The Market Radar

We anticipate, monitor, and comment on market moving global economic and geopolitical issues.  No dark side brooding, no wanting the world to end, no political rants.  Traders, investors, policymakers, or market observers can’t  afford to ignore us.

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Head & Shoulders Everywhere!

We once heard the late Yale prof., Stephen Ross, say that “if you stare at the clouds long enough,  you can see pink elephants.”

We kind of feel that way, though not completely, about seeing patterns in stock charts.

Head & Shoulders.png

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The Age Of Low Volatility

Interesting charts from the CME group’s  August 1st earnings release.

It’s not just the VIX that has been tanking over the past few years,  but the volatility in almost all financial instruments and commodities has declined this decade and are now below their medium-term historical averages.   Maybe with the exception of the vol spike in foreign exchange in the second half of 2016 and the July 2014 to Feb. 2016 crude oil crash.   Even natural gas, the original widow maker, is at the low in of its range.

You can blame quantitative easing (QE), that great flood of central bank money pumped into the financial global system over the past decade, which has doused price and economic volatility, coupled with the emotionless algo programmed trading ‘bots void of confirmation bias (CB) — or , maybe, full of CB, with ther machine learned trend following and correlation algos  — and all the trading/investment vices of the human investor and trader.

Minsky Moment?  Build it, and it will come?

Or, has the volatility of asset prices   “…reached what looks like a permanently high low plateau“?

You decide.

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CME_Vol1

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Debate Within The FOMC: Bubblistas v. Efficient Marketistas?

We have finally made the time to more closely review the release of last week’s Fed minutes from the July 25-26 meeting.   We kind of like what we see.

Debate Breaking Out Among FOMC Members?

A debate appears to breaking out between members and staff of the Federal Reserve’s FOMC about the impact of QE on long-term interest rates and their impact on asset markets.

On the one side are what we call the Bubblistas,  who believe and are concened the repressed low long-term U.S. interest rates are leading to excess asset speculation.

On the other, the academic “Efficient Marketistas,” — who, by the way, we believe were partly responsible for the 1990’s equity bubble and the 2003-07 credit bubble — think the markets are pricing all information and fundamentals correctly.

How do you think they explain Italian junk yields trading through U.S. Treasuries?   Covered interest rate parity?  That is expectations of continued appreciation of the euro/dollar?  Such absurdity.

What Is The Bond Market Telling Us?

We also always chuckle when we hear market commentators talk about, “what is the bond market telling us?”    We completely agree, and have been expressing the same view for years,  of what Mark Dow wrote last month on the Behavioral Macro blog,

“The bond market—in both shape and level—has been telling us very little about US economic prospects/activity. However, short-term changes do inform us as to the prevailing narrative.”  – Mark Dow

FOMC Minutes

Have a look at our annotated version of a few key paragraphs of of the Fed minutes released last week and what we believe telegraphed the subject of Chariman Yellen’s Jacksole Hole speech later this week on financial stability.

Minutes of the Federal Open Market Committee

July 25-26, 2017

..Asset purchases by foreign central banks and the Federal Reserve’s securities holdings [see our Table below] were also likely contributing to currently low term premiums [QE/ZIRP distortions – Bubblistas], although the exact size of these contributions was uncertain. A number of participants pointed to potential concerns about low longer-term interest rates, including the possibility that inflation expectations were too low [Efficient Marketistas] , that yields could rise abruptly [see our “beach ball effect” on repressed interest rates], or that low yields were inducing investors to take on excessive risk in a search for higher returns [fear of yield chasers and financial destabilization – Bubblistas].

