Sunday, February 16, 2020

The Fed Has Created a Monster Bubble It Can No Longer Control

The Fed must now accept responsibility for what happens in the end-game of the Moral-Hazard Monster Bubble it created.
Contrary to popular opinion, the Federal Reserve didn't set out to create a Monster Bubble that has escaped its control. Also contrary to popular opinion, the Fed will be unable to "never let stocks fall ever again--ever!" for the simple reason that the monster it has created-- a monster mania of moral hazard in which all risk has vanished because the Fed will never let stocks fall ever again--ever!--is now beyond its control.
And that's a problem for the Fed, which above all else needs control of interest rates, financial markets and the economy.
The problem is that bubbles always pop, and they pop regardless of what central banks do. This is contrary to the popular opinion that if only the Fed had saved Lehman Brothers, the Global Financial Meltdown of 2008 would never have happened.
Wrong. Bubbles pop when too much risky debt unbacked by collateral is issued to marginal borrowers who inevitably default, triggering massive losses in the financial sector, an equally massive unwind of speculative debt and risky gambles and a deep recession as all the debt-fueled malinvestment dries up and blows away.
The 2008 Global Financial Meltdown was the inevitable result of subprime and other debt bubbles bursting which then triggered a panic to unwind trillions of dollars in high-risk speculative gambles in stocks, real estate, junk bonds, etc.
The Fed has another problem which it hasn't been able to solve despite 12 years of trying: to save the financial system from collapse, the Fed has to re-inflate the debt-fueled speculative mania that just popped from unstable excesses of debt, leverage and moral-hazard speculative fever, all piled on a diminishing foundation of actual collateral.
We can see the manic progression of each Fed rescue in this chart: note the compression of time as the periods between each Fed rescue shrink and the spectacular rocket-ship ride of debt, leverage and moral-hazard speculative fever adds another 1,000 points to the S&P 500 in ever shorter manic stampedes of front-running the next the Fed will never let stocks fall ever again--ever! bubble.
Advances that recently took years now take months. The 700 point advance that required 4.5 years back in the previous bubble of 2003-2007 now required only 4.5 months. The next iteration is 700 points in 4.5 weeks, then in 4.5 days, and then the oblivion of collapse.
The Fed's balance sheet has gone nowhere for eight weeks while the bubble in stocks gathered the manic momentum of the Fed will never let stocks fall ever again--ever!:
12/25/19 $4.165 trillion
1/1/20 $4.173 trillion
1/8/20 $4.149 trillion
1/15/20 $4.175 trillion
1/22/20 $4.145 trillion
1/29/20 $4.151 trillion
2/5/20 $4.166 trillion
2/12/20 $4.182 trillion
That's a total range of $0.017 trillion--essentially signal noise. This strongly suggests that the Fed is hoping--foolishly, of course, as it stumbles around in a hubris-soaked fantasy that it can really, really, really control the moral-hazard monster it created--to keep stocks on a "permanently high plateau" which somehow avoids the two disasters that history records as inevitable: either an immediate collapse of the bubble or a Fed-fueled "rescue" that adds another 1,000 points in six months, and then another 1,000 points in three months, and then a collapse that cannot be rescued, as the entire financial system implodes.
The Fed managers are foolish but not stupid. They realize they cannot let the moral-hazard mania move into the phase where an irretrievable collapse becomes inevitable.
The problem here is history has never recorded a bubble which settled magically onto a "permanently high plateau" and stayed there for months or years. So the Fed has finally reached the point of no return: either it accepts a painful bursting of the monster moral-hazard bubble it has created or it lets the monster lead the stampede over the cliff to a financial collapse that the Fed can't rescue with the usual tools of lowering interest rates and bailing out banks.
It's worth recalling that the Fed can't actually force insolvent lenders to lend more money to insolvent borrowers. It also can't squeeze blood from stones; insolvent borrowers default, period. The losses can be buried in the Fed balance sheet but that doesn't create income for shuttered enterprises or laid-off workers, or generates taxes for local governments watching their tax base melt away.
Even the hubris-soaked fools in the Fed realize this bubble has disconnected from financial realities. One glance at the operating income of Apple shows that everyone's favorite stock has soared even as operating income has been essentially flat for years. There's a phrase for this: disconnect from reality, all driven by the manic certitude that the Fed will never let stocks fall ever again--ever!
After 12 long years of ever-riskier bubble-blowing, the Fed is now boxed in. Instead of reassuring markets that the next 1,000 points are guaranteed and all in only a few more months of mania, the Fed will either have to offer false assurances while it attempts an impossible "soft landing", i.e. a controlled deflation of the Monster Bubble, or it grimly accepts that a 1,000 point decline in the S&P 500 now is a better choice than an implosion later if the Monster Bubble breaks completely free and rampages higher even as the Fed pulls the plug.
Moral-Hazard Monster Bubbles cannot be controlled. Human greed guarantees that the Fed will never let stocks fall ever again--ever! will generate self-reinforcing stampedes of speculative mania that no long respond to the signals of the Fed balance sheet.
At this point, the Fed will be hoist on its own petard: by claiming god-like control of interest rates, financial markets and the economy, the Fed must now accept responsibility for what happens in the end-game of the Moral-Hazard Monster Bubble it created: either allow a 25% to 30% wipeout of speculative excess now or feed the final stampede to financial collapse.
It's not a happy choice, but if we're honest (gasp), there really is no choice: the Fed cannot let the moral-hazard mania run to complete collapse, which is now only one iteration away.


