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Perfect Time To Review What Is, And What Is Not, Inflation (and why it matters so much)

It is costing more to live and be, so naturally people are looking for who it is they need to blame. Maybe figure out some way to stop it. You know and…

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This article was originally published by Alhambra Investment Market Research

It is costing more to live and be, so naturally people are looking for who it is they need to blame. Maybe figure out some way to stop it. You know and feel for the basics since everyone’s perceptions begin with costs of just living. This is what makes the subject of inflation so difficult, even more so in the era of QE.

Money printing, duh.

By clarifying the situation – demonstrating over and over how there is no money printing therefore there can’t be inflation – we aren’t saying that prices aren’t rising. They obviously are. But by dispassionately analyzing the situation given its clear lack of any monetary basis, what we are doing is pointing out what instead must be responsible for driving costs of living higher.

And what that means for the future.

If it isn’t money – it’s not – then that changes the entire macro picture. These price pressures should be temporary given what’s not actually behind them. They are already proving to be as another monthly CPI rolls in and quite predictably it’s nothing like those from earlier in the year (only a few months ago).

The annual rates of change are similar, though monthly rates have diminished back to the disinflationary paces of the pre-COVID period. And even the annuals are topped out, many of the indices peaking back around April and May, June at the latest.

The BLS today said the overall CPI gained 5.39% (unadjusted) in September 2021 when compared to September 2020. A small bit faster than August’s 5.25% with oil prices moving higher, yet equal to June’s likewise 5.39% and not that much different from May’s 4.99%. No more huge acceleration.

The core rate increased by “only” 4.03% year-over-year last month, just a touch quicker than the 4.00% in August yet down from June’s high of 4.37%. The monthly changes better display just how this really is establishing “transitory” (below).

Outside of goods, these consumer price bulges – Emil’s two-humped camel – are even more clearly defined (above). As the frenzy of consumer buying in especially durable goods fades further, the downward influence from the service sector which never really got going at any point along the way is what rises. Services point to even more serious weakness, therefore deflationary tendencies and ongoing potential, than when the last recession process began (in 2019, not 2020).

All of this in sharp contrast with five decades ago.

The Great Inflation was relentless, and it was everywhere. Start with gasoline prices, one of the key substances of the seventies which everyone who lived through it remembers only too well. While pump prices today are higher when compared to the past few years, they are actually significantly lower over the longer run (thanks to the opposite of money printing).

Up more than 40% from last September, which everyone notices straight away, yet 12% less than the last time the Federal Reserve began to taper its (irrelevant, not money printing) QE back at the end of 2013.

And the reason for the intermittent cost savings? Energy prices are highly susceptible to these repeated (euro)dollar shortages which don’t just interrupt otherwise inflationary conditions, they end them before they can ever get started.

So, the good news moving forward is, if the dollar and much of recent data is correct, energy prices (which lag) might not be upward bound for much longer. The bad news is when energy prices fall, though we may pay less for gasoline when they do, it’s because the global economy, US, too, goes back in the toilet.

Compare this sporadic energy “inflation” with actual monetary inflation like that of the Great Inflation during the 1970’s:

While oil supply factors grab everyone’s attention for having elevated crude prices the most, even in between those two famous episodes the cost consumers paid was almost a straight line higher. From November 1974, the bottom of a very nasty recession, until February 1979 when Iran’s oil was removed from supply due to the Islamist takeover, motor fuel prices in between gained a nearly steady 7% annually.

But what really made the Great Inflation “great” was that it wasn’t just oil or food. This is why we scrutinize “core” rates of inflation closely. Yes, gasoline and beef go up, those alone don’t make inflation. When the money is overflowing, all of it goes up and keeps going.

Therefore, when the core rate shifts, too, that’s when we know it’s more serious and thus maybe has that legendary money printing behind it. Note: while there really had been a boatload of money printed during the seventies, it wasn’t the Fed.