Several participants noted that the further increases in equity prices, together with continued low longer-term interest rates, had led to an easing of financial conditions [see our post, Market Liquidity Conditions Still Loose As A Goose]

However, different assessments were expressed about the implications of this development for the outlook for aggregate demand [uncertain over wealth effect of rising asset prices] and, consequently, appropriate monetary policy. According to one view, the easing of financial conditions meant that the economic effects of the Committee’s actions in gradually removing policy accommodation had been largely offset by other factors influencing financial markets [concerns of losing control to the markets], and that a tighter monetary policy than otherwise was warranted [Bubblisitas]. According to another view, recent rises in equity prices might be part of a broad-based adjustment of asset prices to changes in longer-term financial conditions [Efficient Marketistas], importantly including a lower neutral real interest rate, and, therefore, the recent equity price increases might not provide much additional impetus to aggregate spending on goods and services.-  FOMC Minutes from July 25-26 Meeting – Released August 16, 2017

We produced this table in March and do not believe the data have changed much, though with more Treasury issuance the percentage of the U.S. Treasuries held by the Fed and foreign central banks is certainly lower.

Fed_Foregin Central Bank Holdings

Nevertheless,  at the time,  65 percent of all long-term Treasuries,  with maturities longer than one year, were held by the Fed and foreign central banks.  That is by non-price sensitive holders.    Add to that foreign private holders, forced into the U.S. bond market by negative interest rates in Europe and Japan,  and not much of the cash market is available for domestic investors.

Stunningly,  more than 80 percent of Treasury securities longer than one year are held by the Fed and foreigners,  making short selling or straying from your benchmark a very dangerous proposition.

From The Great Moderation To The Great Distortion

The supply of bonds and notes taken out of the market by the Fed and foreign central banks,  coupled with foreign private bond flows (due to foreign QE and NIRP), has resulted in a massive distortion of long-term risk-free interest rates.   Since, most risk assets are priced off of these rates,  then, by simple logic,  risk in all asset markets is mispriced.

The Truman Show Markets

Fake news, fake economies (based on fake demand dependent on asset bubbles and the wealth effect), fake markets (dependent on QE and low interest rates).  It’s the Truman Show, folks.

The 75 trillion dollar (size of global economy) question is when will Truman Burbank realize his world is fake?

We think when policy rates rise another 100-200 basis points and/or double digit percent reductions in the monetary bases of the G3,  maybe with the exception of Japan, which we may never see.  Whatever the case, it may take some time.

Stock Versus Flow Of Bank Reserves

The fear of overshooting interest rates and bursting asset bubbles may be one reason the Fed, alternatively,  wants to start shrinking its balance sheet.  We agree with the Fed that it is the stock (or level) of reserves in the financial system that matter and not the flows,  at least for now.  At some point, however,  the markets will worry the level of reserves are approaching drought level conditions and financial liquidity is becoming too tight.

Nevertheless, as long as interest rates remain repressed and low, the mispricing of asset markets  can last much longer than many think.  It already has, and, remember,  “the market can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent.”

Investors, traders and ‘bots, for that matter, also have to make money in the market they are dealt.  Not the market that should be or the one they want it to be.

Furthermore,

It is hard to pop a bubble of financial exuberance, however, when the predominant investor sentiment appears to be grudging rationalisation of high prices, absent much enthusiasm. Dhaval Joshi, chief strategist for BCA Research, says: “At our client meetings, almost everybody disbelieves that current valuations allow developed market equities to generate attractive long-term returns. Yet many investors are willing to suspend this disbelief, at least for the time being.”  – FT

In other words, many market participants are acting as Truman Burbank, forcing themselves to believe the island of  Seahaven is for real.  Fitting in our new world of virtual reality and 24/7 reality television.

There will come a day when Truman discovers or rediscovers reality and walks off the set, not like the financial collapse and Lehman moment of ’08, as there is too much liquidity in the global financial system.  More of a sustained period of secular stagnation before the major central banks capitulate and effectively become employment agencies and either directly, or indirectly, monetize wages.  Contrary to conventional wisdom, we believe inflation, rather than deflation will be the ultimate end game.   Though a period of sustained deflation will sow the seeds and set the stage for the inflation.

Central Banks Gone Wild

After all,  major central banks are already engaging in activities almost unthinkable 20 years ago.

The Bank of Japan’s controversial march to the top of the shareholder rankings in the world’s third-largest equity market is picking up pace.

Already a top-five owner of 81 companies in the Nikkei 225 stock average, the BOJ is on course to become the No. 1 shareholder in 55 of those firms by the end of next year, according to estimates compiled by Bloomberg from the central bank’s exchange-traded fund holdings. – The Japan Times, August 15

In the U.K. there is already talk of the “People’s QE”.

