Whatever you think of Donald Trump the presidential candidate, Donald Trump the TV personality or Donald Trump the businessman, there’s little doubt he is rich — private-jet-and-helicopter rich.
A lot of smart people have tried to nail down exactly how rich. The consensus seems to be somewhere between almost $3 billion (the estimate from Bloomberg News) and $10 billion (from Trump himself, via notoriously vague presidential campaign filings).
The final number isn’t important. A billion here, a billion there and pretty soon you’re talking real money. The more interesting question is whether his vaunted deal-maker persona is the reason for his wealth.
The answer: Maybe, but he could easily have been just as rich by doing nothing at all.
See, money makes money. Long-term investors know that low-risk compounding is the name of the game. Start off with a pile of dough and invest it prudently and over the years your money grows. One dollar becomes $2, then $2 becomes $4, then $8 and so on.
It’s inevitable. Institutional investors such as pension plans and college endowments do not try to “beat” the market. Instead, they attempt to match the market at the lowest possible risk and let compounding do the work.
Young Donald Trump inherited real estate worth tens of millions. What if he had just owned stocks and avoided high-risk commercial real estate deals, casinos, trips to bankruptcy court and nonstop personal brand-building, including diversions such as Trump the board game and Trump University?
In a real sense, his career has been a waste of time, an ego trip and nothing more. According to one thoughtful analysis, if he had taken his inheritance and put it into the S&P 500 back in 1974, his worth today would be…wait for it…about $3.4 billion.
It’s not difficult math. That’s the simple fact of compounding — your money makes more money.
If you have the stomach for set-it-and-forget-it investing, you can do it too. As Burton Malkiel, author of A Random Walk Down Wall Street and a member of the investment committee of my firm, Rebalance, recently put it, the single best investment you can make today is a global equity index fund.
That’s what he told the PBS host Consuelo Mack on a recent episode of her long-running, respected Wealthtrack show. I wholeheartedly agree. Low-cost diversified stock market exposure is ultimately where compounding happens.
Be Donald Trump rich
Rational, responsible financial advisors will tell you the same. If your time frame is shorter than decades, or if you simply can’t ignore the stock market and its occasional sharp declines (and usually sharp rebounds), then a risk-adjusted portfolio might be a better fit for you.
But the bottom line remains the same: You don’t need Trump-level chutzpah to succeed as an investor. You certainly don’t need any of his purported savvy. You don’t even need $40 million in seed money.
A normal middle-class income, a steady savings strategy, patience and time is all it takes to succeed at a level that buys you all the comforts of a great retirement. The reason people don’t do this varies, but a big part of it is the costly impact of high financial advisor fees and the drain from emotionally driven investing, that is, jumping in and out of the stock market.
Steady, low-cost investing works. If your advisor tries to tell you otherwise, tell him in your best Donald Trump voice: “You’re fired.”