Because of this, everything goes up, core included, and it goes up year after year. No breaks. No pauses. No reversals. Nowhere to hide (for consumers). The charts below are a perfect set of illustrations of what I mean:


OK, people have finally conceded the last time, aftermath of 2008, didn’t ignite an inflationary surge like “all” the Fed’s more famous critics had proclaimed. This time, though, it’s different; many are now arguing Great Inflation 2.0 began only last year (2020) given both the insane rates of QE as well as the even more insane levels of federal government deposit helicopters (recognizing the first ineffective helicopter flew in early 2008, now much bigger whirlies this time around).

How do just the past seventeen months (since first reopening) compare to the Great Inflation from the perspective of the core CPI? Not particularly well.

If anything, the trend (camel humps) in core rates more directly reveals how much is different from the early seventies as well as what’s really making the consumer price bulge this year (and last). To begin with, core inflation just exploded during 1970 even though the US economy was mired in a severe recession! How’s that for what actual money printing can do.

Since this is the core CPI, it represents how the prices in every part of the consumer bucket went up and kept going up without letting up.

Compare that to the current period since the bottom in May 2020, and outside of those few months earlier in the year core inflation has performed almost exactly like the bottom line rather than the top. In other words, it can’t have been QE’s, rather prices pushed up somewhat by epic helicopter drops and the most substantial supply problems since the seventies.

Given all of that, didn’t even match recession 1970. Outside of those few months of Uncle Sam, core inflation remains very clearly very 2010’s.

To drive home the difference, let’s further compare the last seventeen months with that same mid-70s chunk noted above; when oil prices between supply issues rose at a sustained rate so, too, did core prices.

All this is why we won’t call what’s happening right now inflation; because it isn’t. Since it is not monetary inflation (redundant), we expected it to be transitory and, to this point, that’s proving to have been the case as each monthly update is released.

None of this is to deny that consumer prices haven’t gone up, and up by a lot – if compared to more recent years.

What we are doing is demonstrating that the “going up” part, or the camel humps, are for reasons other than “money printing.” Therefore, they are exceedingly unlikely to continue. The blame for these tremendously painful cost burdens belongs elsewhere. 

This is not to led the Fed off the hook, either; policymakers are very much responsible for quite a lot because they don’t actually print any money. Doubly to blame for allowing a confused public to remain confused about QE’s and bank reserves while simultaneously being unable to fix the real monetary problem (shortage), leaving the global economy to have long ago normalized to a disinflationary world which simply means one which has been robbed of vitality and growth for a criminally prolonged period.

And that is what makes even these recent bulges all the more painful; workers as consumers unable to absorb them without legitimate economic growth despite all the constant talk of labor shortages and unnaturally fattened lazy couch potatoes.


Even more confusing, Jay Powell’s Fed having been right in its diagnosis of transitory about those prior humps is now committed to making an even bigger inflation mistake going forward. Frustratingly, the public has been led to believe the central bank printed too much money leading to this (these) consumer price bulge(s), while the Fed understands it didn’t and the bulge wasn’t, but because the Fed doesn’t pay any attention whatsoever to effective money conditions (how would it?), it is back to making its inflationary predictions as a matter for the Phillips Curve therefore the low unemployment rate.

Tapering later this year won’t be based on money, either, which very appropriately puts the Federal Reserve into the same category with current consumer prices.









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The ‘Maestro’ Is Why Jay Powell Keeps Seeing (inflation) Ghosts

See, this is backward. And while it may seem overly pedantic, getting it right is actually a crucial insight (lack thereof) into pretty much everything….

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See, this is backward. And while it may seem overly pedantic, getting it right is actually a crucial insight (lack thereof) into pretty much everything. Its purpose is to maintain a different sort of money illusion (the original relates to how workers focus on nominal rather than real levels of compensation). This other money illusion relates to the hidden nature of money itself.

We’re told central bankers are it, therefore everything must be related to central bank monetary policy. If the dollar’s falling, the Fed accommodated. If it’s rising, Fed tightening. Rates go down because, everyone says, Jay Powell bought bonds. Yields go up because of rate hikes after the bond buying is over.

You go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, the FOMC must’ve voted for it.

It all goes back to before Greenspan, though it was the “maestro” who most clearly articulated the gross illiteracy and unsupported conceits behind much of Economics.

CHAIRMAN GREENSPAN. It’s really quite important to make a judgment as to whether, in fact, yield spreads off riskless instruments—which is what we have essentially been talking about—are independent of the level of the riskless rates themselves. The answer, I’m certain, is that they are not independent.