The UK policy of increasing money supply in the past has always been based on two premises to avoid hyperinflation and currency destruction: the independence of the central bank as a central pillar of monetary policy, and the constant sterilization of asset purchases (ie, what it buys is also sold to monitor market real demand). The balance sheet of the Bank of England has remained stable since 2012, coinciding with the highest economic growth period, and is below 25% of GDP.

Corbyn´s People´s QE means that the central bank will lose its independence altogether and become a government agency that prints currency whenever the government wants, but the increase of money supply does not become part of the transmission mechanism that reaches job creators and citizens in the real economy. All the new money is for the government, with the Bank of England forced to buy all the debt issued by a “Public Investment Bank”.
Zero Hedge, August 19

The Monetary And Political Debates Begin

Nonetheless, we are encouraged the FOMC seems to now be debating such issues.  A debate that should have taken place before the 2007-08 credit bubble popped, which could have prevented much economic pain and indirectly and partially caused the political instability the U.S. is now experiencing.

Whether the central bankers can and/or have the courage to try and guide the global economy and markets to a safe landing and rid the distortions, which are both apparent and the ones we have no idea even exist,  from 10 years of zero interest rates and quantitative easing, is highly questionable.   It is clear from the minutes,  the FOMC members don’t even know themselves.

Nevertheless,  the debate we have long been looking for among the monetary policy makers appears to have finally begun.

Similarly, the legacy issues of slavery and the confederacy, which should have been dealt with 150 years ago,  but were circumvented by the presidental election of 1876,  have finally boiled to the surface in the U.S. and have added additional event risk to the markets.    We are,  at least, encouraged the issue is finally being discussed, debated, and hopefully will be addressed,  which should be good for the country in the longer term if it doesn’t permanently rupture the body politic, first.

Our Market View

You know our market view.  A volatile autumn, culminating in a sharp, quick sell off around or in October that should be bought.   It makes us nervous, however, many already believe and are beginning to arrive at the same view.

Finally, we leave you with some more money quotes from the FOMC minutes (via Bloomberg).   Looks like they are going to the pull the trigger on quantitative tightening (QT) in September,  unless markets become too volatile.

  • most market participants now anticipated that the FOMC would announce at its September meeting a date for implementation of a change in reinvestment policy, although a couple of survey respondents expressed the view that the timing could be affected by developments regarding the federal debt ceiling
  • The overall labor force participation rate edged up in June
  • new home sales in May partly reversed the previous month’s decline.
  • The most cited reason for the lackluster loan demand was subdued investment spending by nonfinancial businesses, but banks also reported that some borrowers had shifted to other sources of external financing or to internally generated funds.
  • This overall assessment incorporated the staff’s judgment that, since the April assessment, vulnerabilities associated with asset valuation pressures had edged up from notable to elevated, as asset prices remained high or climbed further, risk spreads narrowed, and expected and actual volatility remained muted in a range of financial markets.
  • In this projection, the staff scaled back its assumptions regarding the magnitude and duration of fiscal policy expansion in the coming years. However, the effect of this change on the projection for real GDP over the next couple of years was largely offset by lower assumed paths for the exchange value of the dollar and for longer-term interest rates.
  • Participants noted that the fundamentals underpinning consumption growth, including increases in payrolls, remained solid.
  • uncertainty about the course of federal government policy, including in the areas of fiscal policy, trade, and health care, was tending to weigh down firms’ spending and hiring plans.
  • measured aggregate wage growth was being held down by compositional changes in employment associated with the hiring of less experienced workers at lower wages than those of established workers.
  • some likelihood that inflation might remain below 2 percent for longer than they currently expected
  • they differed in their assessments of whether inflation expectations were well anchored.
  • A number of participants noted that much of the analysis of inflation used in policymaking rested on a framework…A few participants cited evidence suggesting that this framework was not particularly useful in forecasting inflation. However, most participants thought that the framework remained valid
  • Participants agreed that it would not be desirable for the current regulatory framework to be changed in ways that allowed a reemergence of the types of risky practices that contributed to the crisis.
  • Most saw the outlook for economic activity and the labor market as little changed from their earlier projections and continued to anticipate that inflation would stabilize around the Committee’s 2 percent objective over the medium term. However, some participants expressed concern about the recent decline in inflation, which had occurred even as resource utilization had tightened, and noted their increased uncertainty about the outlook for inflation. They observed that the Committee could afford to be patient under current circumstances in deciding when to increase the federal funds rate further and argued against additional adjustments until incoming information confirmed that the recent low readings on inflation were not likely to persist and that inflation was more clearly on a path toward the Committee’s symmetric 2 percent objective over the medium term.
  • the extent of current downward pressure on longer-term yields arising from the Federal Reserve’s asset holdings and how this pressure would diminish over time as balance sheet normalization proceeded, the strength and degree of persistence of other domestic and global factors that had contributed to the easing of financial conditions and elevated asset prices, and whether and how much the neutral rate of interest would rise as the economy continued to expand.
  • in the Committee’s post meeting statement and its Addendum to the Policy Normalization Principles and Plans. Participants generally agreed that, in light of their current assessment of economic conditions and the outlook, it was appropriate to signal that implementation of the program likely would begin relatively soon, absent significant adverse developments in the economy or in financial markets.
  • several participants were prepared to announce a starting date for the program at the current meeting, most preferred to defer that decision until an upcoming meeting while accumulating additional information on the economic outlook and developments potentially affecting financial markets.
    FOMC Minutes from July 25-26 Meeting – Released August 16, 2017

