The Newest Abnormal

By: Doug Noland | Sat, Oct 31, 2009
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For the week, the S&P500 sank 4.0% (up 14.7% y-t-d), and the Dow declined 2.6% (up 10.7% y-t-d). The Banks were hammered for 9.1% (down 4.7%), and the Broker/Dealers were hit for 5.5% (up 44.4%). The Morgan Stanley Cyclicals fell 9.2% (up 49.1%), while the Transports dropped 5.0% (up 2.2%). The Morgan Stanley Consumer index declined 3.2% (up 15.2%), and the Utilities fell 3.6% (down 4.1%). The S&P 400 Mid-Caps declined 6.0% (up 22.5%), and the small cap Russell 2000 fell 6.3% (up 12.7%). The Nasdaq100 declined 4.9% (up 37.6%), and the Morgan Stanley High Tech index fell 4.9% (up 51.5%). The Semiconductors dropped 6.3% (up 39.8%). The InteractiveWeek Internet index sank 5.1% (up 58.7%). The Biotechs fell 6.4% (up 26.9%). Although Bullion declined only $11, the HUI gold index was hammered for 9.1% (up 29.3%).

One-month Treasury bill rates ended the week at 2 bps, and three-month bills closed at 5 bps. Two-year government yields dropped 17 bps to 0.78%. Five-year T-note yields fell 17 bps to 2.25%. Ten-year yields were 11 bps lower to 3.39%. Long bond yields declined 7 bps to 4.23%. Benchmark Fannie MBS yields dropped 10 bps to 4.29%. The spread between 10-year Treasuries and benchmark MBS yields widened one to 90 bps. Agency 10-yr debt spreads narrowed 4.8 bps to a tiny 0.2 bps. The implied yield on December 2010 eurodollar futures sank 21.5 bps to 1.535%. The 10-year dollar swap spread was little changed at 18 bps; and the 30-year swap spread declined 1.25 to negative 8.25 bps. Corporate bond spreads were wider. An index of investment grade bond spreads widened 8 bps to 148, and an index of junk spreads widened 2 bps to 569 bps.

Investment grade issuers included GMAC $2.9bn, Mead Johnson Nutrition $1.5bn, FMR $700 million, Prologis $600 million, Amphenol $600 million, Oglethorpe Power $400 million, Eastman Chemical $250 million, New York University $100 million, and San Clemente Leasing $115 million.

Junk bond funds saw inflows of $207 million. Junk issuers included Western Corp Credit Union $1.5bn, Reynolds Group $1.125bn, Continental Airlines $640 million, Universal City Development $625 million, Berry Plastics $620 million, GCI $425 million, Associate Materials $200 million, Potlatch $150 million, and Scientific Games $125 million.

I saw no converts issued.

International dollar-denominated debt issuers included Achmea Hypotheekbank $3.25bn, Croatia $1.5bn, Lukoil $1.5bn, Fibria Overseas $1.0bn, Inversiones $500 million, Coca-Cola Amatil $400 million, Net Servicos $350 million, Prime Dig $315 million, Banco BMG $300 million, Indo Integrated Energy $230 million, and Hilla Sukuk $100 million.

U.K. 10-year gilt yields declined 6 bps to 3.62%, and German bund yields fell 12 bps to 3.23%. The German DAX equities index sank 5.7% (up 12.6% y-t-d). Japanese 10-year "JGB" yields increased 4.5 bps to 1.405%. The Nikkei 225 declined 2.4% (up 13.3%). Emerging equities were weak and emerging bonds were under some pressure. Russia's RTS equities index dropped 7.7% (up 113%). India's Sensex equities fell 5.4% (up 64.8%). China's Shanghai Exchange declined 3.6%, lowering 2009 gains to 64.5%. Brazil's benchmark dollar bond yields jumped 20 bps to 5.23%. Brazil's Bovespa equities index dropped 5.4% (up 63.9% y-t-d). The Mexican Bolsa was hit for 6.4% (up 28.0% y-t-d). Mexico's 10-year $ yields rose 21 bps to 5.52%.

Freddie Mac 30-year fixed mortgage rates increased 3 bps to 5.03% (down 143bps y-o-y). Fifteen-year fixed rates added 3 bps to 4.46% (down 173bps y-o-y). One-year ARMs increased 3 bps to 4.57% (down 81bps y-o-y). Bankrate's survey of jumbo mortgage borrowing costs had 30-yr fixed jumbo rates down another basis point to 6.04% (down 154bps y-o-y).

