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Which version of Trump will report for work?

Mr Borrow-and-Spend may have to convince his party to take on more debt, says DBS CEO

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DBS chief executive officer Piyush Gupta (pictured) probably takes the words out of everybody's mouth when he weighs the impact of Donald Trump's impending US presidency.


DBS chief executive officer Piyush Gupta probably takes the words out of everybody's mouth when he weighs the impact of Donald Trump's impending US presidency.

"Trump the businessman or Trump the demagogue - which Trump will come to work? Not clear," he told The Business Times on Monday on the sidelines of the bank's opening of its innovation facility.

Mr Gupta noted that Mr Trump will have to convince his own supporters that his potential reforms - including a cut in taxes and a loosening of regulation around banks - would be in their interests. "A large part of his support base came from people who are already very unhappy about inequality in the system. So can he pivot away from the support base, and be seen to be helping a part of this?

"But if you look in the last week, 24 hours after he said he was going to throw Hillary (Clinton) into jail, he was saying we owe her a debt of gratitude. Twenty-four hours after not calling Barack Obama anything else except Barack and (saying) that he's a waste of time, now he's saying, 'I'm honoured.' Trump has got the capacity to spin quite quickly. He might be able to get away with it."

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Still, the broader concern now is of political discourse around wealth distribution, with Mr Gupta lauding Singapore's early move to tackle income inequality for the bottom 20 per cent.

"My bet was that Clinton would win, but I kept reminding people that Brexit told you something. This whole issue is not a Trump and Clinton issue. It is an issue around centrist politics. The centre is not holding, and people are getting so disenchanted with establishment politics, so both the left and right succeed."

The world will also have to grapple with "massive consequences" behind technological disruption on jobs displacement - both for blue-collar and white-collar workers, said Mr Gupta.

"My own bet is that you will find a lot more entrepreneurship, or what people call the gig economy. Is that enough to keep everybody employed? Uncertain," he said.

"Over the next ten years, the whole question of redistribution economics is going to be at the forefront of all our societies. You can't call the future. What you can do is to create organisational resilience and adaptability. I think that's true for individuals as well. My two kids both graduated in the US and went into the workforce. I'm pushing both of them to learn how to be self-sustaining entrepreneurs. Because in the future, their jobs might not exist."

Mr Trump is entering the Oval Office at a time when monetary policies are running out of steam, and the markets are eager for some fiscal stimulus. He also has "the whole alignment of the establishment", Mr Gupta pointed out. The Republican Party will control its majorities in the House and Senate. And for the first time since 2007, Republicans will control both the executive and legislative branches of government.

"But it's not straightforward. Trump by character and experience, is a borrow-and-spend guy. His whole business empire has been built on borrowing and spending. To do the fiscal stimulus, he's going to have to borrow and spend. And the Republican Party, in general, is not a borrow-and-spend party," said Mr Gupta.

"If he can get enough money to do the fiscal spend, and to cut corporate taxes, and get the Republican establishment to support him on that, that could be very beneficial to the growth in the US. That's the positive."

But Asia will naturally be hit if he erects trade walls, Mr Gupta added. This comes as the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) looks to be dead in the water. All eyes are on the upcoming meeting between Mr Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe this week. Japan and Singapore are part of the TPP.

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