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Fed Funds Rate May .25 0.0
Unemployment April 5.4% -.1%
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Inflation (average) March -.06% +.06%
Gold (oz) May $1,223 +$14
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Just Ask the Greeks
May 18, 2015

There is a lot of confusion surrounding the bond market and yields, and there is one misnomer I feel compelled to address. A recent Wall Street Journal article entitled, U.S. Government Bonds Rise; Foreign Investors Pile into Auctions (May 14, 2015) highlights a common misconception about bonds. The author attempts to explain the recent pop in yields by citing strong demand for a recent 10 Year auction. They’re up 28% since their January low. See below.


But strong demand doesn’t cause yields to rise – it causes them to fall.  Recall that quantitative easing (QE) created new and additional bond demand in order to keep yields low – which it did. If the premise that strong demand causes yields to rise were true, QE would have raised yields not lowered them.  

Bond values fall when yields rise.

The article’s author opines, "Many investors see the [bond] selloff as a correction…They don’t expect bond yields to rise sharply given the tepid economic growth outlook …" To qualify his stance the author quotes a senior portfolio manager at Invesco Ltd. who said, "We still believe there are structural headwinds to the global economy," then the author adds, "which would contain a rise in bond yields."—And that’s the great misnomer.

To believe that yields are tied directly to economic performance – that is, weak economies produce low yields – is complete and utter foolishness. Take Greece for example; their economy is weak, and in fact, is in recession. Low yields are extremely helpful during recessions – yet their 1o year yield is 10.5% and their two year yield is 21%. An inverted yield curve is when short term yields are higher than long term yields. That’s where Greece is today – it’s inverted – despite their economy experiencing "structural headwinds."

Instead, yields are tied directly to the associated risk of default. Greece can’t afford itself and there is little doubt that they will fink on a substantial portion of their debts – the only question is when. That’s why short term lenders are demanding more than 20% interest to lend them money. They’re weak and risk of default is high, and so are their yields. In their case, a stronger economy would lower yields, as their risk of default would lessen. Not the other way around.

To invest in bonds right now is a risky proposition at the very least. To chase higher yields from borrowers like Greece is a fool’s game – and so not worth the associated risks. And at just a couple of bips above inflation, a 2% U.S. bond is just as risky. Sure American yields can dip down lower. Heck, Germany’s 10 year yield is around .67%. Indeed, bets can be placed on lower near term yields and perhaps money can be made. But that doesn’t mean the odds favor such a position.

In fact, the opposite is true. The odds for bonds are in the house’s favor because there is more room for yields to move up than down. To put it another way, there’s more room for bond values to fall rather than rise because yields remain at historic lows. In markets such as these, investors don’t buy U.S. bonds to make money. They buy them for safety and security. They buy them to not lose everything should the world fall apart.

That’s why foreign money is flooding into U.S. bonds. The United States has the greatest system of government, the strongest middle class on the planet, and is the only country to never fink on a loan obligation. And even though the U.S. is more than 100% leveraged (that is, there is more debt than economic output) risk of default is nil. For that reason U.S. yields will remain low as long as the Federal Reserve wants them low, and inflationary pressure remains mute. The level of economic output has little to do with it. After all, yields have been low in America since the Great Recession.

It’s a different story around the world. Countries like Greece are having a hard time raising money even though they offer high interest rates. But let’s face it, twenty percent interest payments aren’t worth a hill of beans if the checks don’t clear.  Greece needs a stronger economy, not a weaker one, to attract capital at lower rates.

Indeed, economic strength would prompt central bankers to raise interest rates. Such a move would be in hopes to slow growth and thwart inflation. But that’s much different from the Wall Street Journal’s pronouncement, that a sluggish global economy will contain high yields. The only thing a sluggish economy contains is prosperity. 

Just ask the Greeks. 

Stay tuned…


The road to financial independence.™

The Fed's Misplaced Priority
Apr 29, 2015

While the markets have oscillated since my last blog their status remains unchanged. All stock markets, American or otherwise, remain near all-time highs. Here are a few Wall Street Journal headlines that can be tied to recent stock market volatility.