Risky spreads are, according to this view, in a sense controllable from monetary policy even from only the short end. Why? Because all riskless rates, Greenspan also said, were nothing more than a “series of one-year forwards.”

It was, in theory, all so easy and neat; the Fed from its single position could conduct all the instruments in the symphony as it wished, however and whenever wished. Thus, maestro.

Why, then, all the constant “conundrums” and “inflation puzzles” ever since? Dear Alan said he was certain, and he’s certainly been wrong.

The yield curve is no series of one-year forwards, nor are risky spreads utterly dependent upon hapless Economists at the Fed (see: swap spreads, as a start). Those at the Fed instead have repeatedly shown they have no idea how even short run interest rates work (see: SOFR) which means they can’t be literate in money like economy.

What do they do?

Influence public opinion via financial media. To wit:

The unquestioned assumption embedded here is palpable anyway; nominal rates are rising (“worst year for fixed-income since 2005” BOND ROUT!!!!) because inflation is “hot enough.” Reported like its some foregone conclusion, this inflation certainty dictated to the bond market via a suddenly hawkish Federal Reserve.

This is, at best, incomplete; most often, just plain backward. Thanks, Maestro. 

Had the yield curve behaved recently like it had earlier in this same year, this would be plausible. The yield curve, on the contrary, is performing very differently negating any chance for this to be the case.


Bond yields aren’t reacting to anything; they’ve helpfully sorted CPI’s for us all along. As I wrote earlier today, the yield curve has expertly, consistently interpreted the money Economists and central bankers can’t understand so as to accurately predict – for longer than a century – what is and will be inflation.

This often leads to conflict; central bankers say it’s one thing and bonds declare another, often the opposite. This differing viewpoint not just a post-2007 development, either, also noted today, bonds vs. Economists has been a one-way contest going back before 1929.

Our current case, therefore, very much like previous cases.

A flattening yield curve, conspicuously so, is the bond market recognizing: 1. It isn’t inflation, just transitory price factors, meaning lack of heat in the economy; 2. Policymakers repeatedly have shown they have no clue how or where to even begin figuring one way or the other; 3. Because they are clueless, they have likewise displayed a consistent tendency to make egregious forecast errors, such as 2018 or 2013; 4. Therefore, very much independent of the Fed, bond yields are instead disagreeing with Powell’s mistake by pricing a scandalously flattening yield curve with nominal rates already contradictorily low (tight money).

Bonds – not the Fed – have already sorted the inflation question. The problem is, as usual, the answer isn’t to the liking of mainstream Economics which can only interpret yields from the “certitude” of Greenspan. In that sense, inflation is a foregone conclusion. In the dream-world of media, the theme this year is solidly inflation. In monetary reality, unambiguously deflationary.

Just in time for Halloween, Jay Powell is back to seeing ghosts.

 










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US stock close mixed on Powell’s hawkish remark

Dow Jones closed higher while S P 500 and Nasdaq drifted on Friday October 22 after Fed Chair Jerome Powell s tapering remarks weighed on investors…

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Dow Jones closed higher, while S&P 500 and Nasdaq drifted on Friday, October 22, after Fed Chair, Jerome Powell’s tapering remarks weighed on investors’ sentiment. However, the optimism over the robust earnings has pushed the indices towards their third consecutive week of gains.

The S&P 500 was down 0.11% to 4,544.90. The Dow Jones Industrial Average increased by 0.21% to 35,677.02. The NASDAQ Composite Index fell 0.82% to 15,090.20, and the small-cap Russell 2000 was down 0.21% to 2,291.27.

On Friday, the Federal Reserve Chair, Jerome Powell said that the central bank should start dialing back its asset-buying program soon while suggesting that the interest rate shouldn’t be increased as of now. While the strong earnings results have lifted the investors’ confidence in recent weeks, the remarks from the Fed Chair raised concerns of the investors.

The Fed has reassured that the interest rate will be kept at the “near-zero” level until the economy returns to its expected employment and the inflation would come under the Fed’s expectation level of 2%. Meanwhile, the supply-chain disruptions and the rising costs of the raw materials indicated that inflation is likely to stay above the level for some time.