Federal Reserve Credit declined $17.4bn last week to $2.154 TN. Fed Credit has declined $92bn y-t-d, although it expanded $281bn over the past 52 weeks (15.0%). Elsewhere, Fed Foreign Holdings of Treasury, Agency Debt this past week (ended 10/29) jumped $11.4bn to a record $2.899 TN. "Custody holdings" have expanded at an 18.4% rate y-t-d, and were up $412bn over the past year, or 16.6%.

M2 (narrow) "money" supply jumped $26.4bn to $8.359 TN (week of 10/19). Narrow "money" has expanded at a 2.5% rate y-t-d and 5.0% over the past year. For the week, Currency dipped $0.3bn, while Demand & Checkable Deposits gained $12.2bn. Savings Deposits surged $29.6bn, while Small Denominated Deposits declined $8.0bn. Retail Money Funds fell $7.3bn.

Total Money Market Fund assets (from Invest Co Inst) slipped $2.3bn to $3.370 TN. Money fund assets have declined $460bn y-t-d, or 14.5% annualized. Money funds declined $168bn, or 4.7%, over the past year.

Total Commercial Paper outstanding rose $10.6bn (11-wk gain of $302bn) to $1.377 TN. CP has declined $304bn y-t-d (22% annualized) and $173bn over the past year (11%). Asset-backed CP declined $5.6bn to $543bn, with a 52-wk drop of $178bn (25%).

International reserve assets (excluding gold) - as accumulated by Bloomberg's Alex Tanzi - were up $521bn y-o-y to a record $7.407 TN. Reserves have increased $643bn year-to-date.

Global Credit Market Watch:

October 30 - Bloomberg (Lester Pimentel and Catarina Saraiva): "Mexico's dollar bonds are posting their biggest monthly declines since January on speculation President Felipe Calderon will fail to cut the budget gap enough to avoid a credit-rating downgrade. The debt lost 2% this month..."

October 30 - Dow Jones (Ainsley Thomson): "October saw record-high issuance of euro-denominated high-yield bonds, beating the pre-crisis high reached in 2007, as investors' appetite for riskier, higher-yielding assets continues to strengthen. High-yield bonds worth EUR6.7 billion were sold in October, beating the previous record of EUR6.6 billion set at the height of the bull market in June 2007..."

October 30 - Bloomberg (Emre Peker): "Bank of America Corp. and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. led lenders in arranging a record $2.26 billion of leveraged buyout financing in October, more than eight times the amount raised in the first quarter, as the U.S. exits the worst recession since the Great Depression."

October 28 - Bloomberg (Peter Eichenbaum and David Mildenberg): "GMAC Inc., the lender that received two government bailouts totaling $13.5 billion, is in talks with the Treasury Department to receive a third lifeline... The U.S. government may inject an additional $2.8 billion to $5.6 billion into GMAC..."

October 27 - Bloomberg (John Gittelsohn): "Capmark Financial Group Inc., the lender that filed for bankruptcy this week, was making billions of dollars in property loans just as investor Sam Zell was exiting the U.S. office market in early 2007. In 2006 and 2007, Capmark originated $60 billion in commercial mortgage loans, most for office buildings, according to the Oct. 25 bankruptcy filing. While Capmark was lending, Zell was selling Equity Office Properties Trust at the top of the market for $39 billion, including debt."

Currency Watch:

The dollar index rallied 1.3% to 76.42. For the week on the upside, the Japanese yen increased 2.2% and the British pound 0.9%. On the downside, the New Zealand dollar declined 4.8%, the South African rand 4.5%, the Swedish krona 4.4%, the Norwegian krone 2.9%, the Canadian dollar 2.9%, the Brazilian real 2.5%, the Australian dollar 2.5%, and the Euro 1.9%. For the week against the Japanese yen, the New Zealand dollar declined 6.7%, the South African rand 6.6%, the Swedish krona 6.4%, the Norwegian krone 5.0%, the Canadian dollar 5.0%, the Brazilian real 4.6%, and the Australian dollar 4.6%.