My recent books:
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Thursday, February 13, 2020

The Violent Collision of Market Fantasy and Viral Reality

When the stampede tumbles off the cliff, buyers vanish and markets go bidless.
The shock wave unleashed in China on January 23 is about to hit the U.S. economy and shatter everything that is fragile and fantasy, starting with the U.S. stock market. The shock wave is still reverberating through the vulnerable Chinese economy, toppling all that is fragile: auto sales, sales of empty flats in Ghost Cities, shadow banking loans that cannot be paid, workers' wages that won't be paid, businesses that won't re-open, supply chains dependent on marginal enterprises and most saliently, the faith of the people in their hubris-soaked, self-serving leadership.
The fantasy in the U.S. is that the shock wave doesn't exist. Since the shock wave has been hurtling with undimmed force toward the shores of all-mighty American complacency beneath the Pacific, unseen, America's laughable fantasy has spread through the thundering stampede triggered by the fools in the Federal Reserve in early October.
Not only is America's economy invulnerable, so is its stock market. This fantasy has fueled a blow-off-top bubble of such classic proportions that even the fools in the Fed recognize it as a bubble. And even the fools in the Fed know blow-off-top bubbles always burst, and with rough symmetry: if the bubble rocketed higher in six weeks, it will crash to Earth in about six weeks.
If we look at the Fed's balance sheet, we can discern the Fed fools' implicit attempt to engineer a "soft landing," i.e. stocks will remain at a permanently high plateau. The Fed balance sheet has gone nowhere for six weeks while the stampede in stocks gathered momentum:
12/25/19 $4.165 trillion
1/1/20 $4.173 trillion
1/8/20 $4.149 trillion
1/15/20 $4.175 trillion
1/22/20 $4.145 trillion
1/29/20 $4.151 trillion
2/5/20 $4.166 trillion
Head Fed Fool Powell is desperate to avoid the responsibility for blowing a bubble that will inevitably burst with devastating consequences for everyone in the thundering herd, but sorry Mr. Powell: you broke it, you own it. The Powell Fed instigated the stampede and blow-off-top bubble by blowing up the Fed balance sheet by over $400 billion in a matter of weeks, causing trading bots and punters alike to join the stampede front-running the Fed's bubble-blowing.
Front-running the Fed's bubble-blowing inflated the bubble, the classic dynamic of self-reinforcing feedback.
There is a unique euphoric joy in running with the herd: the thundering herd seems so powerful, so irresistible, so right--how could the herd be wrong?
Even as each individual in the stampede thrills to the power of the herd, they retain a prideful fantasy of their own uniqueness and rationality: I am only running with the herd because it's incredibly profitable to do so. Once it's no longer profitable, I will move to the edge, slow down and peel away from the herd, carrying away my magnificent gains.
This is the fantasy mindset of every individual in the herd until their hooves leave the Earth and flail in mid-air: trapped by the power of the herd and an overweening pride in their individuality, everyone in the herd tumbles off the cliff, unable to escape.
The agonizing screams of the fatally wounded rend the air, but the herd cannot be stopped: the broken bodies pile up at the rock-strewn bottom of the cliff, and the last thoughts of the expiring are: how could this happen? The herd was so powerful and so right. Why didn't I leave when there was still time?
But few leave the herd in time. Each prideful individual in the stampede is fated to tumble onto the sharp rocks below.
Blow-off-top bubbles tend to take around 100 calendar days to reach their euphoric peak. The current blow-off-top bubble is already long in tooth at 130 days.
Blow-off-top bubbles tend to have a last chance to leave the thundering herd second peak. That was yesterday.
In a low-volume market dominated by trading programs/bots, the exit is very, very narrow. When the stampede tumbles off the cliff, buyers vanish and markets go bidless: every writhing, screaming victim wants to sell everything and save themselves, but there are no buyers at any price.