·        GDP Growth Estimates Tumble, Again (3.25.2015)

·        U.S. Stocks Down After Weak Economic Data (4.2.2015)

·        Fed’s Rate Decision Hangs on Dollar, Growth Concerns (4.22.2015)

·        European Stocks Tumble as Greece Crisis Roils Markets (4.17.2015)

Economic growth has been weak, uneven, and unreliable since the economy was leveraged out of recession in 2009. That’s because government stimulus programs and ballooning national debt are not ingredients to long-term growth and vitality. Instead, they are unsustainable band-aids that do little more than make things look better than they actually are.

Despite the fragile economic base stock valuations are 24% higher than they were at the peak of the housing-boom, when GDP growth was three times stronger than it is today. The word overinflated is an understatement in today’s stock markets. And how did that condition come to pass? 

Bad monetary policy.

Remember when the Federal Reserve engaged in its low interest rate policy in the wake of the ‘o8 crash? Back then easy money policies were implemented to return the American economy to growth from recession, and to lower the unemployment rate to pre-recession levels. But isn’t that where we are?—The economy has averaged 2%+ growth for more than 5 years and the unemployment rate has averaged 6.5% for more than two years – it’s currently at 5.5%.

Why hasn’t the Fed increased rates? 

Well, according to the WSJ article noted above, "the strong U.S. dollar and unsteady global economy" are the primary concerns for the Fed’s interest rate decision.

So let me get this right, America has to wait for the economies in Europe and Asia to correct before U.S. monetary policy can be normalized.—Really???

Let’s correct the record to begin the discussion. The U.S. dollar isn’t getting stronger; the Euro and Yen are getting weaker, as both the European Central Bank and the Bank of Japan are in the midst of quantitative easing programs. The dollar appears stronger because the U.S. has concluded its devaluing effort via QE. Again, the only reason the dollar appears to be getting stronger is because other major currencies are getting weaker. Dollar strength is via smoke and mirror. 

And while it is true that higher interest rates will "strengthen" the dollar to some degree, and that that event will most probably hurt U.S. exports, those aren’t the Fed’s true concerns.—Instead, they’re worried about the "global economy." There is a reason for this.

Just as the former Soviet Union proved communism a bankrupt ideology, Europe is on its way to do doing the same for socialism – and Greece is the face of it.  That’s why news regarding the financial condition of Greece "roils" the markets.

Consider that the highest individual tax rate in Greece is 45% – which kicks in at just $100,000. On top of that individuals pay a social security tax of 16% and a Value-Added Tax (VAT) of up to 23%.  (A VAT is like a sales tax and excise tax rolled into one.) That is to say high earners can pay up to 84% of their earned income to their central government. Local taxes and fees would be on top of that high central rate. 

Greek Corporations are a bit luckier. They pay an income tax of 26% and a social security tax of 28% – totaling 54% to the central government – plus various other fees, licenses, and local taxes.

Because of the high tax rates Greek unemployment is a repressive 26%, and the economy has been in recession since 2009. And despite the high tax rates 20% of all Greeks live below the poverty line and the government still can’t afford them. Their national debt is 175% of Gross Domestic Product and they can’t borrow any more money.

As Margaret Thatcher once said, "The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money."

The central problem with socialism is that it doesn’t incentivize high output and performance. The tax structure encourages minimal effort and greater dependence on government. How could it not? When people pay an 84 % tax rate they have no incentive to earn at high levels and every bit of incentive to demand more from their government – regardless of their income level.

That’s what inspired the most recent Greek election results. 

Radical left-wing socialist Alexis Tsipras was recently sworn in as the new prime minister of Greece. Tsipras ran as the "anti-austerity" candidate, promising to eliminate EU mandated budget cuts if elected. That’s code word for higher taxes and more government spending.

High tax rates do not make a State solvent. In fact, the opposite is true.  As the population drawing off of the welfare system increases and high earners decrease a budget deficit has no choice but to ensue. Socialist governors like those in Greece then raise taxes higher, borrow more money from other nations, and make greater promises to unhappy constituents who are paying too much and getting too little. But sooner or later the spigot runs dry.

And that’s where Greece is today.

The EU is the chief financier of Greek budget deficits, and they imposed the budget-cut demands in exchange for increased funding. Lenders have that legitimate right. So it should be no surprise that a stand-off quickly followed Tsipras taking office: Greece won’t cut government entitlement spending – and because of that, the EU won’t lend them any more money. And why should they? Greece doesn’t have the money to payback what it already owes. 

