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"Make Me Smart” Newsletter

Donald Trump’s a meme stock now

Tony Wagner Apr 5, 2024
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Donald John Trump is a lot of things: Former president, current presumptive GOP nominee, real estate magnate, TV host. Now he’s a meme stock. Truth Social parent company Trump Media & Technology Group went public last week under the ticker symbol DJT, surging in its first couple days on the Nasdaq. Trump, Truth’s majority owner and most important poster, added billions to his wealth practically overnight. The stock was buoyed by the zealous “Make America Great Again” crowd — or at least the idea of them. All the investors Reuters talked to were speculators, not Trump fans. “I invested $10,000 last Tuesday because MAGA is crazy and they will pump the stock,” one investor said.

Easy come, easy go: Like GameStop and AMC before it, this meme stock fizzled out. Shares cratered this week when Truth Social disclosed $58 million losses on $4 million revenue last year. Short sellers who lost out initially are lining up again to bet the $5 billion company may still be a bit overvalued. Trump’s net worth has whipsawed too, but at this point it’s all just on paper. The former president isn’t allowed to cash out for six months, and doing so could drive the stock down further. That’s bad news for Trump, who could use more liquidity to pay his mounting legal expenses.

Speaking of legal bills: As Trump Media prepared to go public, Trump himself has been battling co-founders Wes Moss and Andy Litinsky in court. Moss and Litinsky, former contestants on “The Apprentice,” say Trump is trying to dilute their shares. In a separate suit, Trump argued the pair forfeited their meal ticket by mismanaging Truth Social. 

Remember the emoluments clause? It’s the part of the Constitution that prevents the president from accepting money and gifts from foreign powers, to prevent conflicts of interest in the highest office. It was a hot topic after Trump’s election, and the same old ethical concerns are back again. With the president exempt from ethics laws around investments, experts worry White House influence could be bought and sold. After all, the ticker symbol is Trump’s initials.

As if this wasn’t messy enough: Two brothers in Florida pleaded guilty this week to insider trading ahead of Trump Media’s market debut. Prosecutors said Michael and Gerald Shvartsman had scooped up cheap shares of Digital World Acquisition, essentially a publicly traded pile of money, because they knew it planned to merge with Trump Media and take that company public. This corporate maneuver, called a SPAC, was the hot thing on Wall Street a few years ago. Longtime listeners will remember that we explained it in detail in 2021. Here’s the episode if you want to refresh your memory.

Smart in a Shot

The leading cause of personal bankruptcies in America is medical debt. Experts say 100 million people have at least some, and 3 million carry more than $10,000.

To better understand what’s behind the high cost of health care, and how consumers can better navigate the system, Marketplace recently hosted a panel of experts, moderated by David Brancaccio, at a live event in St. Paul, Minnesota. Watch the whole event, “Health and Wealth: Why Americans are Drowning in Medical Debt” on our YouTube channel.

The Numbers

California fast food workers saw their minimum wage jump to $20 an hour this week. Let’s do the numbers.

500,000

The number of workers covered by the law that went into effect April 1, according to the state. The pay hike applies to employees of national companies with more than 60 locations, with some carve-outs.

$16 an hour

California’s overall minimum wage. A recent government report found that wage was unlivable in major cities and along the state’s central coast. Home health care workers made up the largest portion of low-income workers in California.

3,600

The estimated number of fast food employees in Los Angeles County who are unhoused.

15%

It’s early, but there are signs restaurants are passing higher labor costs onto customers in the state. Business Insider crunched some numbers and found Starbucks raised prices about 15% this month.

$7.25

The federal minimum wage, last raised in July 2009. Here’s an interesting chart showing that minimum wage  adjusted for inflation, and pegged to overall productivity, over 50 years.

None of Us Is as Smart as All of Us

Tell us what’s making you smarter at smarter@marketplace.org. We’d love to include your recommendation in a future newsletter.

What is “AI” anyway?

Companies like to throw the term around, but do you know which modern conveniences qualify as “artificial intelligence”? The answer is often in the eye of the beholder. Producer Courtney Berksieker recommends this quiz from the Washington Post (gift link).

Do Trader Joe’s dupes go too far?

Reddit is full of amateur sleuths trying to figure out which of the store’s budget-priced products are white-label versions of name brands. But small business owners told Taste that the chain has a habit of copying their products rather than paying for a partnership. Editor Virginia K. Smith put us on to this one.

Where Tesla went wrong

Another stock based in part on a charismatic figurehead, Tesla is down more than 30% so far this year. Newsletter editor Tony Wagner is reading this Heatmap story digging into the company’s numbers, and what they say about the electric vehicle market.

There’s a lot happening in the world.  Through it all, Marketplace is here for you. 

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