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Whose Private-Sector Debt Will Implode Next: US, Canada, China, Eurozone, Japan?

Whose Private-Sector Debt Will Implode Next: US, Canada, China, Eurozone, Japan?

Canadians, fasten your seat-belt. Here are the charts.

The Financial Crisis in the US was a consequence of too much debt and too much risk, among numerous other factors, and the whole house of cards came down. Now, after eight years of experimental monetary policies and huge amounts of deficit spending by governments around the globe, public debt has ballooned. Gross national debt in the US just hit $20.5 trillion, or 105% of GDP. But that can’t hold a candle to Japan’s national debt, now at 250% of GDP.

And private-sector debt, which includes household and business debts — how has it fared in the era of easy money?

In the US, total debt to the private non-financial sector has ballooned to $28.5 trillion. That’s up 14% from the $25 trillion at the crazy peak of the Financial Crisis and up 63% from 2004.

In relationship to the economy, private sector debt soared from 147% of GDP in 2004 to 170% of GDP in the first quarter of 2008. Then it all fell apart. Some of this debt blew up and was written off. For a little while consumers and businesses deleveraged just a tiny little bit, before starting to borrow once again.

But the economy began growing again too, and debt as a percent of GDP fell to a low 148% in Q1 2015. It has since picked up steam, growing once again faster than the economy, and now is at 151.7% of GDP, back where it was in 2005. This chart shows US private sector debt to the non-financial sector, in trillion dollars (blue line, left scale) and as a percent of GDP (red line, right scale):

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Next Italian Bank Threatens to Topple

The Next Italian Bank Threatens to Topple

Sharp Dose of Deja Vu for Italy’s Teetering Banks.

In a speech that did little to calm investors’ nerves, Italy’s finance minister said yesterday that he was “strangely optimistic” about Italy’s economic outlook. Senior eurocrats in Brussels are far from convinced. “Italy’s accounts are not improving,” blasted European Commission Vice-President Jyrki Katainen at a press conference yesterday.

The financial situation in Italy, according to Katainen, is due to get worse with Italy’s deficit in 2018 now predicted to be €3.5 billion more than previously stated by Paolo Gentiloni’s administration in the spring. “The only thing I can say in my name is that all Italians should know what the real economic situation in Italy is,” he said.

That real economic situation includes the fragile health of the nation’s banking system which continues to teeter on the edge despite the controversial rescue last summer of Monte dei Paschi di Siena (MPS) and the resolution of the Popolare di Vicenza and Veneto Banca, which left over 40,000 businesses in Italy’s wealthy Veneto region starved of credit.

It’s pretty clear that investor concerns about the health of Italy’s toxic debt-laden banking system have not been put to rest. Today’s developments will hardly have helped steady nerves after mid-sized lender Carige, with assets of €26 billion, scuttled a capital increase demanded by European authorities when it failed to get the backing of a banking consortium led by Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, and Barclays to underwrite the deal.

In a statement, Carige said it had called a board meeting on Thursday morning to discuss “the next steps.” The shares of Genoa-based Carige, which had already lost roughly half its value over the past year, were suspended on Milan’s stock exchange. They closed on Wednesday at €0.17 a piece. The board had fixed a price of €0.10 euro per share for a capital hike of €560 million demanded by regulators.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Why Core Inflation is Rising & What it Means for Fed Rate Hikes

Why Core Inflation is Rising & What it Means for Fed Rate Hikes

Yellen was right to brush off “transitory” factors of “low” inflation.

Consumer prices, as measured by CPI for October, rose 2.0% year-over-year. A month ago, CPI increased 2.2%. The Fed’s inflation target is 2%, but it doesn’t use CPI, or even “Core CPI” – which excludes the volatile food and energy items. It uses “Core PCE,” which usually runs lower than CPI, and if there were an accepted measure that shows even less inflation, it would use that. But it does look at CPI, and there was nothing in today’s data to stop the Fed from raising its target rate in December.

