July 24, 2024

Hedge fund billionaire Bill Ackman is leaning towards backing Donald Trump in the US election, according to a person briefed on his thinking, as some of Wall Street’s leading figures throw their weight behind the former president.

Ackman, who backed Trump’s Republican rivals, including Nikki Haley, in the party’s primary contest this year, is likely to make his endorsement on X, the Elon Musk-controlled social media platform in which he is a minority investor.

Ackman has previously donated money to Democrats, including Dean Phillips, who mounted a primary challenge to President Joe Biden this year.

The person familiar with Ackman’s thinking said the billionaire did not believe alternative candidates such as Robert F Kennedy Jr, whose long-shot White House bid he had also supported, were likely to win.

They added that Ackman’s dislike for Biden far outweighed his ambivalence for Trump.

The expected endorsement by the Pershing Square Capital Management founder follows last week’s announcement by Stephen Schwarzman, another Wall Street billionaire, that he would support Trump as a “vote for change”.

The Blackstone chief also cited a rise in antisemitism in the US as among reasons for supporting the former president.

Ackman, who has led a vocal campaign against US university bosses he claims have tolerated anti-Jewish discrimination on campuses, had previously indicated that he was considering switching his support to Trump.

Stephen Schwarzman
Blackstone chief Stephen Schwarzman said last week that he would support Trump as a ‘vote for change’ © Noriko Hayashi/Bloomberg

The growing support on Wall Street for the former president — including from donors who abandoned Trump after the January 6 2021 attack on the US Capitol — comes as the Republican candidate pledges to slash taxes and eliminate government regulation if elected.

Wall Street bosses have criticised the Biden administration for what they describe as regulatory over-reach, with private equity executives arguing that the Federal Trade Commission’s antitrust agenda has suppressed dealmaking.

“Wall Street is definitely swinging in Donald Trump’s direction,” said Key Square Group founder Scott Bessent, who has raised funds for the former president.

Schwarzman’s backing would be an “all-clear signal for others sitting on the fence”, he added. 

One investment banker said the growing support for Trump reflected investors’ increasing confidence that he would succeed in reclaiming the White House.

“Wall Street always wants to pick winners and most people think Trump is going to win — very simple,” the banker said.

Other billionaire donors, including Citadel founder Ken Griffin, who donated to Haley in the primary, remain on the sidelines.

Griffin has said he might support Trump depending on the presumptive nominee’s pick for a running mate. Haley has announced she will vote for Trump.

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Tech venture capitalist Keith Rabois, who gave Haley’s campaign more than $1mn, declined to tell the Financial Times if he would back Trump, but said it was “inconceivable that I will vote for Biden”.

Separately, casino billionaire Miriam Adelson will direct her significant resources to the pro-Trump super-political action committee known as Preserve America, according to a person familiar with the matter. 

In 2020 the group raised $105mn, including $90mn from Adelson and her husband Sheldon, who died in 2021. The super Pac expects to exceed its 2020 fundraising mark, the person said. Politico first reported the news.

Some leading Wall Street investors who were leaning towards Trump said it remained socially awkward to endorse the former president publicly.

One top New York investor said he felt it was too risky for him to publicly endorse Trump, despite the former president being the “obvious choice” for Wall Street, adding that their children attend a liberal school.

“Nobody likes Trump for his family values,” the investor said, “but he’s a more commercial guy, our kind of people like that.”

A senior corporate lawyer in New York said Trump was also making inroads with disillusioned Democrats on Wall Street. 

“The Democratic party’s messaging has been terrible,” said the lawyer, who asked to remain unnamed for fear of criticism from friends and colleagues. 

“Wall Street Democrats are still pro-capitalism,” he added. “Unfortunately, you have a lot of far-left folks who have hijacked the party . . . they don’t understand what it takes to win the country.”

Trump would be a “no-brainer for our industry . . . we’ll get richer if he wins”, said a private equity executive who manages tens of billions of dollars in the media, tech and retail sectors. 

“But I can’t make my views public because I’ll get immediately cancelled . . . many of our customers would immediately start boycotting the services and products sold by our portfolio companies,” the executive added.

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