Donald Trump must have breathed a sigh of relief as 1995 drew to a close.
The epic crash of New York City (NYC) real estate, which had battered Trump’s investments and left many of his fellow real estate investors clinging to any lifeline of solvency, was finally over. Prices of New York City real estate, which had fallen in each of the previous five years, had finally started to rise.
Apartment rental prices fell by 15 percent during the slump that had begun in 1988. The prices of co-ops and condos were down by nearly twice that much. Manhattan homes fell by 32.9 percent between 1989 and 1996, according to a study by the Furman Center for Real Estate & Urban Policy. In Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen — that westside stretch where Trump had invested so much in a plan to turn an old railyard into a new neighborhood — home prices fell 40.4 percent.
The giant Canadian real estate company Olympia & York had declared bankruptcy. At one point, it had been the largest landlord in New York. By 1992, it had fired its bankers from J.P. Morgan and hired Felix G. Rohatyn, the guy who had saved New York City itself from the brink of bankruptcy in the 1970s. In the end, it would be swallowed up by its creditors, vanishing into the ash heap of history.
Banks were getting crushed. New Jersey’s largest savings association was seized by federal regulators after real estate losses. Wall Street was scrambling, with real-estate king Goldman Sachs suddenly finding it could not raise money from investors for real estate projects
“Even Goldman, which has dominated the business on Wall Street, is telling many of its real estate bankers to look for new jobs,” a news story noted in 1991.
Trump had made it through the worst period in New York City real estate in living memory while bigger, deeper-pocketed rivals had failed — a sigh of relief, at least.
Yet according to the New York Times story detailing glimpses at Trump’s finances from “tax transcripts” of his filings from 1985 to 1994, Trump’s personal financial losses during the New York City real estate crisis somehow mark him as a failure rather than someone who persevered through an economic story.
From the Times:
Mr. Trump was propelled to the presidency, in part, by a self-spun narrative of business success and of setbacks triumphantly overcome. He has attributed his first run of reversals and bankruptcies to the recession that took hold in 1990. But 10 years of tax information obtained by The New York Times paints a different, and far bleaker, picture of his deal-making abilities and financial condition.
The story goes on to describe how Trump reported negative income — meaning he lost money — every year from 1985 until 1994, the years for which the Times obtained tax transcripts. The big losses, however, come the years from 1990 through 1994, with 1990 and 1991 showing up as the worst. In other words, the Times story shows that Trump’s business of real estate investing in and around New York City suffered massive losses in the years when New York City real estate crashed.
The Times story on Trump’s taxes does not include the condition of the New York City real estate market in those years, although every link to data in this article (saving the Furman Center study) is to articles in the New York Times.
This is not the first time the Times has declared Trump a business failure. In 1991, when the losses the New York Times reported on this week were mounting, Times columnist Floyd Norris declared that Trump’s financial troubles meant “the Trump aura will never be the same.”
“For Mr. Trump, Fed easing might not help that much. Bankers may not be fast learners, but they do catch on. For him, the era of easy credit is unlikely to ever return,” Norris wrote in 1990.
As it turns out, that announcement of the financial death of Trump was as exaggerated as claims made decades later that Trump could not possibly win the 2016 presidential election.