The Core CPI rose 1.8%, up a tad from September’s 1.7% increase. Core CPI has been above 2% for all of 2016 and through March 2017. In the history of the data going back to the 1960s, Core CPI had never experienced “deflation.” But when Core CPI rates retreated in the spring through August, along with other inflation measures, a sort of panic broke out in the media:

But the retreat was repeatedly brushed off as “transitory” by Fed Chair Janet Yellen and other Fed governors, starting in June, when they vowed to continue raising rates “gradually” and proceed with the QE unwind. Yellen had specifically pointed at a few of those “transitory” factors. These factors are now turning around. Core prices have re-accelerated their increases.

One of the “transitory” factors Yellen had pointed out specifically was telephone services, which includes the monthly costs that consumers pay for their smartphones and landlines. Those costs had plunged as a price war among wireless carriers broke out in 2016. This summer, the CPI for wireless services plunged as much as 13% year-over-year. Consumers loved it, but it couldn’t last.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Auto-Loan Subprime Blows Up Lehman-Moment-Like

Auto-Loan Subprime Blows Up Lehman-Moment-Like

But there is no Financial Crisis. These are the boom times.

Given Americans’ ceaseless urge to borrow and spend, household debt in the third quarter surged by $610 billion, or 5%, from the third quarter last year, to a new record of $13 trillion, according to the New York Fed. If the word “surged” appears a lot, it’s because that’s the kind of debt environment we now have:

  • Mortgage debt surged 4.2% year-over-year, to $9.19 trillion, still shy of the all-time record of $10 trillion in 2008 before it all collapsed.
  • Student loans surged by 6.25% year-over-year to a record of $1.36 trillion.
  • Credit card debt surged 8% to $810 billion.
  • “Other” surged 5.4% to $390 billion.
  • And auto loans surged 6.1% to a record $1.21 trillion.

And given how the US economy depends on consumer borrowing for life support, that’s all good.

However, there are some big ugly flies in that ointment: Delinquencies – not everywhere, but in credit cards, and particularly in subprime auto loans, where serious delinquencies have reached Lehman Moment proportions.

Of the $1.2 trillion in auto loans outstanding, $282 billion (24%) were granted to borrowers with a subprime credit score (below 620).

Of all auto loans outstanding, 2.4% were 90+ days (“seriously”) delinquent, up from 2.3% in the prior quarter. But delinquencies are concentrated in the subprime segment – that $282 billion – and all hell is breaking lose there.

Subprime auto lending has attracted specialty lenders, such as Santander Consumer USA. They feel they can handle the risks, and they off-loaded some of the risks to investors via subprime auto-loan-backed securities. They want to cash in on the fat profits often obtained in subprime lending via extraordinarily high interest rates.

Subprime borrowers are perceived as sitting ducks. They’ve been turned down, and they’re aware of their bad credit, and they often think they have no other options. And so they often end up with ludicrously high interest rates on their loans, which these borrowers, because of the ludicrously high interest rates, have trouble servicing.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

US to Import Inflation from Japan, China, South Korea

US to Import Inflation from Japan, China, South Korea

Even from Japan – whose export producer prices are soaring.

The oil price collapse that started in 2014 pushed down input costs that companies – the “producers” – faced. And producer price indices, which measure inflation further up the pipeline, plunged. But this is over. And the biggest export powerhouses in Asia that have ballooning trade surpluses with the US, show how.

The Producer Price Index in Japan – the “Corporate Goods Price Index,” as it’s called there – jumped 3.4% in October compared to a year ago, after already climbing an upwardly revised 3.1% in September, the Bank of Japan reported on November 13. It was the tenth month in a row of year-over-year gains and the highest annual rate since September 2014, by which time the collapsing energy prices were mopping up any inflationary pressures (chart via Trading Economics):

On a monthly basis, the index rose 0.3% from September. But excluding “extra charges for summer electricity,” the index jumped 0.6% month-over-month.

The biggest movers: Nonferrous metals prices soared 22.4% year-over-year, petroleum and coal products 15.8%, iron and steel 9.7%, and chemicals and related products 3.6%.

On the negative side of the ledger there wasn’t much activity: prices for electrical machinery and equipment edged down -1.1%, for business oriented machinery -0.4%, and production machinery -0.3%.

