The Canadian Real Estate Bubble’s Supply Shortage Myth Is Unraveling: BMO

Canadian real estate suddenly had a shortage of supply after record low rates. Not in major boomtowns, but in small cities and rural municipalities. Canada had the biggest boom, but this was seen in almost every advanced economy. Right after rates were slashed to stimulate demand, everywhere had a sudden shortage. BMO Capital Market economists have maintained this was a credit driven bubble. Climbing interest rates are now showing the supply shortage narrative is collapsing.

Canadian Real Estate Was Driven By A Speculative Bubble, Not Supply Shortage

BMO has prominently challenged Canada’s supply shortage narrative. With the exception of SFU professor Andy Yan, few professionals questioned the supply narrative. It just made sense — interest rates were cut and there were no more houses. Obviously low rates designed to stimulate demand to help inflation had no role. Clear as mud to most economists. 

It’s true there was a shortage of real estate inventory for sale across Canada… the US, Australia, the Netherlands, and pretty much every advanced economy. That’s an intended consequence and natural reaction to slashing rates.

Slashing interest rates help expand budgets but more importantly stimulate demand. This demand stimulus is meant to overrun the supply and increase home prices. When prices rise, it attracts more people to buy as well. No one wants to pay more for something, and it’s the same principle that drives deflation fears. Falling prices mean people wait to see how much they’ll fall, while rising prices lead to FOMO. It’s a well understood feature of inflation.

At the same time, no one wants to sell their assets as prices climb since it’s their golden ticket. No one wants to sell a tool that’s paying them thousands of dollars a month. In fact, existing owners of that asset even try to leverage to buy more. This is prominently seen with the influx of cash flow negative investors. Canada has seen over a quarter of recent purchases from investors.

Everyone saw a once in a lifetime opportunity to make a fortune, it didn’t matter where. Canada, the world’s second largest country and one of the most sparsely populated — had run out of land. Not in Vancouver or Montreal, but small towns and rural land, often in the middle of nowhere.

BMO wasn’t buying it. “For much of last year, we relentlessly harped on the wildness in Ontario housing markets in medium and small cities,” said Douglas Porter, the bank’s chief economist. 

Small, Low Income Rural Real Estate Markets Were Trading Like High GDP Cities

To illustrate his point he uses Chatham real estate. A nice but unremarkable town about 3 hours from Toronto. Typing it into Google gives you the second most common question, “Is Chatham a deprived area?” It somehow became a boomtown, where investors and exuberant home buyers sent prices up at a rate even faster than Toronto. 

“One choice example was Chatham, where after decades of almost no growth, prices suddenly vaulted by roughly 90% in the first two years of the pandemic,” said Porter. 

Adding, “The sprint lifted home prices in cities like this above Edmonton (which as recently as four years ago sported prices double that of Chatham), and almost to Calgary levels.” 

Chatham trading at prices close to Calgary. A small, largely rural, real estate market at the same price as a global energy hub. With half the median household income as Calgary, to boot.

No, Every Market Didn’t Suddenly Run Out of Housing After Rates Were Cut

The surge in price was attributed to a shortage of supply, and no one would hear otherwise, explained BMO. “A certain segment of analysts—i.e., almost everyone except us—assured us that this was all due to a shortage of supply, while rampaging investment demand amid rock-bottom rates had almost nothing to do with the sudden price spike,” said Porter. 

“Strange how cities as widespread as Windsor, Welland, Woodstock, and Waterloo all simultaneously had a pressing supply shortage, after decades of no such talk in this region.” 

The supply shortage occurred in almost every advanced economy with excessively low rates. BMO argued last year that it was unlikely major cities all around the globe ran out of land at the same time. It was also unlikely that city management failed all at the same time as well. More likely this was due to excess demand created from easy credit.

The BIS, the global central bank organ, produced research arguing central banks inflated real estate prices. They released a study attributing the global home price boom to monetary policy. Cheap credit was the primary driver they argue, not a lack of supply. Monetary policy mistakes were made around the world as they basked in easy growth.

The BIS advised central banks to raise rates and reduce credit to reverse the mess. Failing to do so can result in a financial crisis, they warn. It should be noted that Canada’s central bank head was recently appointed the BIS Chair of Governors.

