EghtesadOnline: President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for budget chief, Mick Mulvaney, has been an active investor in gold and gold-mining stocks, often seen as a hedge against collapsing currency.
The South Carolina Republican congressman has accused the Federal Reserve of debasing the value of the greenback and has praised bitcoin, an alternative currency. He held between $50,000 and $100,000 in precious metals as of the end of 2015, filings show.
Now, as Trump’s nominee to run the Office of Management and Budget, Mulvaney, 49, is poised to influence U.S. fiscal policy. As director of OMB, he would help the president set government spending and could end up working on an overhaul of the federal tax code. At least one other member of Congress appointed by Trump to a cabinet-level position, Representative Tom Price, also has a history of trading stocks while in office, according to Bloomberg.
Mulvaney’s investments in mining companies date to at least 2010, the year he was elected to the House of Representatives as part of the Republican Tea Party wave. A filing detailing his holdings at the end of that year shows he and family members owned stocks and funds of gold- and silver-mining companies -- including Eldorado Gold Corp., Agnico Eagle Mines Ltd. and Pan American Silver Corp. -- with a total value of between $252,000 and $855,000.
Most of those companies’ stocks have fallen since then, though they rebounded a bit in the first half of 2016. Subsequent disclosures show Mulvaney sold some of those holdings, most recently on June 29, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Among transactions on that date, were the sale of as much as $50,000 of Goldcorp Inc. stock and as much as $15,000 of Barrick Gold Corp.
Those trades track moves by billionaires such as George Soros and Stanley Druckenmiller, who sold gold after it rallied in the first half of the year. More investors have fled the precious metal since Trump’s election last month. Prices for gold and silver have fallen 14 percent since June 30. The dollar has strengthened during that period, with the Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index rising 7.7 percent.
Mulvaney may have had “an ideological view of what the central banks were doing and, along with many investors, sought out the safety of gold,” said Quincy Krosby, a market strategist at Prudential Financial Inc. in Newark, New Jersey. “He wasn’t alone.”
A spokeswoman for Trump’s transition team declined to comment.
Mulvaney’s financial disclosures show he also has invested in exchange-traded funds focusing on industries such as energy, utilities and pharmaceuticals. In addition, he reported a stake worth between $500,000 and $1 million in a “land holding and tree farming company” in South Carolina.
A person close to Mulvaney who asked not to be identified discussing the trades said the congressman makes investment decisions on his own and with the help of a financial adviser. In recent years, he has bought ETFs to diversify the portfolio further, the person said.
The congressman earned an undergraduate degree from Georgetown University and a law degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. After working in private legal practice and in his family’s home-building business, he became an owner-operator of a regional restaurant chain.
Since arriving in Congress, Mulvaney has been one of the most aggressive advocates for cutting government spending. In 2011 he co-authored a measure passed by the House that would have slashed outlays and raised the debt ceiling, as long as Congress passed a constitutional amendment to balance the budget and made it harder to raise taxes. He also helped lead an effort to defund or delay the Obama administration’s signature health-care overhaul, resulting in a 16-day government shutdown in 2013.
Shortly after he sold mining stocks in June, Mulvaney spoke at a dinner in South Carolina held by a chapter of the John Birch Society, a group that has pushed conspiracy theories and says the only form of money permitted by the Constitution is gold and silver coin. According to an article in Mother Jones, the congressman told attendees that the Fed’s actions have “effectively devalued the dollar” and harmed economic growth.
Since 2012, members of Congress have had to file reports within 45 days of making trades in excess of $1,000. Prior to that, they were required to provide only annual disclosures. The filings don’t specify the date or price at which investments were acquired or sold, and they only give ranges for the dollar amounts of transactions and holdings, which can make it difficult to determine gains or losses.
While members are supposed to avoid improprieties, they don’t necessarily have to divest holdings if they pose a conflict. Only in rare instances are they required to abstain from voting when they have a direct personal interest in a matter, according to the House Committee on Ethics.
As a cabinet-level official, Mulvaney would be subject to conflict-of-interest rules overseen by the U.S. Office of Government Ethics that may require him to sell certain assets if they clash with his executive-branch duties.
The information in the congressional filings may prove to be a flash point in the nomination of Price, Trump’s pick for health secretary. The Georgia Republican has traded more than $185,000 worth of stock in health-care, pharmaceutical and biomedical companies since 2012, as he sponsored legislation that could have affected the value of those firms, the data compiled by Bloomberg show. The Wall Street Journal reported on his trading last week.
Price, an orthopedic surgeon who’s called for repealing the Affordable Care Act, told the newspaper that he had complied with the law and ethics rules and would do so if confirmed.
Trump and some of his other nominees for key cabinet posts are also coming under scrutiny for their investments and potential conflicts of interest. The first billionaire U.S. president has appointed two billionaires and at least 10 millionaires, with a combined net worth of about $5.6 billion, to run government departments.