Export prices in October jumped 9.7% year-over-year in yen terms and 3.8% in contract-currency terms. Export prices of Metals and related products soared 25.8% in yen terms and 17.7% in contract-currency terms. Chemical and related produces soared 16.3% and 11.8% respectively. Other primary products and manufactured goods prices jumped 10.3% and 4.2%. All three of them soared in double-digit percentages just from September!

Japan has exported $101 billion in goods to the US so far this year.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Price of Chaos Rises in Spain

The Price of Chaos Rises in Spain

The longer the toxic process between Catalonia and Spain drags on, the wider the gulf grows.

During a visit yesterday to Barcelona, the organizers of the Mobile World Congress, the world’s biggest mobile event, warned the City Council that unless the political situation stabilizes in Catalonia, they will be looking for an alternative venue after 2018. Barcelona has hosted the annual event every year since 2006 and it brings in billions of euros to the city each year, much of which ends up in the pockets of local taxi drivers, hoteliers, owners of bars, restaurants and brothels, Airbnb hosts and, last but not least, the thousands of professional pickpockets that flock to the city for the four day event.

John Hoffman, the chief executive of GSMA, the association that organizes the Mobile World Congress (MWC), could not have chosen a worst day to visit Barcelona. As part of a general strike to protest the incarceration of pro-independence ministers and leaders and the imposition of direct rule from Madrid, thousands of picketers had blocked dozens of roads across the region including the main freeway connecting Spain with France, causing massive traffic jams.

High-speed train links between Barcelona and France and Barcelona and Madrid were also put out of action after hundreds of protesters moved onto platforms and railway lines in Barcelona and Girona chanting ‘Freedom, Freedom.”

At midday thousands of protesters occupied Barcelona’s Sant Jaume square in front of the city’s town hall, a traditional assembly point for Catalonia’s separatist movement. The chant “Squatters, get out” rang out in allusion to the take-over by central government authorities of Catalonia’s regional government.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Financial Storm Clouds Gather Over Italy

Financial Storm Clouds Gather Over Italy

Wishful thinking may not be enough.

The financial markets have been exceedingly calm in Italy of late. At the end of October the government was able to sell €2.5 billion of 10-year debt at auction at a yield of 1.86%, the lowest since last December — an incredible feat for a country that four months ago witnessed a major bank bailout and two bank resolutions, and that has so much public debt that it spends €70 billion a year to service it, the world’s third-highest.

And there’s the ECB’s recent decision to slash its bond buying from roughly €60 billion a month to €30 billion as of Jan 1, 2018. Then there’s the over €432 billion of Target 2 debt the government owes the ECB, the growing likelihood of political instability as elections approach in 2018, the recent referendums for greater fiscal and political autonomy in Lombardy and Veneto and serious unresolved issues in the banking sector.

Monte dei Paschi di Siena may still be alive as a bank, but it’s not out of the woods. Last week its stock resumed trading after ten months of being suspended from Italy’s benchmark index, the FTSE MBE. Shares opened on Wednesday at €4.10, then rose 28% to €5.26. But it didn’t stick. On Friday, shares closed at €4.58.

It’s a far cry from the €6.49 a share the Italian government paid in August when it injected €3.85 billion into the bank to keep it alive. It spent another €1.5 billion shielding some of the bank’s junior bondholders, whose debt was converted into equity. As part of the rescue, the Tuscan bank was forced to present a plan to cut 5,500 jobs and close 600 branches until 2021, in addition to transferring 28,600 million euros in unproductive loans and divesting non-strategic assets. Investors clearly have their doubts.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Spain Just Lit a Fuse Under Catalonia — its Richest Region

Spain Just Lit a Fuse Under Catalonia — its Richest Region

Acute uncertainty is like sand in the gears of the local economy. 

It’s amazing how fast the wheels of the Spanish justice system go round when the establishment wants them to, and how slowly they revolve when it doesn’t, which is usually when members of the same establishment — senior politicians and civil servants, bankers, business owners, or even royalty — are in the dock, which is happening with disturbing regularity these days.

On Thursday we saw Spanish justice at its fastest. In the dock was the recently sacked vice president of Catalonia’s separatist government, Oriol Junqueras, and seven other elected representatives of the breakaway region who stand accused of a litany of charges, including rebellion, which carries a maximum sentence of 30 years’ imprisonment.