 

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COTD: Today’s Cosmic Ballet

The “cosmic ballet” today is going to be the first one since 1918 where the path of darkness will cross the Pacific and Atlantic coasts as well as the first that will make landfall exclusively in the U.S. since independence in 1776. – Statista

Eclipses

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Week in Review – August 18

Stock Indices

Argentina stocks up big after the ruling coalition did better than expected in primary legislative elections last Sunday.  Emerging markets generally better bid than DMs.   Europe traded better as it looks the mighty Euro is taking a rest though profit taking set in latter in the week.   Japan down with U.S. on stronger non weaker yen.

 

Weekly_Stocks

Global Bond Yields

Fairly quiet week.  Spain wider on terror attacks.  Nothng in U.S. yield curve.  Yields too low given moves in metals (see below).

 

Weekly_Bonds

Currencies

Philippine peso, the worst performing in Asia this year,  continues to weaken over worries about the current account deficit, the first one since 2002, swinging from an  $800 m surplus to an estimated  $200 m deficit this year, less than 1 percent of GDP, however.    EM currencies up on strong commodities and politics.  Dollar index bouncing off 92 level,  as we expected, the bottom of a medium-term range.

 

Weekly_FX

Other Risk Indicators

Zinc thorough the $3,000 for the first time in a decade as stockpiles have slumped to lowest level since 2008.   Iron ore continues to recover, as we expected, as China recovers.  EM shares up on commodities, mainly firmer metals.  Grains are dismal,  very ugly charts for wheat and corn.

Crude almost back to even after more than 4 percent rally on Friday after tough four days of trading.   Almost seems safe haven bid came in for crude when stocks started tanking on Thursday morning.  Hit a low of $46.46 on Thursday morning and went straight up as U.S. stocks went straight down.   Crude is a widow maker.   Those damn ‘bots!

 

Weekly_Others

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WheatCorn

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US Sector ETF Performance – August 18

ETF_DayETF_WeekETF_MonthETF_QETF_YTD

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Global Risk Monitor – August 18

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Global Risk Monitor – August 18

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Transports And North Korea On The Radar

On August 1st we warned in our post, Watch This Space – Industrials v Transports, to monitor the Dow Industrials-Transports divergence:

Not as relevant as it used to be,  but something to keep on your radar.  Transports approaching 200-day moving average at 9,117.59 [corrected on Aug. 19] and diverging from Industrials..
GMM

We also posted this chart:

Dow Transports_Aug1

Let’s Revisit The Analysis

The Trannies peaked on July 14th; are down 6.85 percent from that high;  have closed two consecutive days through its 200-day moving average for the first time since July 2016;  though only currently about 1 percent below the 200-day.

