When Donald Trump became president, he left his eldest sons in charge of his company, with a mandate to continue expanding the family's business and brand — which they said at the time was "the hottest it has ever been."

Now, more than two years into his presidency, there is growing evidence that the Trump brand is cooling off.

The latest indication was in Trump's financial disclosure report, made public on Thursday, which showed that revenues across the president's businesses in 2018 were down about 4 per cent from the previous year. Many of his biggest revenue generators, like his Doral, Florida, resort and Washington hotel, had only tiny increases, while revenues from his famed club, Mar-a-Lago, dropped nearly 10 per cent.

The New York Times dug through the numbers for clues about how Trump's businesses are faring just past the midway point of his term in office. Here are five takeaways.


The rest of the world once offered big growth opportunities. Not anymore.

As Trump was sailing toward the Republican nomination in 2016, he filed a financial disclosure report that showed how his company was eagerly expanding into foreign markets.

The report included new business ventures in Bali, Indonesia, as well as Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, and Kolkata, India. His sons Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr. were eagerly talking about even more potential targets, including projects in China and Israel.

Work is still moving ahead in some of the nations where the Trump family had signed deals as of the end of 2016, including residential towers in India.

But the huge global branding expansion that was underway has largely come to a halt because of a self-imposed prohibition on new foreign deals. And that is hurting the family business's pace of growth, the newest financial report shows.

Just a few years ago, the international projects were generally bringing in US$1 million ($1.5m) to US$5m a year in new revenue, like the Trump complexes in Istanbul and the Philippines.

Under these deals, the Trumps signed contracts with foreign developers to put the Trump name on high-end building projects, in return for a cut of their sales, while also in some cases hiring the Trump family to help manage the properties once they opened.

New golf course projects in Scotland and Ireland were also pushing up revenue numbers, in an even bigger way.

But no new projects have been added in the last two years, contributing to the flatness in overall revenue growth.

The Trump brand is hurting its remaining hotels

Ask hotel industry experts and they will tell you that the downtown Chicago market continues to grow, with a more than 5 per cent increase last year in the revenue per room in the average hotel in the Chicago area.

But at the Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago, the story was different. Management fees collected by Trump Chicago Hotel Manager LLC dropped 5.7 per cent last year. And the company confirmed that the average daily rate paid at the hotel declined last year.

Bill Hopping, a Colorado-based hotel industry consultant, said this disconnect between overall market trends in Chicago and Trump management fees strongly suggests that there is some kind of an outside factor affecting sales at the Trump hotel.

"Those are significant differences," he said, adding that there is a similar disconnect in Hawaii between the Trump family property and the overall market. "They are underperforming."

The entrance to the Trump International Hotel in Washington. Revenues were mixed in 2018 at some of Trump's most recognisable properties. Photo / Alex Wroblewski / The New York Times
The entrance to the Trump International Hotel in Washington. Revenues were mixed in 2018 at some of Trump's most recognisable properties. Photo / Alex Wroblewski / The New York Times

The Trump Organisation says the Chicago business had a good year in 2018 and points to new hotels opening in the city creating intense competition, as well as headlines about crime in the city, as factors that might have depressed revenues at its Chicago property.

Trump often criticises Chicago, a Democratic bastion, for its high crime rates.

The one major exception to the trend is the hotel in Washington, which in 2018 outperformed the industry average. The Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue pulled in US$40.8m in revenue, a much larger figure than in Chicago because the Trump Organisation owns and operates the hotel in Washington, instead of just managing it.

Past financial filings for the Washington hotel showed that sales of food and drinks and events at the hotel were helping drive its particularly strong performance, even more than room bookings. The bar is often populated with Republican Party activists and out-of-town visitors who are fans of Trump. The hotel's banquet rooms have also been rented out by major trade associations — such as the American Petroleum Institute — and foreign groups, holding events that might draw the attention of the White House.

The nonprofit group Public Citizen published a report last year called "Hotel Swamplandia" that listed outside groups that were holding events at Trump family properties. The list included 121 political candidates or political groups, 47 businesses or business groups, 12 religious groups, 10 foreign governments or business interests, and eight charities. The largest number of events took place at the Trump hotel in Washington.

Trump is heavily invested in golf, but revenues are sideways

Of total assets of at least US$1.4 billion listed in the financial disclosure report, more than a third is tied to the Trump Organisation's golf clubs and resort business. These businesses generated more than half the minimum of US$434.9m he reported in total revenues.

That means that the Trump business is heavily dependent on the success of the 16 golf clubs it operates, from Scotland to New York to Los Angeles.

In total, revenues rose about 1.5 per cent at those properties last year, but half of them saw modest declines. The courses with the biggest revenue drop-offs were the ones near Los Angeles and Philadelphia, and another in Jupiter, Florida.

Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida. Photo / Sarah Silbiger / The New York Times
Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida. Photo / Sarah Silbiger / The New York Times

The four Trump-owned or operated courses outside the United States had revenue growth last year, including at the golf course and resort in Turnberry, Scotland, which had the largest jump in revenues, to US$23.4m, up 15 per cent. A company official said the performances at Turnberry and Doonbeg in Ireland were the best since Trump took them over.

Trump's course near Washington, which he often visits on weekends, saw revenues rise 4.6 per cent.

An expanding area in the US: Knickknacks

When Trump imposed a ban on new foreign deals during his presidency, the company still thought it would grow domestically. The Trumps were already working on two new midrange hotel brands, with plans of opening them in dozens of cities like Cincinnati; Nashville, Tennessee; and Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.

That growth never materialised and the Trumps shelved the new hotels this year, citing the political climate. The partners on the only hotel deal they signed, based in Mississippi, are now continuing without the Trumps.

And the Trumps did not have much to show for all of the effort planning the new lines of hotels, which were to be called American Idea and Scion: They collected US$10,000 in management fees last year connected to the Mississippi deal. Another Trump entity involved in the new hotel lines reported US$61,000 in management fees.

One area where the Trumps have seen revenue growth has been in their sale of Trump-branded ties, golf wear and golf balls and other gifts. In 2017, they opened a Trump-branded online store, and in its first full year of operation, it brought in US$520,000.

The financial report offers only a limited view

Trump's financial disclosure spanned 88 pages and listed over 100 lines of business, including hotels, real estate and golf courses. But for all the numbers, the report offers only a limited view of the president's finances. It gives no data, for example, about whether properties are profitable, for example.

Since his campaign, Trump has refused to release his taxes, which would offer a more in-depth view of his finances. Trump has been resisting efforts from congressional Democrats to obtain his taxes, which he says are under audit.

The report does include vague details about Trump's debt, including that he has at least US$315m in loans, including new financing for the US$18.5m mansion he bought from a sister.

But it also leaves many open questions.