Even so, there is little doubt that Greece would have benefited from the ECB’s quantitative easing effort if they played ball and moved towards fiscal responsibility – the policy of affording oneself. But no, Greece isn’t interested in that. They believe they are entitled to more – and that other nations should pay. 

Greece is proving Margaret Thatcher correct – but the proof doesn’t end there. Several countries over there are in major trouble, Portugal, Cypress, Ireland, and Italy, to name a few.

So if the United States has to wait for Greece and the rest of socialist Europe to get healthy before interest rates are intentionally increased then monetary policy may never be normalized here. And that’s the real shame; America desperately needs higher interest rates to incentivize lenders to lend – especially to small businesses. That, along with the boost in purchasing power a stronger dollar provides American consumers, would greatly help strengthen the domestic economy.

But no, the Fed’s priorities are elsewhere -- and their logic is misplaced.

As the "risk-free" rate the U.S. drives world interest rates. Higher rates in America will cause Greek interest rates to move much higher. That will make it harder for Greece to borrow additional funds (a good thing) and most certainly expedite their exit from the Euro. And Greece wouldn’t be the only one -- just the first one. So yes, higher U.S. interest rates would be good for us and bad for them.

Sadly, Europe and their failed socialist cause matters more to our Federal Reserve than the prosperity of American free-market capitalism.

And we let them get away with it. 

 ShieldThe road to financial independence.™

Killing the Markets, All by Myself
Mar 29, 2015

One of the most paralyzing conditions for investors is when they’re scared of making a move – afraid of what might unexpectedly happen. How often things don’t go as planned -- and so they sometimes decide to leave well enough alone and hope issues magically disappear and/or correct, and that robust gains will automatically incubate out of thin air. Indecisiveness – that is, not taking action when a different outcome is desired – is an ingredient to failure.


Another tenant to failure is making changes to your portfolio simply for the sake of change. This will only produce change – and it will be luck that determines the outcome, be it good or bad. Gambling requires good luck. Investment requires no such thing.


Positive, long-lasting change comes most easily from logical, calculated reasoning, and superior 15-51 construction.


Confidence begins with an understanding of how your portfolio is built.


As you know, the Dow Jones Industrial Average recently made a component change, replacing perennial underperformer AT&T with consummate highflier Apple. The change was announced on March 6, 2015, two weeks prior to the move taking effect. The announcement, on March 6, caused me to reconsider my portfolio.


Because I know the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the 15-51 strength indicator like the backs of my hands, I instantly knew the impact the Apple change would have on both portfolios. This isn’t because I’m so smart, but because both portfolios are so easy to understand.


For instance, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure that replacing a dog with a dynamo has no choice but to bolster performance. The Dow is comprised of just 30 stocks, after all. A one stock change represents 3% of the entire bunch – until you consider price. 


The Dow is a price weighted average. So at $120 per share, Apple will have about four times the weight as the stock it replaced, AT&T, which is currently trading around $30 per share. That puts Apple at fifth position from the top in Dow Jones ranking – a significant move from AT&T.   


The Apple change has no choice but to dramatically affect the trajectory of the Dow Jones Average.


Knowing this, and that one of my core objectives for the 15-51 strength indicator is to move in a market-like way as defined by the Dow, I knew instantly that the 15-51 indicator had to change when Dow Jones made their announcement. (For more information see: Today’s Paradox: Success with Less Money).


The objective for my 15-51 move was to keep that portfolio on the same trajectory as the Dow Jones Average.


Below is a one month chart of the Dow and 15-51. The dates changes were made to the portfolios are signified with diamonds on their according trend lines.

As you can see, 15-51 continues to move in a "market-like" way. It is also plain to see that it operates in an above-average way. That, by definition, is what it is supposed to do. In other words, my 15-51 portfolio does reliably what it is expected to do. 


Nothing breeds confidence and comfort more than executing objectives.


That’s a key benefit of the 15-51 system. Because it’s so easy to understand and use, desired results are more easily achieved.


Smaller portfolios are easier to understand, manage, and predict.


