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A primer for gold newbies

A primer for gold newbies 

The purpose of this article is purely educational. Increasingly, the wider public is turning to gold in a spontaneous reaction to financial and economic problems that have become suddenly apparent, hastened by the spread of the coronavirus. For everyone now thinking of buying gold it is a leap into the unknown, so they should know why.

It is not just the financially inexperienced, but investment managers and financial advisors are equally unaware of what is happening to money and capital markets. We are in the early stages of a radical debasement of state-issued currencies which is on course to collapse the entire financial system.

I explain the two phases of this destruction of fiat money, the one experienced so far and the one we are about to suffer. I explain why sound money has always been physical gold and silver, returned to by the people after government and banks have collectively destroyed state-originated unsound money.

Introduction

Suddenly, there is increasing public interest in gold. The financially aware will be scratching their heads over what’s going on in financial markets in the broadest sense and might have heard some unintelligible chatter about what is going on in gold. They are asking, why does gold matter? Isn’t gold just an old-fashioned hedge against risk and the true safe haven investment today is US Treasuries? Then there’s the mass of financially unknowledgeable investors who are used to leaving investment matters to their financial advisers, and until recently have viewed the rise in the gold price as an opportunity to sell unwanted jewellery for scrap.

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The Lesson of a Crash that Cured Itself

The Lesson of a Crash that Cured Itself

If a government wishes to alleviate, rather than aggravate, a depression, its only valid course is laissez-faire—to leave the economy alone. Only if there is no interference, direct or threatened, with prices, wage rates and business liquidation, will the necessary adjustment proceed with smooth dispatch. — Murray Rothbard

The economic disruption caused by the government’s coronavirus clamp-down may lead to a deep recession or depression; arguably, it already has. President Trump’s $2.2 trillion relief package indicates what his answer to such an economic disaster will be: mega-spending on hand-outs and social projects. Trump is setting himself up as a modern version of Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) whose New Deal programs defined 20th century America by diverting it from a largely free-market path down a largely statist one. Trump wants to be an activist president — the type that history books applaud. Congress’s near-unanimous support of the relief bill means that no real brake will be applied on the speed or depth of federal spending. Few voices even question the need for government to lift up the economy by its bootstraps.

The Great Depression of the 1930s is often viewed as the gold standard for a federal response to an economic crisis. And, yet, FDR’s strong-man policies ushered in a decade of economic misery that did not end until the jolt of a world war in which over 400,000 Americans were killed. Happily, a less bloody “success” story exists.

The financial analyst and historian James Grant offers the do-nothing alternative in his path-breaking book The Forgotten Depression. 1921: The Crash That Cured Itself. The crash of 1920-21 is called “the forgotten depression” because it has almost vanished from history books.

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Jim Grant Warns The Fed “Firemen Are Also The Arsonists”

Jim Grant Warns The Fed “Firemen Are Also The Arsonists”

Having put put America straight on what we are facing and the consequences of these unelected and unaccountable officials terrifying experiments, Grant’s Interest Rate Observer editor Jim Grant is back with another warning that irresponsible policy from the Federal Reserve made the coronavirus crisis worse than it had to be.

As Grant notes“it took a viral invasion to unmask the weakness of American finance.”

Distortion in the cost of credit is the not-so-remote cause of the raging fires at which the Federal Reserve continues to train its gushing liquidity hoses; but, as Grant exclaims, the firemen are also the arsonists echoing his earlier in the week comments that:

Jay Powell’s seemingly blinkered proclamation that “he sees no prospective consequences with regard the purchasing power of the dollar” as “very concerning” adding more pertinently that he thinks “that wilful ignorance is a clear-and-present-danger for creditors of The United States.” 

Grant continues:

It was the Fed’s suppression of borrowing costs, and its predictable willingness to cut short Wall Street’s occasional selling squalls, that compromised the U.S. economy’s financial integrity.

The coronavirus pandemic would have called forth a dramatic response from the central bank in any case. Not even the most conservatively financed economy could long endure an official order to cease and desist commercial activity. But frail corporate balance sheets and overextended markets go far to explain the immensity of the interventions.