My recent books:
Money and Work Unchained $6.95 (Kindle), $15 (print) Read the first section for free (PDF).


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Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Our "Come to Mao" Reckoning and the Next Cultural Revolution

Only fools are blind to the potential for this uprising to extend to Apple and the rest of Corporate America's greedy exploiters who've been delighted to profit from the protection of the CCP.
Let's start our "Come to Mao" reckoning with the obvious:
To the U.S. stock market:
The coronavirus ravaging China doesn't matter.
China doesn't matter.
1,500 deaths don't matter, 5,000 deaths don't matter, 50,000 deaths don't matter, 500,000 deaths don't matter.
10,000 coronavirus cases don't matter,100,000 cases don't matter, 1,000,000 cases don't matter.
All that matters is that exploited Chinese workers get back to assembling iPhones for Apple and all the landfill economy stuff that generates billions in profits for Amazon and the rest of Corporate America.
Nothing else matters. Even coronavirus cases and deaths outside China don't matter. All that matters is that Apple and the rest of Corporate America continue reaping billions in profits off exploited workforces.
Like every other venal, exploitive Empire in history, Apple relies on rapacious, ruthless local elites to enforce its exploitation--in this case, Foxconn and the Communist Party elites who've gorged at the Apple/Foxconn trough. Thus Apple claims that when Foxconn re-opens production is up to Foxconn while Apple execs hound Foxconn to start production no matter how many workers might become ill and die.
Apple has always bought the best PR cover for its exploitation and greed that money can buy, starting with the famous 1984 commercial during the 1984 Super Bowl. That Apple ruthlessly exploits workers and the planet and pays essentially zero federal taxes--those don't fit its bogus but oh-so-glossy PR image.
Apple insists on $5 for you, Chinese workforce, and $500 for us. The greed of Apple is only surpassed by the greed of the elite fund managers who depend on Apple's ruthlessness to fatten their own gains.
Those are the most obvious realities of our "Come to Mao" reckoning, but there's more-- much more.
Thanks to the official mishandling of the coronavirus, the Chinese people are awakening anew to the grim reality that the only thing that matters to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)-- the CCP leadership and cadres--is maintaining the wealth and power of the CCP. The Chinese people don't matter except as exploited workers generating the profits for Apple et al. and for corrupt and venal Party elites.
Nothing else matters--except enforcing the exploitation of Chinese workers by Apple and the rest of Corporate America, because the CCP and Apple are best buddies: each equally rapacious, greedy and exploitive of those under their power.
The righteous anger of the people, currently directed at the CCP, is only a millimeter away from widening to include Foxconn, Apple and the rest of the elites exploiting the Chinese workforce. Where the workers responded to inhuman conditions at Foxconn a few year ago by killing themselves, the next time around they may choose to administer some rough justice to the elites in the CCP, Foxconn and Apple, their tormentors and exploiters.
We can hazard a guess that Mao would heartily approve of hacking U.S. corporations and agencies, and selling Huawei equipment with backdoors and taps, but the CCP's enforcement of American corporate profits might not have won Mao's approval.
As the exploitation and oppression in China has ramped steadily higher, the Revolutionary Mao has been making a come-back. Not every Chinese citizen is thrilled that the CCP destroyed the environment and ransacked the nation's resources and workforce for the elites' personal aggrandizement. Since speaking openly about this will quickly draw a prison sentence or worse, the only sanctioned way to express one's rejection of the CCP's self-serving leadership is to harken back to Mao.
The implicit topic here that cannot be spoken about directly in China is the Cultural Revolution of 1966 - 1976, which Mao unleashed to cleanse the Party of potential rivals, under the PR banner of "eliminating Counter-Revolutionaries," i.e. anyone who questioned the supremacy of Mao's clique.
This campaign quickly got out of hand, and millions of innocents and loyal Army and Party cadres were beaten, imprisoned, exiled or killed. In effect the Monster Id of all China's suffering from Mao's ill-conceived policies--The Great Leap Forward, etc.--was unleashed on the Party and anyone who had any ties to pre-Revolutionary elites, regardless of their blameless service to the revolution.
Young cadres switched alliance between local groups seemingly at random, destroying cultural treasures one month and then gutting the educational system the next.
Only fools are blind to the potential for a bottom-up Cultural Revolution that cleanses the CCP of its corrupt, self-serving, greedy elites, and only greater fools are blind to the potential for this uprising to extend to Apple and the rest of Corporate America's greedy exploiters who've been delighted to profit from the protection of the CCP.
Put another way: just as the amoral greed of Corporate America knows no bounds, Divine Retribution will also know no bounds.