The financial and the real-estate sector topped the S&P 500 index on Friday, with communication services and consumer discretionary sectors as the bottom movers. Eight of the 11 critical sectors of the S&P 500 index stayed in the positive territory.

The stocks of Cleveland-Cliffs Inc. (CLF) gained 12.10% in intraday trading, after reporting better-than-expected quarterly earnings on Friday, before the bell. The company has reported record revenue of US$6 billion in Q3, FY21, while its net income came in at US$1.28 billion.

The shares of American Express Company (AXP) rose 5.50% after the company has reported strong quarterly earnings results as more people used their cards for traveling, dining, and other leisure activities. The total revenue of the company surged around 25% YoY to US$10.92 billion, while its net income was up 70% from the previous year’s same quarter to US$1.82 billion.

The stocks of Honeywell International Inc. (HON) plunged 2.90% after the company has lowered its full-year sales forecast due to the bottleneck supply constraints. The company’s sales rose 9% YoY to US$8.47 billion in Q3, FY21, while its EPS was up 68% YoY to US$1.80 apiece. However, the company has lowered its sales forecast to be between US$34.2 billion and US$34.6 billion from its previous forecast of US$34.6 billion and US$35.2 billion.

In the financial sector, JP Morgan Chase & Co. (JPM) increased by 1.15%, Bank of America Corporation (BAC) rose 1.27%, and Morgan Stanley (MS) surged 1.54%. Citigroup, Inc. (C) and Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. (GS) gained 1.28% and 1.65%, respectively.

In real-estate stocks, American Tower Corporation (AMT) advanced 1.86%, Equinix, Inc. (EQIX) jumped 1.52%, and Public Storage (PSA) soared 1.21%. Digital Realty Trust, Inc. (DLR) and SBA Communications Corporation (SBAC) ticked up 1.03% and 1.71%, respectively.

In the communication sector, Alphabet Inc. (GOOGL) decreased by 3.13%, Facebook, Inc. (FB) fell 5.91%, and Walt Disney Company (DIS) declined by 1.10%. Twitter Inc. (TWTR) and Snap Inc. (SNAP) plummeted 4.15% and 25.99%, respectively.

Also Read: Roper (ROP) & Seagate (STX) stocks rally after Q3 reports

Also Read: Top 7 REITs with over 50% YTD returns to explore

Overall, eight of the 11 stock segments of the S&P 500 index stayed in the positive territory.

Also Read: 5 industrial stocks with over 40% YTD returns to explore

Futures & Commodities

Gold futures were up 0.71% to US$1,794.60 per ounce. Silver increased by 0.86% to US$24.378 per ounce, while copper fell 1.24% to US$4.5018.

Brent oil futures increased by 1.55% to US$85.92 per barrel and WTI crude was up 2.06% to US$84.20.

Bond Market

The 30-year Treasury bond yields was down 2.47% to 2.075, while the 10-year bond yields fell 1.91% to 1.643.

US Dollar Futures Index decreased by 0.17% to US$93.602.









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Do Bonds Accurately Price Inflation? Since Before Any of Us Were Born

Many, likely the vast majority believe that the recent wave of consumer price increases is going to stick around. It’s already painful and even if it…

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Many, likely the vast majority believe that the recent wave of consumer price increases is going to stick around. It’s already painful and even if it isn’t inflation, they’re thinking, it soon will be. Maybe not 1970’s bad, not yet, at the very least something like then.

The bond market doesn’t just disagree, it keeps doing so vehemently. Nothing new, bond yields have signaled distrust and skepticism each and every time we go through one of these inflation panics. There was 2008’s fiasco today remembered for ending up more like the thirties than the seventies; renewal under QE “money printing” which very quickly deflated by 2011 and forgotten; then 2014’s “best jobs market in decades” simply vanished; finally, the 2018 “globally synchronized” comedy of hawkish errors.

Low yields aren’t just expressing some cynical opinion that we can quantitatively measure, the implications have been repeatedly proven true because those prices are largely made by those inside the shadows doing all the money. Or not enough, as the case has been.

