The Times tries to lighten the mood in these dark days with a bit of humor about Trump's finances:
Donald Trump’s Business Decisions in ’80s Nearly Led Him to Ruin
That year , he would later learn, was the beginning of Mr. Trump’s reckoning with a decade of rapid, debt-fueled expansion. The eclectic empire Mr. Trump had built with leverage from his father’s brick-and-mortar fortune began to fail, generating enormous losses and bringing him to the brink of personal bankruptcy.
The full magnitude of the financial hemorrhaging was a closely held secret until this weekend, when The New York Times published portions of Mr. Trump’s 1995 tax records that showed business losses of $916 million, creating a tax deduction that could have allowed him to legally avoid paying any federal income taxes for up to 18 years.
Who knew?!? This secret loss of nearly $1 billion was so closely held that Trump wrote about it in "Art of the Comeback", an excerpt of which appeared in, yes, the NY Times. From 1997:
One day, while walking down Fifth Avenue, hand in hand with Marla, I pointed across the street to a man holding a cup and with a Seeing Eye dog. I asked, "Do you know who that is?"
Marla said to me: "Yes, Donald. He's a beggar. Isn't it too bad? He looks so sad!"
I said, "You're right. He's a beggar, but he's worth about $900 million more than me." She looked at me and said, "What do you mean, Donald? How could he possibly be worth $900 million more than you?"
I said, "Let's assume he's worth nothing (only from the standpoint of dollars)--I'm worth minus $900 million."
Shhh - don't tell anyone! Of course, by 1997, the cat was already out of the bag. Here is the NY Times from 1995:
Crowning the Comeback King
Though there are still four years to go in the 90's, business and government leaders in New York honored Donald J. Trump yesterday for pulling off what they called "the comeback of the decade."
After the collapse of the real estate market of the 1980's, Mr. Trump's company was left holding some $8.8 billion in debt, causing his personal net worth to drop to a low of about $1 billion in the red by 1991.
So everyone knew he was down a billion at his nadir. Had it not occurred to people that losses often end up on a tax return? In "Art of the Comeback", Trump touted the benefits of high marginal tax rates as a way to bring in Uncle Sam as a partner:
Second, [in the 1986 tax reform] the upper-income tax rate was lowered from 51 percent to 32 percent. Investing involves risk. With a 51 percent tax, investors might take a chance on a new housing project. If the project went south, the investor could recapture his losses in the form of a tax break. If an investor is taxed only 32 percent, why bother with the risk?
Losses lead to deductions. Close the loopholes!
TO BE FAIR: I am not an expert in the specific tax ploys available to real estate developers but there are a couple of basic strategies that get kicked around every year.
First, recognize losses and defer gains: Trump seems to have structured his 1990 refinancings to formally recognize tax losses while keeping effective control of the properties. Years later, after the Clinton-Giuliani recovery took hold in NYC, he was under no obligation to sell the properties and recognize the income. Instead, like so many homeowners in the early 2000's, he could simply borrow more money against the new, higher value of the properties to pay off his earlier personal obligations.
The upshot - the 1990 collapse could have produced $1 billion in recognized tax losses but the subsequent recovery would not necessarily have produced $1 billion in recognized, taxable income. Ooops.
Seeing his tax returns would certainly be interesting, especially since Trump will be working for tax reform and we have no idea how it might affect him personally (if Hillary lobbied for special treatment for speaking fees, well, we'd all know why).
But the idea that Trump's billion dollar loss was a secret until last weekend? Please.