The Dow Industrials index peaked on August 8th and is down just 2.28 percent from the high.   The S&P500 has already aready pierced its 50-day, the Dow remains a little over 50 points above its 50-day moving average.

Dow_Transports_Aug18

During Historic Low Volatility

What is surprising is that the Transports and Industrials parted ways during the calmest three-week period in S&P500’s history.

Here’s to another record for 2017, as the past 15 trading days have officially marked the calmest stretch in the history of the S&P 500 Index. Per Ryan Detrick, Senior Market Strategist, “As amazing as this is to say, the S&P 500 hasn’t closed more than 30 basis points up or down for a record 15 consecutive days. Even in the face of heightening geopolitical tensions, we are in the midst of the calmest three-week period in history.”  – LPL Research, August 10, 2017

North Korea

Markets are always complacent and ignore event risk during bubblicous and extremely loose financial conditions, until they don’t.

We also noted the ripping South Korean stock market and currency in our July 24th post,  No Worries In The South Korean Markets,  even as the missiles were flying one after another all throughout the year just 35 miles to north of Seoul.

We have been writing a lot these days about how crude oil is not pricing any geopolitical risk of a very messy Middle East.  See here and here.

That’s nothing, however,  compared to the performance of the South Korean stock market and currency, year-to-date,  given the geopolitical risk of the many North Korean missile tests fired off in the first seven months of 2017 (see timeline below).    The KOSPI stock index is up 21 percent and the currency has strengthened a little over 7 1/2 percent against the dollar.

Oh, by the way,  Korea also impeached and removed their president earlier this year,  had a presidential election, and has also been put on a currency manipulation monitoring list by the US Treasury.

…Is this the definition of “climbing a wall of worries”, complacency, or just a bullet proof bull market? We vote for capital flows seeking emerging markets.
GMM, July 24, 2017

Ironically, the South Korean Kospi stock index peaked on the date of our post and proceeded to decline around 6 percent before recovering a few hundred basis points in the last week as worries over the nuclear crisis subsided, at least temporarily.  The dollar has gained about 2 1/2 percent against the Korean won since July 24th.

Joint Military Exercise This Week

The markets will be watching North Korea with a keen eye this week as the U.S. and South Korea begin their annual war games on Monday, which included 25,000 American and 50,000 South Korean soldiers last year.   The NY Times reports very provocative posters have gone up in North Korea over the past week.

“What is typical in these posters is the image of an undaunted, fierce North Korea that is not fazed by the moves by the United States or the United Nations,” Koen de Ceuster, an expert on North Korea at Leiden University in the Netherlands, told Reuters.

…Countries use various signaling techniques in times of crisis, experts in geopolitics say, including diplomacy, back-channel talks and public messaging. The North is clearly sending a message with these posters.

…For now, the war of words has been muted. But a potential inflection point looms. On Monday, American and South Korean troops will begin annual large-scale war games — the first since the North test-fired missiles that might be able to reach the United States mainland.  – NY Times, August 19

North Korea_Aug19

The North Korean crisis seems even more uncertain now and much riskier after Steve Bannon’s comments last week, which may embolden Kim Jong-un to challenge President Trump’s ““fire and fury” threats.

There’s no military solution here; they got us.”

“Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that 10 million people in Seoul don’t die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Mr. Bannon said in a phone call with Robert Kuttner, The American Prospect’s co-editor.   – NY Times, August 17

The New York Post reports today,

There’s media speculation that the allies might try to keep this year’s drills low-key by not dispatching long-range bombers and other U.S. strategic assets to the region. But that possibility worries some, who say it would send the wrong message to both North Korea and the South, where there are fears that the North’s advancing nuclear capabilities may eventually undermine a decades-long alliance with the United States.

“If anything, the joint exercises must be strengthened,” Cheon Seongwhun, who served as a national security adviser to former conservative South Korean President Park Geun-hye, said in an interview.