Phew! Higher Interest Rates Solved The Real Estate Supply Crisis

Lo and behold, higher rates have suddenly solved the supply crisis. Many people aren’t aware that demand needs to be qualified or it doesn’t exist. Everyone wants a diamond the size of their head, but are they willing to shell out millions for it? Probably not, so making more to buck inflation probably isn’t the limiting factor. Bluntly put, it doesn’t matter if there’s a bazillion investors waiting to buy homes. They aren’t buying them at these prices, so the demand doesn’t actually exist. 

When rates climbed and prices began falling, qualified demand to buy at these prices fell off a cliff. Good-bye investors looking to buy cashflow negative properties and depend on appreciation. Hello new inventory. 

“Well, presto-changeo, the first moderate rate hikes have caused prices in these hot-house cities to suddenly plunge with precisely no change in the fundamental supply backdrop,” he said. 

“Chatham, for instance saw a 20% price drop in the four months to June—one of the largest pullbacks in the country; and recall, this is before last week’s 100 bp mega hike weighs in. Do you suppose that in fact all along that it was out-of-control speculative demand that was the real issue?” 
Central banks. Is there any crisis they can’t create solve?

56 Comments

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  • Rav 3 weeks ago

    There’s a lot of people not buying waiting for certainty to hit. To quote other economists, banks, and other sources and to make things sound worst than they are is poor journalism.

    • Omar 3 weeks ago

      You can always spot the Realtor who has a limited ability to comprehend what they read. Unqualified demand isn’t demand. Prices need to fall almost 36% to restore demand while controlling inflation.

      this is basic math, which apparently half of Canada didn’t learn.

      • Conor 3 weeks ago

        Where do you get 36% from?

        • Chad 2 weeks ago

          You don’t think he actually DID math before making the “basic math” claim did you?

          The thing about Math is you have to show your work as proof. If someone claims “basic math”, but there is none in sight, they probably didn’t do any (after all of it was basic it would be easy to show work) — they’re just making an argument from a claimed position of superiority (which is really just a bluff).

          • Matt 2 weeks ago

            Yes, it’s internet stranger you that did the math but won’t show anyone. Unlike the bank that gave the numbers, you can’t trust their math. They’re just trying to devalue all of their assets and lose money! Stoopid banks.

          • J 2 weeks ago

            1. Canadian mortage owners owe $1.86 for every $1.00 they earn (Fact reported over and over).
            2. That was at a rock bottom interest rate of 0.25% (As of July 2022; four month time frame, the rate has been raised to 2.5%). That is 10x more interest.
            3. “Basic Math” for math’s sake. That $1.86 (0.86 portion which is interest) is exponentially larger. Ofcourse, many of those are fixed, but anyone on variable who hasn’t switched to fixed yet, will probably do as the prime rate from the BoC can go as high as they want (see 1980’s and 1990’s inflation curves).
            4. You can argue that today is different than the previous bubbles – sure, but on a macro ecnomic point of view: aka. “Basic Math” POV, a lot of people, especially people who bid 500K over asking are going to get really really really hurt.
            5. FOMO is real. Buckle up and live on food bank donations. Or money launder like the Ozarks – there are always big dirty money looking for a front insulation layer.

        • Jay 2 weeks ago

          From “basic math” that half of Canadians didn’t learn!

  • Paul 3 weeks ago

    Interesting, but ignores the fact that people are fleeing large cities.
    I work in home building and when I talk to property developers, they all say that their country lots were sold immediately after covid restrictions.
    I know quite a few people as well who left cities for small towns, where people are more liberty minded.

    • Yoroshiku 3 weeks ago

      @Paul. Meh. The migration away from cities is over and urban occupancy bounced back. Some people might have been searching for more “liberty” but most wanted to escape crowded cities during the pandemic in favor of more space and cheaper housing.

    • Ed Higgins 2 weeks ago

      haha. No one’s fleeing large cities. There’s literally a video on their TikTok where they show this is the narrative every single bubble peak.

  • Hérbert Bourguignon 3 weeks ago

    To much cheap credit* for far too long drove housing prices to stratospheric heights.

    All assets revert to their mean over time.

    Wondering if we are about to witness a stampede of investors and speculators exiting this asset class later this year?

