Two weeks ago an anonymous source posted Donald Trump’s 1995 tax return to The New York Times. The Republican presidential nominee’s income tax statements have been keenly sought, as the mogul-turned-politician has broken with tradition in not releasing them this election season. The Times concluded that the $916 million loss on Trump’s 1995 tax return would have enabled him to avoid paying any federal income taxes on incomes up to $50 million a year for up to 18 years.

But Bronte Capital founder John Hempton, a famous Australian hedge fund boss whose blog is closely followed by financial journalists, has another theory. He doesn’t think Trump would have had the financial ability to absorb a near-$1 billion loss in 1995, which means it’s likely he’s passed on the debt associated with that loss elsewhere. Hempton reckons the loss listed on Trump’s tax return would probably have been resolved through “debt-parking” — where a dummy corporation takes over an individual’s debt and does nothing to collect, enabling that individual to carry on with their business without dealing with the loss. If this were true, it is significant because it means it’s unlikely that Trump would be able to avoid income tax in the way the NYT has described. As he writes on his blog:

“There is a vehicle out there (say an offshore trust or other undisclosed related party effectively controlled by Donald Trump) — which owns over $900 million in debt and is not bothering to collect it. I do not have the time or energy to find that vehicle. But it is there. Now that this blog has gone public journalists are going to look for it. There is a Pulitzer prize for whoever finds it. Just give me a nod at the acceptance ceremony.”

The post has provoked much, highly detailed commentary in the comments — not being an accountant, Ms Tips couldn’t begin to guess who has the right of it. Of course, Hempton’s post is mostly (well-informed) conjecture. A truer picture of Trump’s financial assets, and exactly what he does to avoid paying tax, would be best illustrated through greater openness on the part of the candidate, including through releasing his full tax returns. But we might be kept waiting on that.

Peter Fray

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