In the auction rooms of Melbourne, Australia last week, wool prices tumbled from $566 a bale to $466, the sharpest break in history. Reason: U.S. buyers had pulled out of the market in an attempt to force prices down. They were taking their cue from U.S. consumers at home, who were also staging something like a buyers' strike. Department-store sales for the week ended March 31 slumped 14% below the corresponding week last year (two weeks before Easter). Business inventories in February piled up to a record $65 billion.

Even Price Stabilizer Michael Di Salle was aware that the drop...

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