    *almost two decades of artificially low interest rates

  • J_Morrow 3 weeks ago

    What is going to happen when they lower rates in the fall? Seriously asking. Will houses prices just get right back on the rocket ship or is sticky inflation going to keep things at bay, or even sustain downward pressure?

    (my crystal ball broke)

    • GTA Landlord 3 weeks ago

      They’re hiking through next year and don’t see inflation under control until 2024 (the Bank of Canada said this). If they hike even in the case of recession, they get stagflation and prices rise while incomes and assets fall. Perfect setup for a 20-year depression.

      • Steve R 2 weeks ago

        Higher interest rates are needed to slow the economy, and yes they may cause a recession. Nothing new about that but if you’re not prepared for the possibility of higher rates, then you haven’t evaluated the risks accurately. That’s your problem, not the BoC’s.

      • Rassy 2 weeks ago

        Higher interest rates are needed to slow the economy, and yes they may cause a recession. Nothing new about that but if you’re not prepared for the possibility of higher rates, then you haven’t evaluated the risks accurately. That’s your problem, not the BoC’s.

    • Yoroshiku 3 weeks ago

      @J_Morrow. I suspect that the BOC will drop rates as quickly as possible, once inflation is down, to reinflate the bubble asap.

      • Mark 3 weeks ago

        Inflation is still hi and showing no signs of abatement. Fall is just a month or two away. Maybe autumn 2024. The current overnight bank rate is still well below historical averages so I’m guessing rates are only going further upwards and settle at the high end of the neutral (non stimulators) rate range.

    • Km 3 weeks ago

      The banks have already said rates will remain at these levels as it stimulated too much demand. We essentially follow the Fed and if we don’t it devalues our currency which is very bad. Housing will drop the next few years. They will not lower rates until inflation is tamed.

      • Al 2 weeks ago

        Devaluation of our currency will improve exports and will help avoiding a recession.

        • Taryn 2 weeks ago

          Devaluation of the currency increases inflation since commodities, even in Canada, are bought and sold in USD.

          Pressure from an ill informed public and not-so-smart government is exactly how interest rates climbed to 14%.

    • DAVID 2 weeks ago

      Another marker is what will they do with the qualification rate in December. People are flipping over to fixed rates at the moment after years of variable being the go to so increased prime rate is effecting the housing market to a lesser extent than other borrowing. The government can play with the stress test as a tool to further cool or heat the housing market.

    • Steve 2 weeks ago

      What makes you think they will lower rates in the fall? Higher rates are here for a couple years at least, get used to it!

  • Steve 3 weeks ago

    nailed it

  • Denis Niles 3 weeks ago

    Excellent article!! Go figure… cheap credit creates ridiculous housing market.

    Many thanks for stating the FACTS mr. Porter. Much appreciated. A lot of people need to read this, including the fine analysts at the BoC.

    This artcile lays it out very simply for all to read. It’s so frustrating that the BoC and Fed politicians did nothing until very recently to stop this stupidity. They (Gov) knew what was happening wrt the property buyers/investors who were creating this housing circus BUT… they decided to let their friends (and themselves) make more money. And now the Gov needs a simple “OUT” to put the blame elsewhere. Thus, in comes the lack of housing supply as the easiest way to get people look the other way while Rome is burning.

  • Ron 3 weeks ago

    Have to somewhat disagree. Buyers weren’t all first time or investors. Homes were sold to buy another.

    • Trader Jim 3 weeks ago

      No one said that was the case. They literally tell you what share is investors: 25-30%.

      1 in 3 houses going to investors leveraging their existing home inflates the cost of housing since it’s now a leveraged finance product. Especially at that scale.

      • Km 3 weeks ago

        These are current stats from just the last two years as ultra low rates drive even more demand. It has been a well know fact it is speculation demand that fueled it. Only realtors and developers pumped it as a housing shortage to house all the new immigrants…blah blah blah. Go figure

      • E 2 weeks ago

        And some people with money in the bank/savings where the plunging interest rates reduced their income to zero were basically forced to look to other places to invest, with real estate being the obvious best place, increasing demand and prices more

        • Nassim 2 weeks ago

          Inefficient allocation is a very real problem. Investors need shelter from policy.

    • Yoroshiku 3 weeks ago

      @Ron. Some of that is house flipping. I have several relatives who have been buying or building homes, living in them for 2 years, and selling them–over and over–for years. They’ve made a lot of money doing it.