Commodities Watch:

October 29 - Bloomberg (Nicholas Larkin): "The time to hold gold is now as faster inflation and increased purchases through exchange-traded funds and by central banks boost demand amid stagnant mine output, Paul Tudor Jones's Tudor Investment Corp. said. 'I have never been a gold bug,' Jones... told investors... 'It is just an asset that, like everything else in life, has its time and place. And now is that time.'"

October 28 - Bloomberg: "China Investment Corp., the country's sovereign wealth fund, said it has $110 billion for overseas investments and will focus on buying into commodities companies and property as a hedge against accelerating inflation. 'Now we are seeing expectations of medium and long-term inflation, and the value of major currencies may have to fall to a new equilibrium level,' Chairman Lou Jiwei told a forum... 'Investing in major commodities can be a hedge. So is investing in real estate.'"

October 28 - Bloomberg (Luzi Ann Javier): "Rice prices may return to record levels as bad weather curbs output in major growers and forces some nations to accelerate imports, a Philippine minister and the U.S. Rice Producers Association said. 'We are not very far from another rerun of 2008 prices,' Arthur Yap, the Philippines' Agriculture Secretary, said... Higher oil prices may push up fertilizer costs, boosting prices further, he said."

The CRB index declined 3.6% (up 17.8% y-t-d). The Goldman Sachs Commodities Index (GSCI) dropped 4.3% (up 42.3%). Gold declined 1.0% to close at $1,045 (up 18.4%). Silver sank 7.7% to $16.36 (up 44.8%). December Crude fell $3.46 to $77.04 (up 73%). November Gasoline fell 4.9% (up 83%), and December Natural Gas sank 7.8% (down 10.1%). December Copper fell 2.7% (up 110%). December Wheat dropped 9.8% (down 19%), and December Corn fell 8.0% (down 10% y-t-d).

China Bubble Watch:

October 30 - Bloomberg: "China will sustain its economic rebound this quarter and growth is likely to top the government's 8% target for 2009, the central bank said. Policy makers need to 'manage inflation expectations,' curb excess capacity and encourage sustainable lending growth, the central bank said..."

October 27 - Bloomberg (Sophie Leung and Bernard Lo): "Stephen Roach, chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia, said investors are wrong to bet that China will restrain its unprecedented stimulus after the economy accelerated in the third quarter. 'The Chinese really are fixated on one thing and one thing alone which is social stability -- they don't want to take a risk of another negative growth surprise' slowdown, Roach said..."

October 27 - Bloomberg (Sophie Leung): "China predicted an acceleration in industrial production and reported a 190% jump in overseas investment for the third quarter... Investment by Chinese firms abroad rose to $20.5 billion in July through September, almost triple a year earlier... Industrial output may rise 16% in the fourth quarter, Ministry of Industry and Information Technology official Zhu Hongren said..."

Japan Watch:

October 30 - Bloomberg (Toru Fujioka): "Japan's jobless rate unexpectedly dropped to a four-month low in September, adding to signs that a recovery in the world's second-largest economy is spreading to consumers. The unemployment rate fell to 5.3% from 5.5% in August..."

India Watch:

October 29 - Bloomberg (Luzi Ann Javier): "India, the world's second-largest rice grower, may become a net importer for the first time in 21 years in 2010, potentially sparking the kind of 'panic' that sent prices to records in 2008, an agricultural economist said. India may import as much as 3 million metric tons next year after the wet season harvest plunged, Samarendu Mohanty, a senior economist at the International Rice Research Institute, said..."

Asia Bubble Watch:

October 29 - Bloomberg (Jacob Greber): "Asian economies are 'rebounding fast' from the global crisis, helped by fiscal support that the region's governments must maintain due to sluggish world export demand, the International Monetary Fund said. Growth in Asia including Japan, Australia and New Zealand will probably accelerate to 5.8% next year from 2.8% this year, 'well below' the 6.8% average over the past decade... Asian governments have pumped more than $950 billion into their economies by cutting taxes, distributing cash and boosting spending..."

October 28 - Bloomberg (Stephanie Phang): "Malaysia's central bank refrained from raising interest rates, opting to keep borrowing costs at a record low to support a nascent economic recovery... Bank Negara Malaysia kept its overnight policy rate unchanged at 2%... 'The international economic and financial conditions have improved further,' the central bank said. 'Notwithstanding these improvements, the outlook for the global economy continues to be uncertain, with recovery likely to be slow and uneven in view of the ongoing adjustments.'"