Perhaps never before has corporate America carried more low-grade debt in relation to its earning power than it does today. And rarely have equity valuations topped the ones quoted only weeks ago.

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When It’s Over, Will We Be the Same America?

When It's Over, Will We Be the Same America?

When It’s Over, Will We Be the Same America?

If March shocked this nation as severely as 9/11, what is coming may be even more sobering. 

“Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully,” said Samuel Johnson.

And as it is with men, so it is with nations.

Monday, Dr. Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator, projected some 100,000 to 200,000 U.S. deaths from the pandemic, “if we do things almost perfectly.” She agreed with Dr. Anthony Fauci’s estimate that, if we do “nothing,” the American dead could reach 2.2 million.

That 2 million figure would be twice as many dead as have perished in all our wars from the American Revolution to the Civil War, World War I and II, and Korea and Vietnam.

This does indeed concentrate the mind wonderfully.

Now add to this slaughter of our countrymen a market plunge steeper than the 1929 Crash and a 1930s-style Depression. Wall Street analysts are talking of a wipeout of 30% of our GDP and unemployment reaching 35%.

What a difference a month can make.

On March 3, Super Tuesday, we were caught up in the 14 primary contests after Joe Biden’s stunning victory in South Carolina, which broke the momentum of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ wins in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada.

What March 2020 produced and what it appears to portend is a sea change in U.S. history, an inflection point, an event after which things never return to what they were.

The coronavirus crisis seems to be one of those epochal events that alter the character of the country and the course of the republic.

Consider what has happened in three weeks.

The Republican Party, the party of small government and balanced budgets, approved with but a single dissent a $2 trillion emergency bill. There is talk now of a second $2 trillion bill, this one for infrastructure.

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A Corporate-Debt Reckoning Is Coming

A Corporate-Debt Reckoning Is Coming

Corporate debt is the timebomb everyone saw ticking, but no one was able to defuse. Ratings agencies warned about it: Moody’s, S&P. Central banks and international financial institutions did too: the Fed, the Bank of England, the Bank for International Settlements, the IMF. Financial luminaries expressed concern: Jamie Dimon, Seth Klarman, Jes Staley, Jeffrey Gundlach, Henry McVey. Even a presidential candidate brought the issue on the campaign trail: Elizabeth Warren. Yet, as we’ve documented in these pages for more than two years, corporations have only piled on more debt as their balance sheet health has deteriorated.

Total U.S. non-financial corporate debt sits at just under $10 trillion, a record 47% of GDP. One in six U.S. companies is now a zombie, meaning their interest expenses exceed their earnings before interest and taxes. As of year-end 2019, the percentage of listed companies in the U.S. losing money over 12 months sat close to 40%. In the 12 months to November, non-financial S&P 500 cash balances had declined by 11%, the largest percentage decline since at least 1980.

For too long, record-low interest rates inspired complacency, from companies to lenders to regulators and investors. As we warned in WILTW August 8, 2019corporate fundamentals will eventually matter. Now, with COVID-19 grinding the global economy to a halt, that time has come.

Systemic threats are littered throughout the corporate debt ecosystem. Greater than 50% of outstanding debt is rated BBB, one rung above junk. As downgrades come, asset managers will be forced to flood the market with supply at a time demand has dried up. Meanwhile, leveraged loans — which have swelled by 50% since 2015 to over $1.2 trillion — threaten unprecedented losses given covenant deterioration. And bond ETFs could face a liquidity crisis as a flood of redemptions force offloading of all-too-illiquid bonds (see WILTW January 31, 2019).