      • JJ 2 weeks ago

        The latent demand for free money is infinite. As long as money is free and real estate always rises there will be no limit to demand and never enough supply. Now lets see what the real demand is as money has a cost again and prices are no longer rising.

    • Miranda 2 weeks ago

      Agreed – I was one of those people who sold my home to buy another (and within the same city). When you spend so much time at home during a pandemic (my husband was working from home out of our living room), your “needs” change.
      I have no regrets. We sold & bought within the same “market” and purchased a home that we would be happy to retire in, or at the very least live in for the next 10+ years.

  • Yoroshiku 3 weeks ago

    “…Right after rates were slashed to stimulate demand, everywhere had a sudden shortage…” Thank you for writing this. The “we don’t have enough housing” story like the “immigrants are driving the housing price increases” never made sense since a quarter of homebuyers were investors/speculators and immigration basically stopped for 2 Covid years but home building and home buying continued unchecked. The minute rates creep up a bit, magically the housing shortage evaporates.

  • Busrider 3 weeks ago

    Literal economist here. Technically, everybody saying it was a lack of supply weren’t wrong, but in a way that makes their wrong-ness worse.

    Housing has features of a commodity, and I don’t mean that in the sense of common parlance of a commodity, I mean it in the proper defined sense of a good or service that is indistinguishable from others (it doesn’t really matter if your coal comes from West Virginia or Australia as much as, say, ordering a steak at a restaurant and getting a fast food quality burger) and which has a vertical supply curve (because it takes much longer for new supply to come online or offline) relative to the demand curve. In healthy markets housing shouldn’t be this way because there are in fact unique features, but credit-driven speculators started to view housing as a unified asset class and equated a house in Chatham to a house in Toronto.

    So yes, there is technically was a supply problem in the housing markets because there wasn’t enough new supply coming on to feed the credit-driven demand. The demand itself is an issue but it became especially problematic because turns out you can’t build a house as fast as people can get qualified for a mortgage. It’s not to say that the remedy to the issue was to build more supply any more than the response to high gas prices now is to approve construction of a refinery that won’t be online in 3-4 years. But it does reveal that a large part of the markets viewed housing that way.

    • Norm 2 weeks ago

      Also inefficient use. How many developers have no said half their inventory is bought by Realtors trying to add $100k to the price of each home?

      I don’t think anyone is saying we don’t need to build any more but the cost is related to credit over the past few years, moral hazard, and FOMO needs.

  • Aaron 3 weeks ago

    Lol, lowest housing inventory in the developed world but this trash is believed. Keep counting 1 and 0 bedroom units as housing and we get this garbage .

    • Ian Brown 2 weeks ago

      You’re quoting the economist from the Liberal Party’s loophole to fundraising who never discloses where their financing comes from. .

      Real economists have ripped that to shred (including BMO, who won the award for best analysts over the past two years), explaining younger countries have fewer homes per capita, because they still structure into family units. It’s older countries like Italy where you have a single nonna in one apartment and a mom and dad in another, and childless adults..

  • Tywen 3 weeks ago

    The missing piece in this otherwise great article for me is there is zero discussion of rental housing. It’s really a discussion about the mortgage market. The apparent housing shortage hasn’t evaporated, if the argument from others before was price escalation indicates demand>supply then rental rates indicate that there is a rental unit shortage.

    Rental prices have not had the same swings as described in Chatham housing prices, but have almost continually increased at unsustainable rates for most people. Especially in larger cities like Toronto, the majority of people rent, why are they left out of the conversation?

  • Scott 3 weeks ago

    “Come on down to Tiff’s housing emporium! No money? No problem. At these rates we’re giving it away!”

  • David 2 weeks ago

    Don’t know about you but where I live, well, good luck finding a place to rent. How many investors are/were buying places and leaving them empty? No place to even rent kind of says “supply issue” to me.

    There’s no “means test” on renting… if you can’t afford to eat after paying rent then that’s your problem.

  • Dan 2 weeks ago

    There is an old saying, be nice to the people you meet on the way up, because you are going to meet the same people on the way down.
    Nothing goes up forever no matter how people spi it.

