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Trump Teaches Americans a Bankruptcy Lesson

Trump Teaches Americans a Bankruptcy Lesson

By Tuesday, 11 August 2015 11:03 PM Current | Bio | Archive

Is stiffing your lenders immoral? Billionaire Donald Trump doesn’t think so. Asked in last week’s Republican debate about his four business bankruptcies, Trump had no regrets. He said bankruptcy is a tool the “greatest people” use.

Trump is in good company on that point. Real estate developers routinely structure their holdings to insulate each property from problems elsewhere in their empires. In other words, they plan for potential bankruptcy from the very beginning. They use it strategically to defend their interests.

In fact, bankruptcy is implicit assumption in every business contract. Bankruptcy is a legal process that can make a contract invalid. It recognizes an uncomfortable fact. Sometimes people and businesses borrow money on what seem like reasonable terms, only to have unforeseen events make repayment impossible. The bankruptcy courts sort through the pieces and try to reach a fair compromise.

Often in a bankruptcy, lenders end up recovering only part of their principal – sometimes only pennies on the dollar. Another tool is to “restructure” loans with principal reductions that make repayment more feasible.

I was glad Trump explained this because he made a point we don’t often hear. In a bankruptcy, both borrowers and lenders share responsibility. Maybe the borrower shouldn’t have borrowed so much… but lenders should keep their eyes open, too. If they see excessive risk, they shouldn’t loan the money.

As Trump put it, “These lenders aren’t babies. These are total killers. These are not the nice, sweet little people that you think, OK?”

He has that right. Donald Trump doesn’t borrow from babies. He borrows from professional financiers who know what they are doing. If the deal goes bad, they don’t complain because they factored this risk into the loan terms and their portfolio strategy.

You know who else borrowed money from those “killers” Trump described?

About six million American families who lost their jobs and/or saw their home equity plummet in the 2007-2009 financial crisis.

Mortgage lenders foreclosed on most of those people. Some (former) homeowners filed for bankruptcy. Others tried to use different “tools” the government provided, but banks were often less than cooperative. Principal reductions were out of the question for most. Humiliated homeowners took their lumps and many are still suffering today.

Were they immoral “deadbeats” because they tried every tool available to them? If you say yes, then it’s hard to argue that Donald Trump is somehow different. His bankruptcies, while much larger, followed the same legal process.

Like Trump’s commercial lenders, mortgage lenders are not “nice, sweet little people.” They are adults. They know how to do credit analysis. They did it poorly, so they should have swallowed the losses.

That’s not what happened. You paid the mortgage industry’s losses. The government’s TARP program and the Federal Reserve bought the mortgage-backed securities in which those mortgages were bundled.

Most of the original lenders came out whole. Taxpayers and borrowers didn’t.

If I had a choice, I like Trump’s kind of bankruptcy better. It may be ugly, but the right people end up holding the bag. I wonder how he would have handled that crisis back in 2008.

Maybe someone should ask him.

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Is stiffing your lenders immoral? Billionaire Donald Trump doesn't think so. Asked in last week's Republican debate about his four business bankruptcies, Trump had no regrets. He said bankruptcy is a tool the "greatest people" use.
trump, bankruptcy, economy, lender
Tuesday, 11 August 2015 11:03 PM
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