5 things to know about Trump's finances _ caveats, claims, bankruptcies and risk-taking

Markets Associated Press

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has estimated his fortune at nearly $9 billion — a figure, that if accurate, would make the businessman the wealthiest person to ever run for the White House.

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Five things to know about Trump's wealth:

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TRUMP IS ALMOST CERTAINLY THE RICHEST PERSON EVER IN A PRESIDENTIAL RACE

His claim of a net worth of nearly $9 billion would eclipse that of Ross Perot, the billionaire Texas entrepreneur who ran a third-party campaign in 1992. Aside from Perot, no other candidate has reached the $1 billion dollar mark, including publishing empire heir Steve Forbes (roughly $400 million) or private equity titan Mitt Romney ($250 million.)

A case can be made that some Founding Fathers were richer, but only in terms of economic power, a measure of how much they were worth relative to the size of the entire U.S. economy at the time.

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IT'S GOOD TO START OFF RICH

Trump has cited his ability to become rich as an important qualification for public office. Though he has earned a huge sum of money, Trump started off in the upper reaches of the 1 percent. His grandfather, Fred Trump Sr., was a successful builder. His father, Fred Trump Jr., earned a fortune estimated at several hundred million dollars through building solid-but-modest housing in the New York City boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens — sometimes with government support. Trump has credited his father with teaching him business, but the candidate has played down the value of his family's capital and connections to the New York construction and finance world.

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TRUMP HASN'T BEEN BANKRUPT, BUT HIS COMPANIES HAVE — FOUR TIMES

"Stop saying I went bankrupt!" Trump demanded on Twitter last month, a sentiment he expresses regularly. The confusion stems from the difference between personal and corporate bankruptcy.

Various arms of Trump's hotel and casino business underwent Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganizations in 1991, 1992, 2004 and 2009. But only in the first instance — where Trump had personally guaranteed a vast debt owed by the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, New Jersey, — was Trump's personal fortune at risk.

In the other bankruptcies, his exposure was limited to just his stake in the particular venture. While plenty of other entities with Trump's name on them have failed, including the Trump International Golf Club in Puerto Rico this week, those were just companies that were renting Trump's name.

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HE TALKS UP RISK-TAKING, BUT HIS CURRENT PORTFOLIO IS QUITE CONSERVATIVE

Setting aside Trump's $3.3 billion valuation of his personal brand, most of Trump's wealth is in the form in the real estate. Yet the summary of his finances he presented at his campaign kickoff last month lists more than $4 billion in mature, fully-owned assets, with less than $500 million in debt.

That's extremely safe — and completely out of keeping with the heavy borrowing that is standard for owners of marquis commercial real estate.

In his book "The Art of the Deal," Trump extolled such borrowing: "Leverage: Don't make deals without it." In practice, though, his publicly announced financials suggest he could be doing vastly more borrowing than he is.

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CAVEATS ABOUT HIS WEALTH MAY BE WARRANTED

Doubting Trump's fortune can be hazardous. In 2006, Trump sued author Tim O'Brien for citing anonymous Trump insiders lowballing Trump's net worth in the book "TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald."

Precisely valuing a fortune such as Trump's is difficult, subjective work under the best of circumstances.

Trump lost his lawsuit against O'Brien on First Amendment grounds, but the panel of judges who killed the case in 2011 noted Trump's history of claims, such as asserting that a 72-story building with tall ceilings was actually a 90-story building. Because of numerous caveats, the judges declared that even a 2004 financial statement authored by Trump's accountants had "limited value as an accurate representation of Trump's net worth."