  • DAVID 2 weeks ago

    Agree and disagree. The certainly was not as much supply insanity as some were led to believe, however there is a general housing supply issue in Ontario; we will not be seeing an over supply anytime soon. As others have stated in the comments, booms in small town Ontario were in large part the result of a blip in migration out of both major and minor urban centres (eg. Toronto/Windsor) resulting in a bubble in small towns. In other words 250 families leaving Windsor has little effect on Windsor, but a significant effect on Chatham-Kent.
    There seems to be such certainly in this article, when there is such uncertainty in the actual market. Again as mentioned above, many buyers are sitting on the sidelines and have taken temporary measures (holding pattern so to speak) to see where the market settles. Just like the author states, nobody wants to pay more than they have to – except this time it is in reverse.
    Overall, the author is correct and so was BMO. Supply issues were overblown and sensationalized. The biggest issue overall IMO was a trade imbalance and/or stalemate driven market. Fear of listing (selling) before buying and getting caught in a quickly upward moving market and possibly being priced out constricted trade.

    • Jamie 2 weeks ago

      I have a home in the suburbs and one in the City. Virtually everyone at my work at this level of management does. If the tax rate was more efficient, we probably wouldn’t do that but you hit me with less than 1% per year and 1.5% mortgage rate with 30% gains, and it’s stupid for me not to buy an extra house.

      That’s the problem in a nutshell. Credit at market rates and I’d consider parking the cash in something else, but the longer people do dumb things like hand out free money for speculation and pretend there’s no homes, there’s no efficient market.

  • Mark 2 weeks ago

    Poor argument, taking one example and pretending the entire country will suffer the same fate.

    Large cities will continue to have housing shortages – rent has climbed to its highest rate ever in Vancouver because of unmet demand. Supply is a huge issue.

    • Omar 2 weeks ago

      and magically developers cancelled projects everywhere as soon as rates fell and just two single-family homes sold in Toronto. So much demand we won’t even build it!

    • Frank 2 weeks ago

      Bang on. Look at vacancy rates…which BMO has conveniently omitted from their article.

      • David Tran 2 weeks ago

        the “vacancy rate” while purpose built towers in downtown Toronto sit on hundreds of vacant units waiting for rents to rise before they’re listed? Cheap money makes everything inefficient.

  • Rav 2 weeks ago

    First of all your BMO backlinking is not correct. Second, your facts are distorted. Third, to use a small town like Chatham real estate to base your argument on is ridiculous. You guys published articles in 2020 about a great depression coming but the opposite happen.

    “Cheap credit was the primary driver they argue, not a lack of supply”. So it’s always “they,” say this or BMO economist says sky’s falling.

    You are producing negative news coz negative news sells. Your arguments don’t add up. Keep these comments open please as in a few years from now when inflation is under control and mortgage rates go down again, I want to see how your above arguments stand at that time when market turns.

    Stop creating fear in people and spreading fake news.

    • Jimmy 2 weeks ago

      The backlink works, you have to login nitwit.

      They aren’t producing negative news, they’re literally quoting what an economist is telling rich people. The point is poor people like you don’t have access to the same information that rich people are being told. Just go buy another house if you think it’s always a good investment, no one cares.

  • James McIlwaine 2 weeks ago

    Simple economics, demand drives prices. Our illustrious PM still wants 400,000 plus immigrants to come to Canada (of which most want to settle in the major cities). So when they arrive and want housing, prices will rise.

    And of course this also adds to climate degradation in Canada with more concrete production for housing, more cars on the roads (more road construction), more fuel consumption, more travel, and of course massive unnecessary costs of government employees to process the applicants. Not to mention the cost and burden to our health care system already at a breaking point. How do these new arrivals get a family doctor when there are thousands of existing citizens across Canada unable to obtain one ? And what other services and benefits do the immigrants get upon arrival ?

    Would love to have any politician explain that to me.

    • Christopher Barclay 2 weeks ago

      Now explain how immigration climbed in the 90s while home prices and building fell.

  • Anon 2 weeks ago

    Its a demand based on affordability and work from home. Affordability is reversing, WFH partially. So, when you have money your needs increase automatically. When no money you down size – its a simple as that. By the way how come suddenly demand increase when there are less people entering Canada during covid? its basically people upgrading and needing more space.

    • Nassim 2 weeks ago

      Nope. Look at the stats for the number of people buying a second home. Ron Butler interview was gold, where he explains people are just buying a second home and using the first one as leverage as a downpayment when they upgrade. It’s a leverage ponzi.