To prove that point, let’s once again turn to the S&P 500. The S&P is a much larger and more complex portfolio than the two previously mentioned, and because of that, has to change more to achieve its market objective. For instance, the S&P 500 has changed eight times so far this year – and six of those changes were made in the month of March 2015, with four coming on March 23 alone. The chart below includes S&P 500 activity (March 23 is noted with a black diamond on its trend line.)

Remember, both the Dow and S&P have the same exact objective – to indicate the market average of stock market activity. The 15-51 objective is to indicate stock market strength. All three portfolios should move in a similar "market-like" way.


As you can see, the S&P 500 is struggling to achieve this core objective with its most recent moves. But that’s not because the people who manage it aren’t smart investment managers, or because they are trying to make the portfolio move in a contradictory way as the Dow. That’s not it at all. It’s because the portfolio is too big.


Managing a portfolio the size of the S&P 500 or bigger is so much harder than tending to the Dow or 15-51. That’s the reason S&P trends sometimes get away from what their management team wants. Its size makes it too easy to fall short of expectations. 


Smaller portfolios also produce greater investment returns.


This is also the reason teams of skilled fund managers consistently fail to achieve market returns while I routinely kill every mutual fund and market index from here to Shanghai, all by myself. 


And you can do it too.


Easy to understand. Simple to use. Superior results.


ShieldThe road to financial independence.™

Can One Export Derail Them All?
Mar 17, 2015

Stock prices and yields are key indicators of economic vitality. In healthy markets they move together higher during expansions, and lower during downturns. These are both choreographed moves from central government planners as well as natural results from free market activity.  


Investors are naturally pulled towards higher rewards – and nothing outperforms the stock market during economic booms. As a result, capital leaves the bond market and enters the stock market during sturdy expansions. In order to lure that capital back to the bond market, borrowers (those who issue bonds) must raise interest rates, or sell their low interest rate bonds at a discount (thus causing the yield to rise), to incentivize those with capital to acquire debt rather than stocks.


In addition to the natural momentum of rising yields during expansions, central bankers add further impetus by raising core interest rates to control growth and thwart inflation. Core government rates drive all other interest rates, so a rise in them pushes all other yields higher than they would otherwise be.


Government action to raise interest rates is known as a "tightening" event.  Tight money and higher interest rates are generally associated with "strong dollar" conditions. 


Rising interest rates and the tightening of money makes a country’s exports more expensive to foreign customers. Such a dynamic causes foreign demand to fall by some measure, which in turn causes corporate profits to fade by a correlating metric.  That’s the reason there has been so much ruckus surrounding the "strengthening" U.S. dollar.


But that’s not the whole concern facing American multi-nationals.


First a quick reiteration of the international environment. The entire Euro Zone has been in a no growth condition for a very long time and Japan (the world’s third largest economy) isn’t much better, growing at a sluggish 1% clip per year. China (the world’s largest economy) has been slowing for several consecutive quarters and recently downgraded their growth target; and Russia is a total mess (more on that a little later). But none of this – repeat, none of it – is new news. American export activity has been weak and unreliable for a long, long time.


So what’s different now – why all the hubbub?


It is important to note that Japan, and more recently Europe, have initiated multi-billion quantitative easing programs – and that is the fly in the ointment.


In America, quantitative easing (QE) was born from the subprime mortgage debacle termed "the financial crisis" which ended with the crash of the financial system in the fall of 2008. An emergency measure called TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) was installed just before President G. W. Bush left office – and that’s when the monetary ponzi scheme began. So TARP is the forefather of QE, and the last QE effort in the United States ended in late 2014.


The point here: QE lingers around for a long time once initiated.


QE is monetary technique used to lower yields and devalue currency. QE is a "loosening" monetary event. So it should be no surprise that currencies who deploy it depreciate against those that don’t – as the U.S. depreciated against the Euro when its QE began in 2008, and how Europe is now depreciating against the dollar with its new QE effort.


And let there be no mistake, Europe and Japan are devaluing their currencies with reason. They want to make their products cheaper in their country, for their constituents, and their consumers. Their hope, without question, is for their producers to grow at the expense of foreign competitors like the U.S. and China. It’s quite logical really, and can be tied directly to the U.S. stock market.


Will newly installed QE programs in foreign countries start to steal profits from American producers – and if so, how will that affect the U.S. economy and stock market?