…It’s almost certain that this year’s drills will trigger some kind of reaction from North Korea. The question is how strong it will be. – NY Post, August 19

Stunning to think, at least to us, with such ubiquitous event risk on the horizon that global markets were so calm over the past few months.  Until they weren’t.

Conclusion

We’re not taking any victory laps here.   We, along with everyone else, have no idea what the future holds.  The market could crash next week or rip to new all-time highs.

The Trannies could rebound big, the North Koreans could remain calm during the joint military exercise (doubt it),  and President Trump could name Gary Cohn to replace Janet Yellen as the Fed Chairman, not inconceivable if markets continue to decline.   Or not.

The major stock indices are only 2-3 percent off their highs.  Nothing.

The one big lesson we’ve learned this year, however, is the best short-term bet is to usually take the opposite side of how the majority of the fast money is positioned.  We don’t have that information, however.

Increasing Event Risk

But, the markets are looking  increasingly vulnerable to event risk, of which we see many through October:  1) seasonality;  2) the Fed balance sheet should, or could start shrinking;  3) China’s Party Congress may have concluded, removing the country’s implicit policy put, and thus increasing the risk of a China policy or economic shock;  4) the new U.S. Federal government fiscal year begins October 1 and if the Trump administration has not passed any significant economic legislation, the markets may begin to throw in the towel;  5) there will be more clarity on ECB tapering;  6) potentially even more elevated asset prices if the risk markets recover and grind to new highs through the rest of summer;  7) nervousness over the debt ceiling;  8) more political instability;  and  9) North Korea.

What We Are Watching Next Week

1) Dow Transports.  Since the Trannies led the sell-off it is number one our list.

Per Ryan Detrick, Senior Market Strategist, “Going back in history, we have often seen the rare combo of a 52-week high in the Dow and a 52-week relative low in transports precede some tumultuous times. It took place ahead of the ‘73/’74 bear market, the ’87 crash, and the ’00 peak for starters, which makes the signal seen earlier this month something we aren’t taking lightly.”

Now here’s the good news: The track record of this rare signal is far from spotless. Per Ryan Detrick, “Although on the surface this sounds scary, looking at all the signals (to remove clusters, each instance must be at least three months apart to define a new signal) in which the Dow and Dow/transports spread hit new 52-week highs, the Dow has been up a median 17.1% over the following year. We’d still say the weakness in transports is a concern, but a bigger concern is that we’ve gone more than a year without a 5% correction, and there are multiple big events (think debt ceiling, tax reform, and infrastructure spending) out of Washington on the horizon that could trip up the market.”  – LPL Research, August 16

Dow_Warning

2)  North Korea.   Will Kim Jong Un test President Trump?   If he does, will President Trump back down?   War is a low probability, but extermely high impact event.   Not enough fear priced.  We hope and pray for de-escalation.

3)  Market Reaction to Carl Icahn Resignation.   See here for Carl Icahn’s resignation letter to President Trump submitted around  5 PM eastern on Friday.

4) Jackson Hole Economic Symposium, “Fostering a Dynamic Global Economy.”  Runs through August 24-26.   Mario Draghi will be big.

Pressure is mounting on the world’s central bankers to give more clues about how they intend to exit huge stimulus packages unfurled to dig the global economy out of a hole after the financial crisis. After a decade of low-interest rates and bond buying, a process known as quantitative easing, the Jackson Hole summit could be a platform to convince markets they can safely wean the world off cheap money.

…The Fed chair, Janet Yellen, is the first leading figure to speak at the event on Friday, followed by Draghi later that day.  – The Guardian, August 20

Finally,  we recognize the global economy seems to be gaining some traction,  global interest rates remain extremely repressed,  the BoJ and ECB are still buying assets, the global financial system overfloweth with central bank money,  investors like to make money and are forced to chase yield and returns,  and the markets are chock-full of buy the dipper algos.

Ergo, no bear market until the above conditions change.

A Tower of Terror flash crash sometime around October to be bought?   We increasingly think so.  The option value of cash will increase significantly in the autumn.

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Build More Statues Of These Heroes

“They won.  Helped save the United States.  I like winners”.    Who could have said that?

I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has had to overcome while trying to succeed.  –  Booker T. Washington

 

 

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