The counsel for the defence had less than 24 hours to prepare the case. After just a few hours of hearing preliminary evidence, the National Court Judge sent half of Catalonia’s suspended government to jail without bail. On Friday,the same judge issued an international arrest warrant for Carles Puigdemont, the disputed Catalan president who fled to Brussels on Monday, as well as four other former ministers who did not show up to court on Thursday.

Catalonia’s separatist politicians are paying a very high price for overplaying their hand. As we warned months ago, many in the Catalan government had hoped that threatening to declare independence unilaterally, or even following through on the threats (which it kind of did on Friday), might be enough to push the Spanish government into having to compromise. It was a massive bluff, and it’s hugely backfired.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

How US Debt Slaves Get Trapped by “Deferred Interest”

How US Debt Slaves Get Trapped by “Deferred Interest”

But over the next 2 months, they’ll try to prop up US retailers and the entire global economy.

Credit cards play a huge role in what the US retail industry hopes will be a $682-billion splurge by Americans over the holiday selling season. Already, total revolving consumer credit outstanding – mostly credit cards – has reached $1 trillion, up 5.4% from a year ago, and will surge over the next two months, as US consumers try to prop up the global economy by going deeper into debt.

So the consumer finance industry is proffering its services via store-branded credit cards to make this happen. It’s not doing this for the love of the US economy but to extract its pound of flesh from consumers who don’t make enough money to pay off their credit card balances every month – the very debt slaves that carry the $1 trillion on their backs – and who don’t read the fine print. For them, the finance industry has a special money extraction tool: “deferred interest.”

When consumers are at the cashier or online, they may get offers of 0%-financing and a discount on the first purchase if they sign up for a store-branded credit card on the spot. A study by WalletHub of the financing options offered online by 75 large US retailers found that all retailers that offer store-branded cards with 0% financing use “deferred interest” clauses:

Deferred-interest financing is like a wolf in a sheep’s clothing, pairing an enticing offer – something like “no interest if paid in full” or “special financing” – with a clause that allows the deal to turn ugly if you make the slightest mistake. Paying your bill a day late or owing even $1 when the promotional period ends would enable the issuer to retroactively apply finance charges to your entire original purchase amount, as if the intro rate never existed.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Record Surge in Riskiest Loans Fattens Wall Street Banks

Record Surge in Riskiest Loans Fattens Wall Street Banks

Crackdown efforts by bank regulators are put on hold.

The volume of leveraged loans – the riskiest loans Wall Street banks provide – has surged 38% year-over-year and has already beaten the full-year record set in 2013, according to Dealogic. Total of leveraged loans outstanding has reached $1.25 trillion.

Nine of the 10 largest banks in the leveraged-loan business have already surpassed their respective 2016 full-year totals, according to Bloomberg data, cited by the Financial Times, including Bank of America (about $120 billion in leveraged loans so far this year); JP Morgan (about $110 billion), Goldman Sachs ($79 billion); and Barclays ($72 billion). Of the top ten, only Wells Fargo ($69 billion) is still lagging behind last year.

The fees are also record-breaking: $8.3 billion so far this year, just 6% below the full-year total of 2016.

The borrowers are junk-rated over-indebted companies. Leveraged loans are too risky for banks to keep on their balance sheet. So banks structure these loans, arrange them, and sell the structured products to loan mutual funds or ETFs so that they can be moved into retirement portfolios, or they repackage them into Collateralized Loan Obligations (CLO) to sell them to institutional investors, such as mutual-fund companies.

Leverage loans are bought and sold like securities. But the SEC, which regulates securities, considers them loans and doesn’t regulate them. No one regulates them.

Since 2013, bank regulators – the Fed, the OCC, and the FDIC – have been exhorting banks to be prudent with leverage loans, and they’ve been trying to crack down on leveraged lending because banks got stuck with these loans during the Financial Crisis. But that crackdown – however ineffectual it might have been – is now on hold because earlier this month, the Government Accountability Office questioned the legality of the standards set by the regulators.