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The Angels Are Freefalling: Q1 Saw Record Downgrades To Junk And The Real Pain Is Coming

The Angels Are Freefalling: Q1 Saw Record Downgrades To Junk And The Real Pain Is Coming

Back in November of 2017, this website was the first to suggest that a flood of “fallen angels”, or the lowest, BBB-rated investment grade bonds that are downgraded to junk, will be the event that triggers the next corporate debt crisis. In “Hunting Angels: What The World’s Most Bearish Hedge Fund Will Short Next“, we quoted from the IMF’s Oct 2017 “Global Financial Stability Report”  which issued an ominous warning:

… BBB bonds now make up nearly 50% of the index of investment grade bonds, an all time high. BBB bonds are only one notch above high yield, and are at the greatest risk of becoming fallen angels, that is bonds that were investment grade when issued, but subsequently get downgraded to below investment grade, or what is known these days as high yield. It then points out that investors have never been more at risk of capital loss if yields were to rise. In addition, it notes volatility targeting investors will mechanically increase leverage as volatility drops, with variable annuities investors having little flexibility to deviate from target volatility

Following this article, the topic of a tsunami in “fallen angel” credits took on greater urgency, because with over $3 trillion in bonds on the cusp of downgrade, as we discussed in “The $6.4 Trillion Question: How Many BBB Bonds Are About To Be Downgraded“, countless asset managers warned (herehere and herethat this was the biggest threat to the credit pillar of both the US economy and stock market (recall the bulk of BBB rated issuance was used to fund the trillions in buybacks that levitated the stock market over the past few years).

This Is What Economic Collapse Looks Like

This Is What Economic Collapse Looks Like

Approximately ten million Americans have filed new claims for unemployment benefits over the past two weeks.  To put that in perspective, the all-time record for a single week before this coronavirus pandemic hit was just 695,000.  So needless to say, 6.6 million claims in a single week puts us in uncharted territory.  Just check out this chart.  We have never seen a week like this before, and we may never see a week quite this bad again.  Of course millions more jobs will be lost in the months ahead as this pandemic stretches on, but it is hard to imagine another spike like we just had.  When you add the last two weeks together, somewhere around 10 million Americans have filed new unemployment claims during that time period…

The torrent of Americans filing for unemployment insurance skyrocketed last week as more than 6.6 million new claims were filed, the Labor Department reported Thursday. That brings to 10 million the total Americans who filed over the past two weeks.

Economists surveyed by Dow Jones had expected 3.1 million for last week, one week after 3.3 million filings in the first wave of what has been a record-shattering swelling of the jobless ranks. The previous week’s total was revised higher by 24,000.

As I have documented repeatedly in my articles, survey after survey has shown that most Americans were living paycheck to paycheck even during the “good times”.

Now that those paychecks aren’t coming in anymore for millions of Americans, a lot of bills aren’t going to get paid.

Just like we witnessed in 2008, mortgage defaults are about to skyrocket, and Wall Street is bracing for the worst

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GLOBAL SILVER SUPPLY COLLAPSE ON ITS WAY: Mexico mining suspension to hit silver supply

GLOBAL SILVER SUPPLY COLLAPSE ON ITS WAY: Mexico mining suspension to hit silver supply

Due to Mexico’s Ministry of Health issuing an Executive Order for the immediate suspension of non-essential activities until April 30th, the mining industry in the country has now come to an abrupt halt.  The mining industry was hoping for an exemption to the Executive Order, but was not granted one.  So, companies are now suspending production and putting their mines on care and maintenance.

According to the article on the Mining Journal website, Mexico mining suspension to hit silver supply:

Under the government decree, non-essential activities are to be suspended immediately until April 30.

The decision is expected to have a significant impact on the supply of silver at a time when demand for silver coins is high. Mexico is the world’s largest silver producer at some 23% of world production and produced more than 200 million ounces in 2019, up from 196.6 million ounces in 2018.

With Mexico shutting down its mines, including the continued closure of Peru’s Mining Industry announced on March 15th, nearly 40% of global silver production is offline. Peru’s government stated that the national quarantine would last 15 days.  However, we have passed that point, and there is no announcement of a return back to work.

Here are the top ten silver producing countries in the world in 2018:

In 2018, Mexico and Peru accounted for 342 million oz of silver production.  If mines in Mexico and Peru remain shut down for a month, that will cut silver production by 28 million oz.  So, each month that Mexico and Peru are offline, would reduce silver mine supply by 28 million oz.  However, I believe we are going to see more countries shut down their mines for an extended period as the global contagion continues to spread.