Unbalanced Global Economy Watch:

October 28 - Bloomberg (Alexandre Deslongchamps): "Canadian home prices posted their fourth consecutive monthly increase in August... the Teranet-National Bank National Composite House Price Index showed. Prices were up 2% during the month... On an annual basis, prices were down 3.4%."

October 30 - Bloomberg (Jurjen van de Pol): "European factories increased capacity usage on assembly lines for the first time in two years this quarter... Assembly-line activity in the euro area rose to 70.7% of capacity this quarter from 69.6% in the prior three months..."

October 28 - Bloomberg (Fergal O'Brien and Simone Meier): "Hugh McGee is cutting the price of Guinness by about 20% at his bars and hotels in the Irish town of Letterkenny to keep customers coming across the border from Northern Ireland after the euro's surge against the pound. McGee reduced the price for a beer this month to 3.50 euros ($5.18) at his hostelries after the pound's 12% drop against the euro in the past year led customers from the U.K. province of Northern Ireland to stay home."

U.S. Bubble Economy Watch:

October 29 - Bloomberg (Dunstan McNichol): "Retirement accounts for states and local government employees lost $600 billion in value in the year that ended June 30, a decline of 21%, a U.S. Census Bureau report shows. Assets of the 100 largest public retirement systems, accounting for 89% of public pension activity, fell to $2.2 trillion, the lowest in five years..."

Real Estate Watch:

October 29 - Bloomberg (Kathleen M. Howley): "About 18.8 million homes stood empty in the U.S. during the third quarter... The number of vacant properties, including foreclosures, residences for sale and vacation homes, rose from 18.4 million a year earlier and 18.7 million in the second quarter... The record high was in the first quarter, when 18.95 million homes were vacant."

Central Banker Watch:

October 28 - Bloomberg (Josiane Kremer): "Norges Bank raised its key interest rate a quarter point from a record low and signaled steeper increases than it previously forecast over the next three years as inflation accelerates and unemployment remains low. The... bank raised the overnight deposit rate to 1.5%, becoming the first European central bank to reverse its easing cycle since the credit crisis started to abate."

October 29 - Bloomberg (Liz Capo McCormick): "The Federal Reserve will complete its $300 billion Treasury purchase program today... Yields on the benchmark 10-year note, which help determine rates on everything from mortgages to corporate bonds, never rose above 4% after the central bank began acquiring the debt. They are less than half a percentage point higher than the day before the program was announced on March 18, even though the U.S. sold a record $1.25 trillion in notes and bonds, more than double the amount in the year-earlier period."

October 29 - Bloomberg (Jana Randow and Rainer Buergin): "European Central Bank council member Axel Weber signaled the bank may start to withdraw its emergency stimulus measures next year by scaling back its 'very long- term' loans to banks. 'Some of the new instruments will be needed longer than others,' Weber, who heads Germany's Bundesbank, said... 'From today's perspective, the unlimited allotment in our main refinancing operations will have to be maintained for a longer period of time than the guarantee of very long-term liquidity.'"

October 30 - Bloomberg (Mayumi Otsuma): "The Bank of Japan said it will stop buying corporate debt at the end of the year, as central banks around the world phase out emergency measures taken at the height of the financial crisis. Governor Masaaki Shirakawa and his colleagues also said they will only extend a program providing unlimited collateral-backed loans to banks one last time through March 31."

October 30 - Bloomberg (Frances Robinson and Mark Barton): "Former Bank of England policy maker Charles Goodhart said the bank may scale back or pause its bond- purchase program next week as officials around the world start to pull back stimulus for their economies. 'The expansion of quantitative easing will be reduced in scale and possibly paused for a time,' Goodhart said... The Bank of England will follow 'slightly more cautiously,' he said."

October 27 - Bloomberg (Cherian Thomas): "India's central bank took the first step toward withdrawing its record monetary stimulus as inflation pressures build, ordering lenders to keep more cash in government bonds. 'It may be appropriate to sequence the 'exit' in a calibrated way,' Governor Duvvuri Subbarao said...after increasing the statutory liquidity ratio to 25% from 24% and raising the inflation forecast. The central bank kept benchmark policy rates unchanged, while maintaining its economic growth forecast of 6% 'with an upward bias.'"