Inflation, real inflation which lasts, is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon. There hasn’t been the money for a long time, therefore there hasn’t been inflation. Instead, consumer prices, at times, have increased even jumped if only due to other factors which uniformly get verified as transitory.

That’s why I (and a very few others) become remorseless about being obsessively specific and demand full accuracy as to whether or not to call something inflation. Without the money, it won’t be so whatever else has to be responsible for consumer prices can only ever be transitory.

This time is different, everyone now says. Screw bonds! Sure, they’ve been on the spot predicting the Fed’s downfall since before 2008 (see: below) but more and more of late the Federal Reserve itself says you can’t rely on yields if or when the real inflation their QE policies have been desperate to inflict does arrive.

There’s been a curious uptick in scholarship purporting to study the best inflation prediction combinations. Most of them are just absurd fantasy, transparent attempts to discredit policymakers’ bond market nemesis. I’ll even give you a recent example, just a few days ago, published by the Cleveland Fed.

The study’s findings unsurprisingly disparage consumers, estimating that consumer surveys of inflation are the least helpful. Those conducted from businesses aren’t really any better, according to the Cleveland branch, while, predictably, the authors extol the virtuous capacities of “professional forecasters” as modern-day inflation oracles.

Professionals who just so happen to be – pure coincidence, I’m sure – formally trained Economists like the researchers in Cleveland and the rest of the Federal Reserve.

One other inflation predicting method included “financial markets.” This didn’t score so hotly, according to the paper:

Based on in-sample and out-of-sample predictive exercises, we find that the expectations of professional economists and businesses, as demonstrated by the Blue Chip and Atlanta Fed measures, have provided substantially more accurate predictions of CPI inflation one-year out compared to those of households. The accuracy of the Cleveland Fed inflation expectations model, which could be viewed as reflecting the expectations of the financial markets, is somewhat behind these other two measures.

Wait, back up; the Fed’s branch used an “inflation expectations model?” This is supposed to be a proxy for financial markets, but instead is:

Inflation expectations of financial markets, as captured by the model behind the one-year-ahead Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland inflation expectations series. The Cleveland model (Haubrich, Pennacchi, and Ritchken (2012)) estimates inflation expectations using data that include nominal yields from US Treasury securities, survey forecasts, and inflation swap rate data.

It’s bad enough they’ve thrown a bunch of things into the wash and hope to extract something useful via subjective stochastics, but one of those things purportedly of financial markets is “survey forecasts.” I absolutely hate having to point out the implication of what sure seems like an intentional act of dirty pool.

Truth is, we don’t need all the fancy econometrics to evaluate these things; after all, these Economists have been employing exactly those for a very long time and they understand, appreciate, and can usefully forecast less and less by the year. On the contrary, we’ll just draw some simple charts and rely on nothing more than our eyes and common sense.

And we’ll start back in history with the last true bout of unbridled inflation, the supposed template for what so many people have been led to believe is about to make its ugly reappearance: The Great Inflation.

This part is exceedingly easy and straightforward since the bond market does all the work; you just need to be freed from the grasp of illiterate Economics.

Yields went down, not up, during the Great Depression (not pictured but I went into detail why here). They did so because of generally tight money (interest rate fallacy) that the Federal Reserve and its bank reserves (even based on gold flows) couldn’t manage. Banks, not central banks, are where the money comes from.

This deflationary situation did not change through and after World War II. Even during those three periods when consumer prices surged (sounds familiar), to the left of the red arrow above, bond yields didn’t budge an inch (I’ve already covered how it wasn’t the Fed’s yield caps which had kept yields low here). The financial market looked past those as temporary deviations which wouldn’t last because they weren’t actual inflation.

Transitory supply shocks don’t bother yields especially at the long end of the curve which measures money conditions through the prism of longer run inflation and growth perceptions. If it isn’t money, therefore transitory, longer bonds don’t price it.

Starting in the second half of the fifties, though, yields began at first gently rising (late fifties, eurodollar?), indicating that the tide was turning and whatever leftover remainders from the deflationary Great Depression were finally, mercifully being overcome.

What followed a double dip recession in 1958 then 1960 was a few years of low inflation. Yet, even during those, bond yields were moving higher anticipating what was about to come.