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The Fate Of Oil’s Torrid Rally Hinges On Trump’s Meeting With US Shale Producers Today: Here’s Why

The Fate Of Oil’s Torrid Rally Hinges On Trump’s Meeting With US Shale Producers Today: Here’s Why

Oil has staged a tremendous surge in the past 48 hours, largely on the back of speculation that Trump will “encourage” Saudi Arabia and Russia to pursue output cuts, even though as it subsequently emerged when Trump tweeted that the “hopes” to see an N-OPEC output cut, it was an “exaggeration” and wishful thinking more than statement of fact. However, whereas the initial rally – which send the price of oil soaring by 25% on Thursday, or the most ever – faded, the rally got a second wind on Friday following reports that the R-OPEC (Russia + OPEC) alliance of oil producers led by Saudi Arabia and Russia is set to debate production cuts of at least 6 million barrels a day Monday and consider inviting U.S. producers to participate, the WSJ reported citing OPEC country officials.

However, even that hypothetical best case outcome for oil bulls – and certainly the US shale industry – comes with strings attached, and the outcome of Monday’s virtual summit between OPEC, which Saudi Arabia effectively crushed one month ago when it decided to flood the market with oil, and non-OPEC nations “will largely depend on a discussion Friday between the White House and U.S. oil companies” according to the WSJ.

The reason: both Saudi Arabia and Russia are demanding that US shale producers, some of whom such as Whiting Petroleum have already filed for Chapter 11 protection yet continue to pump as normal, join the production cuts. As the WSJ reports, “Saudi Arabia and Russia won’t cut unless they get signals from U.S. producers they will reduce output, the officials said. But they added that official joint curbs would be more difficult to enact in the U.S. because of antitrust laws.”

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March Jobs Disaster: 701,000 Jobs Lost, Unemplyment Rate Soars Most In 45 Years As US Slides Into Depression

March Jobs Disaster: 701,000 Jobs Lost, Unemplyment Rate Soars Most In 45 Years As US Slides Into Depression

Just like that the 113 record straight months of employment growth is over with a bang.

While today’s payrolls report was expected to be not quite as terrible as the recent initial claims suggested, especially since the March survey week took place around March 13 or ahead of the big shutdown and layoff announcements, it ended up being catastrophic nonetheless, with the BLS reporting moments ago that a whopping 701K jobs were lost in March, 7x more than the 100K expected, and just shy of the worst payrolls prints recorded during the financial crisis.

That this happened well before the worst of the cronavirus induced coma hit, suggests that what comes next will be truly biblical. 

For some reason the famous “Taleb Turkey” comes to mind:

Not like it matters, but there were also revisions: the change in total nonfarm payroll employment for January was revised down by 59,000 from +273,000 to +214,000, and the change for February was revised up by 2,000 from +273,000 to +275,000. With these revisions, employment gains in January and February combined were 57,000 lower than previously reported.

Private sector jobs dropped by 713K (vs Exp. 163K), with almost all the drop the result of a record collapse in service-providing jobs.

And of all service jobs, leisure and hospitality were hardest hit:

The unemployment rate soared from 3.5% to 4.3%, led by a record surge in Hispanic unemployment.

In March, the unemployment rate increased by 0.9 percentage point to 4.4 percent. This is the largest over-the-month increase in the rate since January 1975, when the increase was also 0.9 percentage point. The number of unemployed persons rose by 1.4 million to 7.1 million in March. The sharp increases in these measures reflect the effects of the coronavirus and efforts to contain it.  The participation rate plunged from a 7-year-high to tie the lowest level in 5 years.