And given the big-fat fees – potentially hitting $10 billion this year – banks are in no mood of cutting back.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Catalonia and Spain Enter Dangerous Uncharted Territory

Catalonia and Spain Enter Dangerous Uncharted Territory

Emotions are running high on both sides of the divide.

Today was one of the strangest days of my life. I woke up in a constitutional monarchy called Spain and will go to bed, the same bed, in a newly proclaimed republic. Catalonia’s impossible dream has finally come true, but it could be extremely short lived, and it could have very damaging long lasting consequences.

Spain’s Senate responded to the Catalan parliament’s declaration of independence this afternoon by ratifying the activation of Article 155 of Spain’s Constitution, the nuclear button everyone has been waiting for. This will allow the central government to take full rein of the region’s institutions and levers of power, including parliament, the police force, the exchequer (already done), public media, the Internet, the education system, and telecommunications — at least in theory.

There is no telling just yet how Mariano Rajoy’s government intends to stamp its authority on 2.5 million of the Catalans now in open rebellion, or for how long. Given the law’s ambiguity, there are few constraints on its application, but trying to subdue a region where most of the 7.5 million-strong population are hostile to the basic notion of direct rule from Madrid is going to be a tall order, especially if the EU, which refuses to recognize Catalonia, expects Rajoy’s government to bring Catalonia back into line through “the force of argument rather than the argument of force.”

The force of argument is not exactly Rajoy’s forte. In all likelihood, his government’s first act will be to try to arrest the Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, suspend his ministers, and assume direct authority over the regional government. To do that, it will probably have to take full control of Catalonia’s regional police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

How Much Illusion in GDP? What You See Is Not What You Get

How Much Illusion in GDP? What You See Is Not What You Get

The US economy, as measured by “real” GDP (adjusted for a version of inflation) grew 0.74% in the third quarter, compared to the prior quarter. That was a tad slower than the 0.76% growth in Q2, but up from the 0.31% growth in Q1.

GDP was up 2.3% from a year ago.

To confuse things further, in the US, we cling to the somewhat perplexing habit of expressing GDP as an “annualized” rate, which takes the quarterly growth rate (0.74%) and projects it over four quarters. This produced the annualized rate of 2.99%, or as we read this morning all over the media, “3.0%.”

This was the “advance estimate” by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The BEA emphasizes that the advance estimate is based on source data that are “incomplete or subject to further revision by the source agency.” These revisions can be big, up or down, as we’ll see in a moment.

The BEA will release the “second estimate” for Q3 on November 28 and the “third estimate” on December 21. More revisions are scheduled over the next few years.

So 2.99% GDP growth annualized, or 0.74% GDP growth not annualized, or 2.3% growth from a year ago… is pretty good for our slow-growth, post-Financial-Crisis, experimental-monetary-policy era, but well within the range of that era, that goes from 5.2% annualized growth in Q3 2014 to a decline of 1.5% in Q1 2011. So nothing special here:

I circled Q1 2014 and Q1 2011 in blue to show how much GDP estimates can get revised as time passes: both of these decliners showed growth in the “advance estimate.”

The “advance estimate” of GDP in Q1 2014, released on April 30, 2014, showed a growth rate of +0.1% annualized. That was a measly growth rate. It was terrible. It caused a lot of hand-wringing. But it was growth.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The EU Just Did the Big Banks a Massive Favor

The EU Just Did the Big Banks a Massive Favor

“Testimony to the iron grip the financial industry’s lobby still exerts on governments and legislators.”

The European Union’s executive arm, the European Commission, made a lot of bank executives very happy this Tuesday by abandoning its multi-year pledge to break-up too-big-to-fail lenders. Despite the huge risk they still pose to Europe’s rickety financial system, big European banks like Deutsche Bank, BNP Paribas, ING, and Santander can breathe a large sigh of relief this week in the knowledge that they will not have to split their retail units from their riskier investment banking arms.

Breaking up the banks would remove much of the risk from today’s government-backed banks, such as derivatives and other instruments that were heavily involved in the Financial Crisis. Without these hedge-fund and investment-banking activities, even large banks would be smaller, less interconnected, and could be allowed to fail without jeopardizing the entire global financial system.