My recent books:
Money and Work Unchained $6.95 (Kindle), $15 (print) Read the first section for free (PDF).


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Monday, February 10, 2020

China's Fatal Dilemma

Ending the limited quarantine and falsely proclaiming China safe for visitors and business travelers will only re-introduce the virus to workplaces and infect foreigners.
China faces an inescapably fatal dilemma: to save its economy from collapse, China's leadership must end the quarantines soon and declare China "safe for travel and open for business" to the rest of the world.
But since 5+ million people left Wuhan to go home for New Years, dispersing throughout China, the virus has likely spread to small cities, towns and remote villages with few if any coronavirus test kits and few medical facilities to administer the tests multiple times to confirm the diagnosis. (It can take multiple tests to confirm the diagnosis, as the first test can be positive and the second test negative.)
As a result, Chinese authorities cannot possibly know how many people already have the virus in small-town / rural China or how many asymptomatic carriers caught the virus from people who left Wuhan. They also cannot possibly know how many people with symptoms are avoiding the official dragnet by hiding at home.
No data doesn't mean no virus.
If the virus has already been dispersed throughout China by asymptomatic carriers who left Wuhan without realizing they were infected with the pathogen, then regardless of whatever official assurances may be announced in the coming days/weeks, it won't be safe for foreigners to travel in China nor will it be safe for Chinese workers to return to factories, markets, etc.
But if China doesn't "open for business" with unrestricted travel soon, its economy will suffer calamitous declines as fragile mountains of debt and leverage collapse and supply chain disruptions push global corporations to find permanent alternatives elsewhere.
Here's the fatal dilemma: maintaining the quarantine long enough to truly contain it (which requires extending it to the entire country) will be fatal to China's economy.
But ending the limited quarantine and falsely proclaiming China safe for visitors and business travelers will only re-introduce the virus to workplaces and infect foreigners who will return home as asymptomatic carriers, spreading the virus in their home nations.
Falsely declaring China safe will endanger everyone credulous enough to believe Chinese officials, and destroy whatever thin shreds of credibility China may yet have in the global economy and community. That will set off chains of causality that will destroy China's economy just as surely as a three-month nationwide quarantine.
Who will be foolish enough to believe anything Chinese officials proclaim after foreigners who accepted the false assurances of safety return home with the coronavirus?
Anyone planning to receive goods via air freight from China might want to digest this report: Persistence of coronaviruses on inanimate surfaces and its inactivation with biocidal agents Endemic human coronaviruses (HCoV) can persist on inanimate surfaces like metal, glass or plastic for up to 9 days.
Air freight takes 12 to 24 hours, add another few hours for packaging, handling and last-mile delivery and that leaves 6+ days for the virus to spread to anyone who touches goods handled by an symptomatic carrier. Maybe the odds of catching the virus via surfaces are low, but maybe not. No one knows, including anyone rash enough to claim that the risk is negligible.