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In Major Reversal, Singapore Imposes Month-Long Lockdown As Asia Faces “Second Wave” Of COVID-19: Live Updates

In Major Reversal, Singapore Imposes Month-Long Lockdown As Asia Faces “Second Wave” Of COVID-19: Live Updates

As we arrive at the end of another week, In NYC, subway trains are still crowded with commuters as the MTA is forced to reduce trains and cars as more of its workforce falls ill or simply refuses to show up. As the number of hospitalized patients surges, the city’s hospital system has already run out of ICU beds, forcing Gov. Cuomo to move coronavirus patients to the Javits Center, which was initially intended for hospital overflow patients. Amid all of this, the state’s unemployment fund is in worrisome shape, meaning New Yorkers will soon need to depend solely on federal benefits if the state well runs dry.

After the global number of confirmed coronavirus cases topped 1 million on Thursday, several Asian territories and countries, including Singapore and Hong Kong, are struggling with a second wave of COVID-19 cases that health officials claim is mostly travel-related. As we reported a few days back, China has reimposed lockdowns as begins to disclose “asymptomatic” cases that government functionaries explained were left out of China’s initial case totals.

One month ago, on March 3, there were 92,000 coronavirus cases, most of them in mainland China. As of Friday, the US and Europe account for the bulk of the world’s more than 1 million confirmed cases.

Professor Gabriel Leung, an epidemiologist at the University of Hong Kong, warned on Friday that the pandemic would likely last a few more months, even if heavy-handed prevention strategies are adopted. He also said the warmer weather would give the world no respite from the virus: “Is warmer weather going to give us some respite?

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“Panic Stations”: What Are The LBMA And COMEX Trying To Hide?

“Panic Stations”: What Are The LBMA And COMEX Trying To Hide?

Between 1962 and 1968, a cartel of central banks from the US and Europe ran a price manipulation scheme in London, aiming to keep the price of gold at $35 per ounce. They did this by constant intervention into the market, pooling their gold reserves to sell down the market. Conceived and coordinated at the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) in Switzerland by the G10 central bank governors, the dirty work of actual gold market intervention was done by the Pool’s agent, the Bank of England gold trading desk in London. 

The syndicate, known as the London Gold Pool was successful until it wasn’t, with the beginning of the end in early March 1968 as the huge run on gold became a tidal wave with sterling and US dollar weakness. On 10 March 1968, a Sunday, the consortium released a statement claiming that: “the London Gold Pool reaffirm their determination to support the pool at a fixed price of $35 per ounce”. At the same time, Fed chairman William McChesney Martin even vowed that the US would defend the Pool “to the last ingot”.  

The Pool then proceeded to airlift hundreds of tonnes of gold bars from the US Treasury’s Fort Knox to RAF Mildenhall, which they dumped into the London market for the rest of the week (March 11 -14). With all the Good Delivery Gold siphoned off to the Market (actually a consortium of European merchant banks), the Rothschild and the Bank of England pulled the plug, and the London Gold Pool collapsed on the evening of 14 March 1968, ushering in an era of free market gold prices.

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Fed’s Quantitative Easing Strategy Holds Long-Term Benefits for Crypto

Fed’s Quantitative Easing Strategy Holds Long-Term Benefits for Crypto

Fed’s Quantitative Easing Strategy Holds Long-Term Benefits for Crypto

These are perilous times, and it hasn’t escaped anyone’s notice that the United States Federal Reserve is doing its part to alleviate the suffering — which began with the coronavirus pandemic and has spread to the global economy. It’s printing more money. 

“There is an infinite amount of cash at the Federal Reserve,” Neel Kashkari, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, told Scott Pelley of CBS on March 22, adding: “We will do whatever we need to do to make sure there is enough cash in the financial system.”

The U.S. Federal Reserve itself reinforced that message on March 23, announcing that it would “continue to purchase Treasury securities and agency mortgage-backed securities in the amounts needed to support smooth market functioning.”

The death of capitalism?

Reactions to these affirmations of quantitative easing, or QE, have been swift from sectors of the crypto community: “With these words, the last vestige of #capitalism died in the US,” wrote Caitlin Long, who established the first crypto-native bank in the United States. “[The] Fed’s monetization U.S. debt is now unlimited.”