  • Desai 2 weeks ago

    There are loads of distress sale cancellations happening since most Canadians didn’t realize the basic law of “what goes up (in our case artificially) will come down one day”. The large population started owning multiple properties to rent as a full-time business & for retirement savings. I know someone who owns 8+ properties in the KW area. And still, wants to buy more, once the market stabilizes a bit. Does this prove our weak economic model or a lawless situation for first-time home buyers and real trade?

    The ground-level situation is totally different then what an economist or bank reflects. It is not all about supply and demand, but greed and a corrupt system. If Government doubles the rental income and multiple property taxes, then almost 40% – 55% of the homes will go on sale immediately. But with terrible grief, the present Government will never do it as they believe in hoarding homes for morally corrupt reasons. They don’t care about Canada or Canadians.

  • Dennis_K 2 weeks ago

    I never understood how persons could insist that a simple supply shortage leads to pricing
    exacerbations, without looking at the availability of money.

    In the case of Canada, even where people had access to ‘extra’ money (by whatever means) in order to pay more for housing, I don’t think we actually had a exaggerated supply problem (in respect of population growth). I’ve looked into housing completions (as provided by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation) from 2006 to 2019, plus housing starts from 2000 to 2005, (as a surrogate for completions, assuming the starts in December in one year are finished by December of the next). Over this 20 year period, there was about 3.48 million housing completions across the country, and this compares to a total population growth of about 7.15 million persons (source: macrotrends). Noting that over 50% of the completions between 2006 and 2019 were detached houses, semis and duplexes based on CMHC data (i.e. 3+ bedroom configurations), and assuming the same ratio between 2000 and 2005, that means these ‘homes’ could theoretically house at least 4 x 1.74 million = 6.96 million individuals, and that doesn’t include the remaining 1.74 million
    completions classified as ‘apartments and other’. Given that not all 7.15 million persons added to the population would require their very own self-contained home (i.e. a 1:1 ratio), it seems highly implausible that there is a housing shortage in any absolute sense. And even so, how could you measure such population growth, if people didn’t already have a place to live?

    Yet, we know that home prices have out-accelerated median incomes since at least the year 2000 (source: Bank of Canada presentation to the Canadian Association of Business Economics, August 2015). Previously, prices were typically 3-5x’s median incomes, but now have ballooned to 8-15x’s as much. The National Bank of Canada Housing Affordability Monitor dated February 3, 2021 clearly demonstrated the extent of unaffordability, by showing the amount of time it would take persons with median household incomes just to save for a down payment for a non-condo home, based on the median home price in their metropolitan area (& assuming no pre-existing debt). It’s 289 MONTHS in the case of Toronto. The NBC monitor from Q1 of 2022 shows its even become WORSE since then (i.e. 363 months in the case of Toronto). And that’s just for the down payment; not the mortgage!

    Even if you believe that we actually did have a physical shortage of housing (pan-nationally, for all types, simultaneously — seriously????), relative to population growth, one still has to ask themselves: how can the prices be demanded higher, when there isn’t the incomes (or availability of credit) to support them? After all, something could be highly popular / in demand, but if the price commanded is so much higher than what people have / can get access to, then how can the item sell at all? My costs in supplying a good can be very high, and I may be justified in asking for a high price, but what if no one can afford what I am demanding? Why did I go ahead with the production of the good in this case? How long will it take to sell at the higher price, while costing me money to hold onto it?

    Myself, I would appreciate it if there was a broad consensus across the country that prices for housing went up so much, simply because they could. There’s really no other reason.

  • stephen webster 2 weeks ago

    The problem is lack of affordable or low income housing one homeless shelter blyth ont had 9 bedrooms 17 people had hydro and water shut off by O P P after Hron county and the Ontario gov promissed money of !050 person a yr ago . The shelter is now in court to try to recover money owed by huron county housing . A covid outbreak occured 2 weeks ago at the shelter with no running water or hydro. the covid outbreak expanded back to a 160 bed nursing home it has cost our health care system a lot of money and 1 person to expire. the head of huron county social services tryed to me that no meeting was to be held on july 27 when the hosital tol us on july 25 one meeting would be happening Huron Easyshare nonprofit

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