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Sunday, February 09, 2020

Controlling the Narrative Is Not the Same as Controlling the Virus

Are these claims even remotely plausible for a highly contagious virus that spreads easily between humans while carriers show no symptoms?
It's clear that the narrative about the coronavirus is being carefully managed globally to minimize the impact on global sentiment and markets. Authorities are well aware of the global economy's extreme fragility, and so Job One for authorities everywhere is to scrub the news flow of anything that doesn't support the implicit official narrative:
1. The coronavirus is only an issue in China; it's contained outside China.
2. The coronavirus will soon be contained in China, and global business will quickly return to normal.
In pushing this narrative, authorities around the world share the same goal: limit the damage to consumer confidence and markets, as the legitimacy of every regime from Beijing to Washington D.C. to Nairobi is based on maintaining these economic fictions:
1. Global growth will continue in an unbroken trend in the decades ahead.
2. This growth benefits everyone, not just elites.
As I've noted in previous posts, the critical dynamic here is consumer confidence: consumers cannot be allowed to become hesitant or afraid lest they stop borrowing, borrowing, borrowing, buying, buying, buying and speculating, speculating, speculating.
Authorities outside China have no more interest in accurate death totals being released than Chinese authorities, and so official agencies and the corporate media dutifully parrot the implausibly low Chinese statistics as if they reflected reality.
But controlling the narrative is not the same as controlling the virus. The narrative is intangible but the virus is real-world. Authorities are betting that controlling the narrative about the virus is equivalent to controlling the actual virus. If everyone believes only 800 people have died and the number of infected people is plummeting, they will obediently keep borrowing and buying and authorities will retain their legitimacy, power and wealth.
If controlling the narrative fails, elites' legitimacy, power and wealth are at risk.
Thought experiment: cremating human corpses generates a chemical plume with a signature that's measurable from low-orbit sensors. Rather than accept implausibly low Chinese claims about total deaths, why not use low-orbit assets to measure the chemical signatures of plumes above Wuhan and calculate an estimate of the total number of corpses being cremated daily?
Again, no one in authority anywhere on the planet wants the real death totals to become public: managed ignorance is bliss.
One of the key tactics in controlling the narrative is to withhold data. But-- no data doesn't mean no virus. Let's think through the implicit narratives as a series of claims and test the plausibility of each claim.
Narrative #1: the coronavirus has been contained in North America. Let's break this down into specific claims:
Only 19 people in all of North America have the virus, and authorities found every one of them before they infected a single other person.
Is this even remotely plausible? Tens of thousands of people traveled from China to North America in January, including numerous direct flights from Wuhan, Ground Zero of the pandemic, before authorities limited flights; yet miraculously, only 19 of these thousands of people had contracted the pathogen and even more miraculously, not a single one of these asymptomatic carriers unknowingly infected a single passerby before being quarantined.
Since U.S. citizens and green-card holders and their families are still allowed to fly from China to the U.S. and travel freely once they pass a simple temperature test for fever, the narrative also claims not a single one of these hundreds of people are asymptomatic carriers, and if any are carriers, they won't infect a single other person while they travel freely around North America.
Are these claims even remotely plausible for a highly contagious virus that spreads easily between humans while carriers show no symptoms?
Let's imagine a slightly more realistic scenario: a Chinese national who unknowingly carries the virus infects dozens of passersby in taxis, Uber vehicles, subway cars, restaurants, hotels, etc. before coming down with symptoms of the flu. Since the visitor is concerned about what authorities might do to him and his family if it were discovered he has the coronavirus, he monitors his symptoms and concludes that since they're the same as a run-of-the-mill flu, he must not have the coronavirus. He recovers in 10 days, unaware that he had the coronavirus and unknowingly infected dozens of others.
Since roughly 80% of those who contract the coronavirus experience "mild symptoms" much like conventional flu, this is a reasonable assumption.
No data doesn't mean no virus: this individual had the coronavirus and spread it to dozens of other people while asymptomatic, and authorities don't know because he never went to a doctor or hospital and thus was never tested or quarantined.
Narrative #2: the coronavirus will soon be contained in China.
Millions of people left Wuhan prior to the lockdown, and since the lockdown was pre-announced, tens of thousands hurried out before the lockdown took effect. Meanwhile, the lockdown did not include flights leaving Wuhan's airport, so hundreds of flights left for destinations in China and elsewhere in the days between the lockdown announcement and the time when flight restrictions took effect.
Some consequential percentage of these millions were asymptomatic carriers of coronavirus, and since these millions of people dispersed throughout China, they undoubtedly infected passersby who never went to Wuhan.
Tracking down everyone from Wuhan will not identify everyone unknowingly infected by a traveler from Wuhan.
Screening for fever with thermometers will not identify asymptomatic carriers of coronavirus, so screening is not going to stop the spread of the virus.
Since there appears to be a severe shortage of test kits, the likelihood that every clinic and hospital in rural China has ample test kits to confirm a diagnosis (up to three tests per patient, as follow-up test results can be positive or negative) is near-zero. Thus the likelihood that the healthcare system has an accurate count of carriers with symptoms in rural China is near-zero.
And since asymptomatic carriers have no reason to be tested, and authorities have no reason to test them, the chances that authorities can magically identify every asymptomatic carrier is also near-zero.
No data doesn't mean no virus: is the claim that the coronavirus will soon be controlled in China even remotely plausible for a highly contagious virus that spreads easily between humans while carriers show no symptoms?
Controlling the narrative doesn't mean you're controlling the virus. The gulf between happy-story narratives and the real world is widening to the breaking point.



My recent books:
Money and Work Unchained $6.95 (Kindle), $15 (print) Read the first section for free (PDF).


If you found value in this content, please join me in seeking solutions by becoming a $1/month patron of my work via patreon.com.

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