Mati Greenspan, the CEO and co-founder of Quantum Economics told Cointelegraph: “The Fed said it is willing to buy the entire market” if necessary to stabilize markets. Meanwhile, on the fiscal side, Congress’s $2 trillion stimulus package includes handouts like “helicopter money” — i.e., a $1,200 payment to every tax-paying adult who has an annual income below $75,000. “Inflation is pretty much a foregone conclusion at this point,” he stated elsewhere.

Garrick Hileman, head of research at Blockchain.com, told Cointelegraph: “The response by central banks to COVID-19 is truly unprecedented, with Fed and Bank of England officials using terms like ‘infinite,’ ‘unlimited’ and ‘radical.’” They’ve been using such extraordinary language in the hope they’ll prevent equity and credit markets from seizing up. “Only time will tell if they have gone too far.”

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Could the Covid19 Response be More Deadly than the Virus?

Could the Covid19 Response be More Deadly than the Virus?

The economic, social and public health consequences of these measures could claim millions of victims

The initial, alarming estimates of deaths from the virus COVID-19 were that as many as 2.2 million people would die in the United States. This number is comparable to the annual US death rate of around 3 million. Fortunately, correction of some simple errors in overestimation has begun to dramatically reduce the virus mortality claims. 

The most recent estimate from “the leading US authority on the COVID-19 pandemic” suggests that the US may see between 100,000 and 200,000 deaths from COVID-19, with the final tally likely to be somewhere in the middle.” This means that we are expecting around 150,000 US deaths caused by the virus, if the latest estimates hold up.

How does that compare to the effects of the measures taken in response? By all accounts, the impact of the response will be great, far-reaching, and long-lasting. 

To better assess the difference we might ask, how many people will die as a result of the response to COVID-19? Although a comprehensive analysis is needed from those experienced with modeling mortality rates, we can begin to estimate by examining existing research and comparative statistics. Let’s start by looking at three critical areas of impact: suicide and drug abuse, lack of medical treatment or coverage, and poverty and food access.

SUICIDES AND DRUG ABUSE

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, over 48,000 suicides occurred in the US in 2018. This equates to an annual rate of about 14 suicides per 100,000 people. As expected, suicides increase substantially during times of economic depression. For example, as a result of the 2008 recession there was an approximate 25% increase. Similarly, during a peak year of the Great Depression, in 1932, the rate rose to 17 suicides per 100,000 people.

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10 Signs the U.S. Is Heading for a Depression

10 Signs the U.S. Is Heading for a Depression 

1– Unemployment is off-the-charts

Thursday’s jobless claims leave no doubt that the country is in the grips of another severe recession. More than 6.6 million Americans filed for unemployment insurance in the last week. That number exceeds the gloomiest prediction of more than 40 economists and pushes the two-week total to an eye-watering 10 million claims.

According to CNBC: 

“Those at the lower end of the wage scale have been especially hard-hit during a crisis that has seen businesses either cut staff outright or at best freeze any new hiring until there’s more visibility about how efforts to contain the coronavirus will work.

“We’ve lived through the recession and 9/11. What we’re seeing with this decline is actually worse than both of those events,” said Irina Novoselsky, CEO of online jobs marketplace CareerBuilder.” (CNBC)

According to New York Magazine:

“Economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis projected Monday that job losses from the coronavirus recession would reach 47 million and push America’s unemployment rate to 32.1 percent — more than 7 points higher than its Great Depression–era peak.”

2– Service Sector has been walloped by the virus

Services account for 70% of the US economy, but presently the sector is in meltdown. According to the analysts at Wolf Street: “Employment contracted sharply and hours were reduced for those still employed. “The employment index plunged from +6.1 to -23.8, also the lowest level on record…

Retailers got whacked. The Retail Sales Index of the Texas Retail Outlook Survey collapsed from the already beaten-down level of -2.5 in February to an epic all-time low of -82.6 in March… (Also) the general business activity index collapsed from the beaten down level of -5.0 to a historic low of -84.2….

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Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
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