The 3-month bill rate bottomed out in July 1961 while longer end Treasuries would gently increase from January 1963. These then accelerated sharply in July 1965 well ahead of the first main eruption of consumer prices by February 1966.

That’s not all; a near-recession in 1967 granted a minor reprieve to consumers, a slowdown (slack) which Economists and central bankers mistakenly judged the end of the inflationary trend. The bond market, by contrast, picked up on the renewal of inflation three-quarters of a year ahead of time (bills almost half a year).

Bonds vs. Economists isn’t a new thing in the same way the Harlem Globetrotters didn’t just start pounding the Washington Generals yesterday.

Adding the Fed’s Discount Rate policy to the above chart (below) just highlights how bonds were way ahead as policymaker actions repeatedly fell behind:


The whole process repeated during and following the 1969-70 recession, too. LT yields bottomed out in March 1971, began moving higher even as the CPI leveled off and continued to decelerate for another fifteen months until June 1972.

Furthermore, this upward move in yields presaged a spike in consumer prices around early 1973 which itself predated the OPEC embargo’s painful inflationary oil contributions later that same year. As you can see on the chart above, bond yields incorporated the inflation part of the 1973 jump while trading underneath (CPI rates above yields) the embargo/crude oil components of it; in the same way as yields undercut those earlier pre-inflation supply shocks after WWII.

In other words, the bond market neatly and expertly compartmentalized inflation from other consumer price factors at the same time as helpfully foreseeing the former.

Contrary to what some Economists have claimed, the “financial markets” of little more than simply Treasury yields absolutely nailed the Great Inflation even as policymakers and experts fumbled around searching for answers and clues they would never find. Then-Federal Reserve Chairman Arthur Burns in August of 1971 had the nerve to say to Congress:

The rules of economics are not working in quite the way they used to.

The rules were always fine; Burns and those like him just didn’t understand how the monetary system had changed the way money worked within them. The bond market, the banks doing all the money, they had no problem sorting everything out.

OK, fine. This was a half century ago. What about something closer to today, the 21st century?

To start with, we’ve got yields moving higher in the middle of 2003 a year before the Fed’s eventual “rate hikes” which only then created confusion (“conundrum”) for Alan Greenspan when bond long end rates began to bunch up in anticipation of the decidedly high deflationary probabilities of the late eurodollar mania period.

The yield curve flattened, and then nominal rates began to fall by June 2007 long before any minus signs showed up in the CPI early in 2009.

What’s perhaps most powerful about the chart above is how the bond market (correctly) has treated each of the subsequent consumer price deviations dating back to the monetary breakdown during 2007: first in 2008, then again in 2011, and now in 2021.

Like those temporary supply shocks caught in the CPI’s of the immediate post-war aftermath, or the peak CPI created by the oil supply shock of 1973-74, bond yields also undercut each of those post-2007/broken eurodollar consumer price spikes…and are doing so yet again in 2021.

To really drive home this point, here are the two main charts one after the other, each one expertly sorting inflation from not-inflation by way of shadow money. 

Quite simply, if it is actual inflation, yields go up as the market will price the real thing before it makes it into the CPI levels.

If there isn’t money for inflation, and those trading Treasuries know about shadow money that central bankers and Economists don’t and haven’t for more than half a century, then bond yields won’t chase these other CPI’s because those spikes aren’t inflation meaning they must be something else which, without the money, won’t last.

Historically consistent. 

One of the key mistakes that Cleveland researchers and indeed all Economists make is treating all CPI increases as if they are the same; they keep searching for the best way to predict the annual CPI, rather than the proper way to sort out consumer prices! The reason officials keep committing such an egregious error is that Economics doesn’t even consider money. How could Economists? They haven’t taken the monetary system seriously since the Great Inflation shoved their ignorance into the limelight (criminally, the very same money ignorance the Great Depression had paraded before the world in a different way just a few decades earlier).

In lieu of this great deficiency, Economics has made it seem as if inflation is some voodoo mystery only its priestly class can describe from complicated mathematics rituals. You don’t need any of that, or them. All of this is publicly available, data, prices, everything, and it doesn’t take anything more than common sense divorced from that corrupted worldview.










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