Muni Watch:

October 30 - Bloomberg (Jeremy R. Cooke): "State and local governments led by California sold more than $12 billion of fixed-rate bonds this week, the most in six months, pushing 20-year benchmark tax-exempt yields to their highest level since late August."

California Watch:

October 28 - Bloomberg (Darrell Preston): "California is the world's eighth-largest economy. Diamond Offshore Drilling Inc. is the largest U.S.-based deepwater oil driller. The state known for its wine, Hollywood and earthquakes collected about $80 billion in taxes in the year ended June 30, compared with $3.6 billion in revenue for Houston-based Diamond. The two have similar credit ratings, and the state can rely on its taxing authority to address deficits. Still, the company got a better deal than California when each borrowed money this month."

New York Watch:

October 29 - Bloomberg (Michael Quint): "New York's budget deficit increased to $3.2 billion for the 12 months ending March 31, and state fiscal officials forecast Wall Street bonuses will fall 22%... Governor David Paterson said. The $3.2 billion gap is up from the $2.1 billion estimated by the Division of Budget on July 30..."

Speculation Watch:

October 26 - Bloomberg (Tom Cahill): "Hedgebay Trading Corp., operator of the oldest site for swapping stakes in hedge funds, said September transactions show the fourth monthly drop in prices for funds in the $1.4 trillion industry. Transactions in September took place at an average discount to net asset value of about 17%, down from 12% in August...While prices have recovered from a record discount of 20% in March, investors are leery of overpaying for hedge fund investments, Hedgebay said."

October 28 - Bloomberg (David Scheer, Josh Fineman and Karin Matussek): "K1 Group, the German hedge fund firm, is embroiled in an international criminal investigation after saddling banks, including Barclays Plc, JPMorgan... and BNP Paribas SA, with about $400 million of losses..."

 

The Newest Abnormal

The eighties brought us Japan's "miracle economy". The '88 Dukakis presidential campaign delivered the "Massachusetts miracle" - not many years later renamed "Massachusetts miserable." The Asian Tiger "miracle economies" (and markets!) were all the rage in the mid-90s - until their systems blew apart. Here at home, there was all the "New Paradigm" and the "New Era" hoopla. And until the recent crisis and double-digit GDP downdraft, many bravely trumpeted Ireland's Celtic Tiger miracle.

It's as if there's a contest to coin a catchy phrase that will gain popular acceptance. There was "muddle through" to describe the expected course of the post-tech Bubble economy. The "Great Moderation" lauded newfound policymaker success in moderating economic (and inflation) variability. And who can forget the vaunted "stable and desirable" global monetary "system" - "Bretton Woods II" - analysis that rationalized Credit Bubble excesses. Then there was the pride and joy of coining "the shadow banking system." Now it's "The New Normal."

I must be a grump, as I'm rarely fond of popular economic catchphrases. The "miracles" were - without exception - belatedly recognized as Bubbles. Bullish visions of new eras and paradigms were similarly Bubble delusions. I never bought into the post-technology bust notion of a "muddle through" economy. It was just inconsistent with Bubble analysis - and the dynamic of a more powerful Bubble throughout mortgage finance emerging from the tech wreck. Bubbles tend to not muddle.

I scoffed at "The Great Moderation." The framework from which it originated was flawed. An optimistic view held that astute central banking had become quite adept at tinkering with interest rates. Students of economic history found this disconcertingly reminiscent of the fateful view from the "roaring twenties" that central banking had conquered the business cycle. Central banking has repeatedly been given way too much Credit, while the expansive influence of speculative finance is always easily ignored.

There was no disputing the impressive potency central bank rate cuts had attained (over the past 20 years) for reigniting and sustaining economic growth. Yet rigorous analysis of the Credit system would have illuminated the newfound role of the Wall Street firms, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the FHLB, the massive securitization marketplace, derivatives, and the hedge funds. Central bankers hadn't become smarter or even more sophisticated. But never had they enjoyed such a powerful monetary policy tool - an expanse of aggressive players keen to stimulate Credit expansion, the markets and the economy at a moment's (or 25bps) notice. Over a period of many years the Credit system - and the Fed's transmission mechanism to the real economy - had been completely transformed. It should have appeared shadowy only to those that had clung to a narrow focus on banking system Credit.

