Donald Trump, a businessman, entertainer and former U.S. president whose personal brand has always been closely intertwined with his wealth, is no longer in the top tier of America’s richest people.
The business magazine estimates his net worth fell by about $600 million during the coronavirus pandemic as big-city properties — the core of his assets — lost value, leaving him with a $2.5 billion fortune. The 400th entry on Forbes’s list, the Arkansas-based investment banker Warren Stephens, logged a net worth of $2.9 billion by comparison.
Losing a spot on Forbes’s widely followed ranking marks a turn for Trump, whose wealth made him famous long before he entered politics.
Trump’s stewardship of the real estate business he inherited from his father brought him world renown as a dealmaker, setting him up for a hit television show and later paving the way for his presidency. But his exact net worth has often been the subject of speculation and controversy, in part because he refused to release his tax returns when he entered office.
Trump has previously said rankings like the Forbes 400 fail to accurately estimate his holdings. In a 2015 appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Trump claimed he was worth more than $10 billion, more than twice what Forbes had estimated. “They have no idea what I own, and it’s irrelevant,” he said at the time, referring to Forbes.
To his point, it can be hard to calculate net worth for individuals whose holdings are tied up in private companies, as is the case with the Trump Organization.
Forbes’s job in calculating the former president’s wealth is made all the more difficult by the fractured way in which Trump’s real estate empire is organized. The Trump Organization consists of hundreds of privately owned corporations whose individual valuations have been disputed.
Forbes calculated Trump’s net worth by adding up the individual properties and establishing their value based on public disclosures and conversations with local real estate agents and others who are familiar with the various real estate markets, said Dan Alexander, a senior editor at Forbes. Then they subtract any debts or related liabilities, similar to how someone might conduct a property appraisal on a house.
“We take this approach with other real estate executives, as well, but Trump probably gets the most detailed look of anybody,” Alexander said Tuesday in a phone interview.
Trump’s decision not to divest his assets when he took office five years ago turned out to be pivotal, Alexander noted. Trump opted to hang on to his company and real estate assets, then valued at $3.5 billion, despite the potential conflicts of interest his financial entanglements would create.
Had he divested those assets and invested the money in a simple S&P 500 market-tracking index fund the day he entered the White House — and received a common ethics sign-off allowing him to avoid capital gains taxes — he would be worth about $7 billion today, according to Forbes.
There were 24 other real estate magnates who did make the list despite pandemic-related head winds, such a D.C.’s Ted Lerner or California’s Donald Bren.
But the top echelons of America’s wealthy in 2021 made their money in the technology sector. Nine of Forbes’s 10 wealthiest Americans ― all except Berkshire Hathaway Chairman Warren Buffett ― founded or led a major tech firm.
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, with an estimated net worth of $201 billion, topped the list for the fourth year in a row, Forbes said. He also owns Blue Origin, an aerospace company, and The Washington Post.
Rounding out the top five are Tesla and SpaceX chief Elon Musk ($190 billion); Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg ($134 billion); Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates ($134 billion); and Google co-founder Larry Page ($123 billion).