It is important to note that while Europe is the latest to join the QE folly, not every country is playing the same kind of game. China does things much differently, but has recently injected billions of dollars into their banking system to loosen things up. Russia, a country with a $2 trillion GDP, doesn’t know what to do. After raising rates sharply they’re now cutting interest rates to fight inflation and recession at the same time. They’re losing the money game – which is the reason they’re picking on the Ukraine, but that’s another story.


The point here: all major economies have engaged in the first money war of the 21st century – so the ending can’t be good.


Up until now central bankers have been in a collective race to the bottom. The U.S. led the world by aggressively devaluing the dollar with TARP, QE, aggressive interest rate cuts and massive central government spending. Most major countries followed suit with ambitious interest rate cuts and central government stimulus programs, but all opted to stay away from schemes like QE – until recently, that is.


The U.S. was first-in and now it is trying to be first-out of the money pyramid. It is widely expected that the Federal Reserve will start raising interest rates in just a few months (June 2015) – this after exiting QE a similar short time ago. These tightening events are taking place while the rest of the world is loosening monetary policy.


This opposing dynamic adds fuel to the export fire.


Consider that U.S. exports are roughly 14% of GDP. At that contribution a 10% drop would cut U.S. growth in half for 2015. That’s the economic issue to consider – and as we know, economic threats factor greatly into stock price speculation. 


Another speculative threat to prices is the strange new trading environment for stocks. It has been so long since the U.S. operated in a rising yield, tight money environment – especially one that follows such a prolonged period of inflation induced by QE intoxication. This historical first will be interesting to watch.


And since so many foreign countries waited so long to loosen monetary policy as aggressively as the U.S. did, an equally long delay to their tightening events should be expected. That means the pricing disadvantage for U.S. exports will last for some time. Call it a new normal.


Investors need to realize that a tightening monetary event totally changes the stock market dynamic.


Strong expansions like the tech-boom and housing-boom were able to handle strong dollar and tight money dynamics – higher yields and taxes, and costlier exports – and still produce solid growth rates. But this expansion isn’t like those. This economic expansion is centrally levered and directed. The other two were consumer driven, which is the reason GDP growth was so much stronger then than it is today – which is also the reason this economy, corporate profits, and stock prices are so vulnerable.


Confusion about the market’s susceptibility festers because the U.S. economy appears to be strong when it really isn’t. Unemployment is 5.5% – but labor participation is at a 40 year low; the stock market is at all-time highs – but economic growth is weak and uneven; the dollar is strengthening – but that’s only because major global currencies are aggressively devaluing.


These are the same reasons the Dow Jones Industrial Average[1] has been scared away from the 18,500 top, the 10 year yield remains near the basement at 2%, and gold appears weak, down 10% in the most recent month. Below is a two year chart.




Weak and strong are only appearances in these crazy and unprecedented times. After all, we live in a world where the mass media is consumed with speculation about the condition of corporate exports when the root cause of the problem isn’t even mentioned, let alone in proper context. That could lead some investors to question what they’re seeing and believing.


Indeed, American goods are going to get a lot more expensive overseas for a long period of time. Demand for U.S. products over there should fall, and corporate profits and stocks prices here should follow to a correlating metric. And it will be one U.S. export -- a government product called QE – that will cause it all.


Stay tuned…


ShieldThe road to financial independence.™



[1] Under its current form and construction.

Today's Paradox: Success with Less Money
Mar 09, 2015

Last week Dow Jones announced that Apple will replace battered telecom giant AT&T in the Industrial Average. The change will take place on March 19, 2015, and while most theories regarding the change point to the impending 4-to-1 stock-split of another Dow component (Visa), I suggest a very different motive: Poor Performance. See below.




There is only one reason a 500 stock portfolio consistently outperforms a 30 stock portfolio for three consecutive years – inferior construction and/or components. And no one knows this better than the members of the Dow Jones selection committee.


People who have read my book know how much respect I have for those responsible for the Dow Jones Industrial Average. It really is a brilliant piece of work. But to be fair they’ve had a tough time solidifying the portfolio since the ’08 meltdown.  This Apple move will represent the tenth change to the Industrial Average since trading began in the ’08 year. While I’m sure they didn’t want to make another move so soon – they had to.