According to the Commission, such a drastic measure is no longer necessary since the main rationale behind ring-fencing core banking services from investment banking divisions — i.e. to make Europe’s financial system less disaster prone — has “already been addressed by other regulatory measures in the banking sector.” That’s right: Europe’s banking system is already safe, stable and secure. Bloomberg:

The proposal, which hasn’t progressed since 2015, was made to boost financial stability and safeguard taxpayers from the risk of future bailouts. While the commission and the conservative lead lawmaker on the file said this goal had been achieved by other laws on supervision and resolution, the socialist lawmakers backing the “Bank Structural Reform” bill disagreed.

“The too-big-to-fail financial behemoths still pose a danger to financial stability, to the taxpayer and to clients,” German Social Democrat Jakob von Weizsaecker said in a statement. “The withdrawal of the BSR file marks an unfortunate turning point in the European agenda on regulating large banks.”

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

How Silicon Valley’s Dirty Tricks Helped Stall Broadband Privacy in California

How Silicon Valley’s Dirty Tricks Helped Stall Broadband Privacy in California

Tech, including Facebook and Google, lent their support to a host of misleading scare tactics.

Wolf here: After the US Congress repealed restrictions earlier this year, your broadband provider (ISPs such as Comcast, Verizon, or AT&T) can monetize your private data. ISPs know practically everything you do on the internet, and they know who you are and have your credit data from credit bureaus such as Equifax. California tried to pass legislation that would have reinstated some of those protections. So this is not just about a legislative defeat of internet privacy in California, but about how lobbyists for the tech industry in general operate.

As this succeeded in California — via falsehoods and national security scaremongering — the campaign is now heading to other state legislatures because the industry wants to monetize all your data in a world where you and your data are the product.

By Ernesto Falcon, Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Across the country, state lawmakers are fighting to restore the Internet privacy rights of their constituents that Congress and the President misguidedly repealed earlier this year. The facts and public opinion are on their side, but the recent battle to pass California’s broadband privacy bill, A.B. 375, suggests that they will face a massive misinformation campaign launched by the telecom lobby and, sadly, joined by major tech companies.

The tech industry lent their support to a host of misleading scare tactics.

Big Telco’s opposition was hardly surprising. It was, after all, their lobbying efforts in Washington D.C. that repealed the privacy obligations they had to their customers. But it’s disappointing that after mostly staying out of the debate, Google and Facebook joined in opposing the restoration of broadband privacy for Californians despite the bill doing nothing about their core business models (the bill was explicitly about restoring ISP privacy rules).

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Catalonia’s Political Crisis Snowballs into an Economic Crisis

Catalonia’s Political Crisis Snowballs into an Economic Crisis 

Independence would be “horrific” and amount to “financial suicide,” said Spain’s Economy Minister. But financial suicide for whom?

It’s not easy being a Catalan bank these days. In the last few weeks the region’s two biggest lenders, Caixabank and Sabadell, have lost €9 billion of deposits as panicked customers in Catalonia have moved their money elsewhere. Many customers in other parts of Spain have also yanked their savings out of Catalan banks, but less out of fear than out of anger at the banks’ Catalan roots.

Moving their official company address to other parts of Spain last week may have helped ease that resentment, allowing the two banks to recoup some €2 billion of deposits. But the move has angered the roughly 2.5 million pro-independence supporters in Catalonia, many of whom have accounts at one of the two banks. Today they expressed that anger by withdrawing cash en masse.

Many protesters made symbolic withdrawals of €155 — a reference to Article 155 of the Spanish constitution, which Madrid activated today to impose direct rule over the semi-autonomous region. Others opted for €1,714 in a nod to the year 1714, when Barcelona was captured by the troops of King Felipe V, who then proceeded to suppress the rights of rebellious regions.

Some bank customers withdrew a lot more than that. The council of Argentona, a small town outside Barcelona, closed its accounts at Caixabank and Sabadell and transferred all €2.25 million of its funds to a branch of the Dutch lender Triodos. If other institutional or business customers follow Argentona’s example, Caixabank and Sabadell could have a big problem on their hands.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai II: Exodus
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Olduvai
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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Olduvai III: Cataclysm
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