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Wilbur Ross gives insider account of how Icahn left Trump's victory party and made $1 billion

Wilbur Ross conceded Friday that Carl Icahn was "smarter" than he was on election night because Icahn left Donald Trump's victory party to buy stocks — and made $1 billion.

"I stayed at the party," the new Commerce secretary lamented in an interview on CNBC's "Squawk Box."

"We were with Carl Icahn and some others," recalled Ross, a campaign advisor at the time. "At about 2 in the morning, when the futures market had collapsed, Carl left the party and started buying."

Ross, a fellow billionaire, made his fortune by buying distressed assets that nobody else wants on the belief they would recover.

Carl Icahn, billionaire activist investor, waits for Donald Trump, president and chief executive of Trump Organization Inc. and 2016 Republican presidential candidate, not pictured, to speak at an election night event in New York, U.S., on Tuesday, April 19, 2016.
Victor J. Blue | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Carl Icahn, billionaire activist investor, waits for Donald Trump, president and chief executive of Trump Organization Inc. and 2016 Republican presidential candidate, not pictured, to speak at an election night event in New York, U.S., on Tuesday, April 19, 2016.

In December, Icahn appeared on CNBC and talked about why he saw a buying opportunity when everyone else was selling after the November election results became known. He said at the time it just made sense to "play the market." In retrospect, Icahn added that he wished he had bought more in those early morning hours, considering the recovery when regular trading on Wall Street opened. Icahn was a Trump confidant during the campaign.

After Trump's win, Dow futures initially tumbled more than 800 points. The Dow Jones industrial average roared back the next day, touching off what became known as the Trump rally. The stock market has soared to new heights ever since, closing earlier this week above the 21,000 level for the first time ever on hopes that Trump and the GOP-controlled House and Senate can deliver on promised corporate tax cuts and deregulation.

But going into Election Day, most political pundits did not give the Republican Trump much of a chance against Democrat Hillary Clinton. The so-called conventional wisdom in the investment community last fall saw the outside chance of a Trump win slamming the stock market. The argument then was that Trump represented the unknown and investors hate uncertainty.

Hindsight being 20-20, those predictions could not have been more wrong.

"The markets have given a clear endorsement of optimism coming from the new administration. I don't think there's any doubt about that whatsoever," Ross said Friday.

Unlike most of his White House predecessors, Trump has been taking credit for the stock market increase.

He did so again Thursday in a tweeted:

Past presidents have been reluctant to say they're responsible for the rise in the stock market because they did not want to be blamed in the event of a drop.

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