Despite all the hype and hoopla surrounding the Dow’s recent streak of new record highs, its performance has been weak as comapred to the S&P 500. In the three year trend shown above the S&P 500 outgained the Dow Average 65% to 46%, respectively. That's too much, for too long. The Dow needed a change to improve its performance.


So not the case with the 15-51 strength indicator.


As you know, the objective of that portfolio is to indicate how stock market strength is performing. It should produce above-average market returns on a consistent basis, which it reliably does. See below.




The 15-51 Indicator produced an index-leading 77% gain in this three year period while also moving in a "market-like" way. That’s what it is supposed to do. And while I believe it will continue to produce above-average returns in its current form, I’m not so sure it will continue to move in a market-like way.


The Dow Jones Industrial Average is replacing AT&T with Apple, a stock that produced a 31% gain in the last five years with one that added 291% in the same time. Needless to say, the move will significantly change the trajectory of the Dow Average. That dynamic, all by itself, might cause the 15-51 Indicator to move in an "un-market-like" way. So after much thought and analysis, I decided to again modify the 15-51 Indicator. 


The last time the Indicator was altered was year-end 2011; it was the first change in its history. (See: Re-defining Strength) I took some heat over that move because it was announced in arrears. Some thought the after the fact announcement was intended to enhance or protect the 15-51 indicator’s performance trend, which is silly. The original and unchanged 15-51 portfolio detailed on page 162 of my book continues to outperform all others; it was up 92% in the same period shown above. A comparison of the portfolios is below. 



As you can see, the original 15-51 portfolio wasn’t moving in a market-like way – and Apple was the reason for that. Its performance was too strong, too volatile, and too contrary to market movements. It constantly pushed the portfolio’s performance and allocations far beyond market boundaries -- so much so it was making it impossible for the portfolio to meet its objectives.


Performance – and market movement – are key objectives for the 15-51 Indicator. It must produce above-average returns and move in a market-like way. If it fails in either of these cases it must be changed. That’s why Apple was removed in 2011.


And that’s why it will return.


15-51 component IBM has a similar five year return as AT&T (24% versus 31% respectively) which is way below the market average during the time. IBM also has some significant operating issues to face; it no longer has a dominant position in the marketplace, suffers from an identity crisis, and seriously needs to reinvent itself. It really doesn’t deserve a place in a strength-oriented portfolio. 


As a result, Apple will replace IBM in the 15-51 indicator at the IS: 2-2 position. The portfolio will also be rebalanced at the same time. The change will take effect at the close of trading on March 18, 2015, one day after Visa splits 4-for-1 and one day before Apple appears in Dow trading. The move will elevate the 15-51’s technology allocation similar to that of "the market," and should keep it on the same trajectory as the Dow.


Success is about achieving goals – and comfort-level is a key component.


Movement is a key objective for me because I take comfort in knowing exactly how my portfolio will act under any condition. Prior to making the changes to the 15-51 portfolio in 2011, its movement became more about Apple and less about "the market." I’m not comfortable with that dynamic, so I made the change.—And I wasn’t scared about losing the powerful performance of Apple because I knew I could get robust performance with a less volatile, less risky, 15-51 portfolio. Proof of that can be seen in the table of three-year returns shown below. 





Pts Off

% Off

o15-51  (original, static)




 15-51si (strength)




S&P 500 (average+)




DJIA (average)





Apple more than doubled during this time (132%) and the stock I replaced it with only grew 76%, which is better than the market average but half of what Apple produced. 


There is no such thing as a free lunch with investment.


There was a cost to achieving my desired pattern of movement. However, by earning less return the portfolio went from failure (not achieving objectives) to success (achieving objectives). Success, therefore, was obtained by earning less money and gaining more comfort. That's a trade I was more than willing to make - and it was made easier by my 15-51 method. 


The 15-51 method has a lot of good traits; it’s simple, stable, and flexible. But perhaps its best feature is the long-term profit power it produces. The method allows investors to be more cautious while still earning great rewards. See below.  




Since inception in 1996, stock market strength via the 15-51 Indicator has produced an amazing 1,606% return – despite my efforts to produce less. The market average added just 243% in the same time – despite their efforts to produce more.


That’s today’s paradox. 





PS: Email me if you want the indicator’s change list.



"A must read..." -- The Midwest Book Review

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