"Bretton Woods II" propaganda really rubbed me the wrong way. "How can intelligent analysts not see that the U.S. has exported its Credit Bubble to the rest of the world," I would mumble to myself at the time. There was certainly nothing stable or desirable about the arrangement of the U.S. massively inflating Credit - using these IOUs to feed asset Bubbles and over-consumption. Especially with foreign central banks content to monetize these dollar flows, in the process dangerously inflating their asset markets and economies. Again, the key to sound analysis was rigorous analysis of underlying Credit structures and financial flows.

Which brings me to the latest and greatest: "The New Normal." It's not that I have huge issues with the analysis - it's certainly not "miracle," "New Era," or "Bretton Woods II" silliness. I just sense it's incomplete and misses some important aspects of the unfolding backdrop. From Bill Gross: "We're transitioning due to popped bubbles and de-risking of portfolios and balance sheets... A simple way to look at it is that private market capitalism simply went too far over the last 10-20 years, and now we're in the process of pulling back and accommodating deleverging, regulating and de-globalization."

From my perspective, the "New Normal" appears more like the old than something new: I prefer "The Newest Abnormal". To be sure, there have been some popped Bubbles. But we remain trapped in the same old Bubble inciting paradigm of activist central banking and government policymaking. I have expounded the view that a "government finance Bubble" emerged with the bursting of the Wall Street/mortgage finance Bubble. I would argue that Bubble dynamics have taken firm hold in China, throughout Asia, and in the "developing" economies more generally. New Normal reminds me too much of "muddle through."

"Deleveraging" is at this point overrated. Our federal government issued about $1.9 TN of additional debt over the past year. In my book, that's "leveraging." The Fed's balance sheet has become much more leveraged. The mortgage businesses of Fannie, Freddie, Ginnie and the FHA have become much more "leveraged." The Newest Abnormal is about massive synchronized global government Credit expansion and extreme monetary looseness. The Newest Abnormal sees massive "private" Credit expansions in China, India, Brazil, and the "developing" markets. The Newest Abnormal is fueling historic Credit and economic Bubbles in China.

The Newest Abnormal has seen a major resurgence in the global leveraged speculating community. The Newest Abnormal is acting with great speed to impair the dollar as the world's reserve currency - taking unfettered financial "globalization" to a whole new level. The Newest Abnormal has animal spirits that could give the old ones a run for their "money".

Mr. Gross's New Normal - constrained by "deleveraging and reregulation" - seems to imply a more subdued and therefore stable Credit landscape. Such a backdrop would be consistent with lower average economic growth and lower investment returns. The Newest Abnormal - with varieties of newfangled Bubbles, excesses and uncertainties - would point to ongoing financial and economic volatility. The "averages" may indeed be lower going forward - but it may be the divergences that prove most noteworthy (hard asset returns vs. securities; non-dollar vs. dollar; China GDP vs. U.S., for example).

The New Normal implies more monetary order, while the Newest Abnormal suggests unrelenting Monetary Disorder. The proponents of the New Normal would tend to view extreme government intervention as a stabilizing force appropriate for a (deflationary) post-Bubble landscape. From the Newest Abnormal perspective, massive government deficits and market interventions inaugurate a dangerous new stage of global inflationism. Newest Abnormal analysis posits that a more stable New Normal backdrop would, at this point, likely only arise after a major government debt crisis.

It was a Newest Abnormal kind of week. For months now, unprecedented global government intervention has spurred a stampede back into risk assets. Buoyant risk markets then sparked a run of bullish optimism. Not surprisingly, everyone ended up on the same crowded side of the reflation trade. This week, global equities, emerging market bonds, commodities, and most currencies were rocked by heavy selling pressure. Those borrowing in yen to leverage higher-yielding currencies in, for example, New Zealand or Sweden, had their heads handed to them. The reflation bet definitely had some air kicked out of it. And many believing, with two months to go, that they had great years in the bag are now recalling that sick 2008 feeling. It's a reasonable bet that heightened uncertainty and market volatility have returned and will be sticking around a while.

 


 

Doug Noland

Author: Doug Noland

Doug Noland
The Credit Bubble Bulletin
PrudentBear.com

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