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    Saturday, April 20, 2024

    Trump Media soars in first day of public trading

    Former president Donald Trump’s social media start-up surged in its first day of trading as a public company Tuesday, a stock-market debut that helped deliver the Republican presidential candidate a multibillion-dollar fortune.

    The newly merged Trump Media & Technology Group, which owns the social network Truth Social, saw its share price climb roughly 35 percent in its first morning on the Nasdaq exchange under its new ticker symbol, DJT — Trump’s initials.

    The company took over the stock held by Digital World Acquisition, its merger partner, which saw its share price soar on Monday more than 30 percent. Shareholders on Friday approved the merger, which was first announced in 2021.

    Trump owns 60 percent of Trump Media, or roughly 78 million shares, a stake now worth more than $5 billion.

    The company’s valuation, however, stands at odds with its business performance. Trump Media earned about $3.4 million in revenue and lost $49 million in the first nine months of 2023, a Securities and Exchange Commission filing shows.

    By noon, the Trump company’s shares were trading for about $67 — around the same price as the discussion-board platform Reddit, which went public last week, has tens of millions more active users than Truth Social and generated more than $800 million in revenue last year.

    The trading frenzy has helped make the company one of the largest parts of Trump’s net worth, according to Bloomberg, which said Monday was “the single-greatest day on record for the former president’s wealth” and had elevated him for the first time onto its list of the 500 richest people.

    Trump, however, can’t sell his shares or use them as collateral for six months due to a common business-deal provision, known as a lockup, designed to give investors confidence that major shareholders won’t quickly cash out once a deal closes.

    When Trump Media and Digital World announced their plans to merge in 2021, Digital World’s share price skyrocketed too, to a high of $175 a share. But the stock plunged in the days afterward and faced years of low prices and volatility due in part to merger delays. Its shares were selling for about $17 at the start of this year.

    Roughly 400,000 retail investors bought shares in Digital World, but the official changeover to Trump Media has seemingly motivated a new class of investor. On Reddit’s prominent “WallStreetBets” subreddit, many posters have called to pour money into the “meme stock” for short-term gains: “LETS GO TO THE MOON!!” one post Monday said.

    Trump Media chief executive Devin Nunes, a former Republican congressman from California, said in a statement Monday that the company will work “to reclaim the Internet from Big Tech censors” and “stand up to the ever-growing army of speech suppressors.”

    The merger unlocked for Trump Media more than $300 million that Digital World raised from investors in 2021 and which the company has said it intends to use toward expanding the online infrastructure supporting its main source of revenue, ads on Truth Social.

    The company, however, is far smaller than its social media peers, which also sell ads. Truth Social’s most popular user, Trump, currently has 6.7 million followers. Digital World said in a prospectus last month that the platform had received 8.9 million sign-ups since launching in 2022.

    For comparison, X said last year it had more than 540 million monthly active users. Meta’s new social network, Threads, said in July it had signed up 100 million new users in five days.

    In the prospectus, Digital World said Trump Media believed that “adhering to traditional key performance indicators” — common measurements for the industry, like sign-ups and active users — could “divert its focus” from the growth of its business.

    Trump Media “believes that focusing on these KPIs might not align with the best interests of [Trump Media] or its shareholders,” the prospectus said.

    Trump Media’s soaring value on paper is far higher than Trump’s own assessment of it last April, when the merger process was delayed. In a campaign financial disclosure filing that month, Trump said his stake in the company was worth between $5 million and $25 million.

    Truth Social is Trump’s central online megaphone, and many of its posters are Trump supporters who share conservative memes, echo his talking points and attack his political opponents. Trump Media is based in Sarasota, Fla., and says on LinkedIn it has between 51 and 200 employees.

    Trump has invested no money in the company, which was launched in early 2021 by Andy Litinsky and Wes Moss, two former contestants on Trump’s television show “The Apprentice.” The men are now suing Trump Media, claiming the company had worked to dilute their shares.

    Trump Media will assume the stock ticker symbol of Trump’s last publicly traded company, Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts. The company lost more than $1 billion during Trump’s time as chairman and filed for bankruptcy in 2004, The Post reported in 2016.

    The merger agreement says Trump could waive his six-month lockup provision with approval from Trump Media’s board, whose directors now include Nunes, Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr., and several high-profile Trump allies, including Robert E. Lighthizer, Linda McMahon and Kash Patel, an SEC filing shows.

    But allowing Trump to cash out early could flood the market and erode the company’s share price, financial experts told The Washington Post.

    In a Truth Social post on Saturday, one Digital World investor, Chad Nedohin, said a stock drop on Friday was the fault of “MASSIVE market manipulation” and “fake news” reporting about the lockup. Nedohin also insisted Trump would never sell his shares, because “such a move would be TERRIBLE for Trump and would destroy the value in his own company.”

    Trump, however, could use the money to pay toward some of his hundreds of millions of dollars in legal penalties. A New York appeals court panel said Monday that Trump would need to post a $175 million bond within 10 days to delay enforcement related to his $454 million civil-fraud judgment, including the potential seizures of his assets.

    On Truth Social, Trump posted on Monday a “beautiful” message he said he received from a supporter, which said, “It’s ironic that Christ walked through His greatest persecution the very week they are trying to steal your property from you.”

    The stock’s performance has helped highlight how investors and influence-seekers could now give money to a public company mostly owned by a former president and presumptive presidential nominee.

    Though Trump Media will face more financial-disclosure requirements as a public company, major shareholders will not have to immediately publicly disclose their investments.

    A report released in January by Democrats on the House Oversight Committee found that Trump’s businesses had received at least $7.8 million from foreign governments and officials during his presidency.

    On the Reddit investing forum, one poster wrote on Monday that anyone betting against the company “doesn’t understand how many actors in the [U.S.] and around the world have an interest in giving money to DJT.”

    Noah Bookbinder, the chief of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a progressive government watchdog group, said “Trump for years has been very open about the fact that he is receptive to being influenced by anyone who will support his businesses … and this seems like an opportunity that is tailor-made for that.”

    “We have every reason to think he is going to look favorably on anyone who benefits him financially,” Bookbinder added.

    Shannon Devine, a Trump Media spokeswoman, said in a statement that the claim was a “new set of inane conspiracy theories about Truth Social.”

    Comment threads are monitored for 48 hours after publication and then closed.