax reform bill with a loophole that likely benefited him enormously by allowing “pass-through” corporations, a category that includes many Trump Organization entities, to pay tax on only 80% of their domestic income.
Because President Trump refused to divest from his businesses, every financial policy he pushes raises the question of whether his choices are in the interest of the American people, or his own bottom line. We can’t know the full extent to which he personally benefits because he continues to block release of his tax returns. What we do know is that President Trump’s actions and advocacy in the White House affect his personal profits, this time likely by millions.