Archive for the ‘Financial Markets/ Finance’ Category

Tracking investment portfolio to figure which politician is corrupt..

January 28, 2016

Interesting piece of research. It says one could actually figure corrupt politicians by looking at their investment portfolio. Corrupt politicians usually have more riskier portfolio (have a higher share of equity). I had earlier pointed to another such research on Mumbai politicians as well.


What happens in an economy when banks close down?

January 21, 2016

Ben Norman and Peter Zimmerman have this fascinating post on financial history.

Greece banks closed last year and the post draws parallel from Irish example in 1970s. Now unlike Greece banks Ireland banks closed due to strikes. What happened was interesting:


Making World Bank more relevant in today’s times…

January 19, 2016

Ngaire Woods (Dean of the Blavatnik School of Government) has a nice piece on future of World Bank, one of the Bretton Woods institution. The other one – IMF got a new lease of life during this crisis. But World Bank continues to flounder:


Somnath Temple to invest in Gold Monetisation Scheme…

January 18, 2016

Today s a day of posting on temples. Earlier pointed to how temples helped develop cuisines in India.

And now this one on Somnath temple signing up for the Goldscheme. Well if Indian temples sign up for the scheme, nothing much is needed.  Though the amount is small, but a start nevertheless. It has politicians on board which has helped push the scheme.

All this is so exciting really. Indian financial history is coming back in interesting ways. Temples were the original bankers/financiers and you had kings which are today’s politicians in many ways. There were deep connections between the two and one is seeing them today as well:


How many currencies does the world need?

January 7, 2016

Mark Griffith poses this interesting question and gives equally food for thought answers.

He says this idea that a country should have one currency needs to be questioned:


Why is there no creative destruction in economic ideas and economists’ ranking?

January 5, 2016

Federico Fubini (a financial columnist) hits out at the murky world of economists (read economists based at US Ivy league).

He starts with this idea that say you sleep in 2006 and wake up in 2016, you see a very different world. Based on how much economic world has changed, one would imagine status of economists changing as well. But nothing happens here. People who called shots in 2006 remain as powerful in 2016 as well:


Swiss to now vote for 100% reserve banking

December 28, 2015

Marc Thornton of Mises alerts me to this new Swiss referendum.

Post rejection of gold backed currency referendum, they are now looking at 100% reserve banking. What does this mean? Well, under this banks maintain all their demand deposits as reserves. As of now, they just maintain a fraction of deposits as reserves and lend the rest. This 100% rule shall limit banks role in creation of money which has increased significantly over the years. This restriction though does not usually apply to time deposits which are not payable on demand. Not sure what the details are of the proposed referendum.

So what is the new Swiss deal?


Was the crisis caused by too much govt intervention in financial markets, or by too little?

December 23, 2015

The answer to this question is really important as the answer in turn has shaped the political outcomes in the respective countries.

Howard Davies says the answer to the q are of 3 types:

I may not be the only finance professor who, when setting essay topics for his or her students, has resorted to a question along the following lines: “In your view, was the global financial crisis caused primarily by too much government intervention in financial markets, or by too little?” When confronted with this either/or question, my most recent class split three ways.

Roughly a third, mesmerized by the meretricious appeal of the Efficient Market Hypothesis, argued that governments were the original sinners. Their ill-conceived interventions – notably the US-backed mortgage underwriters Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, as well as the Community Reinvestment Act – distorted market incentives. Some even embraced the argument of the US libertarian Ron Paul, blaming the very existence of the Federal Reserve as a lender of last resort.

Another third, at the opposite end of the political spectrum, saw former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan as the villain. It was Greenspan’s notorious reluctance to intervene in financial markets, even when leverage was growing dramatically and asset prices seemed to have lost touch with reality, that created the problem. More broadly, Western governments, with their light-touch approach to regulation, allowed markets to career out of control in the early years of this century.

The remaining third tried to have it both ways, arguing that governments intervened too much in some areas, and too little in others. Avoiding the question as put is not a sound test-taking strategy; but the students may have been onto something.

Knowing govts and such choices, the answer is usually the middle choice or the third one here:

Now that the crisis is seven years behind us, how have governments and voters in Europe and North America answered this important question? Have they shown, by their actions, that they think financial markets need tighter controls or that, on the contrary, the state should repudiate bailouts and leave financial firms to face the full consequences of their own mistakes?

From their rhetoric and regulatory policies, it would appear that most governments have ended up in the third, fence-sitting camp. Yes, they have implemented a plethora of detailed controls, scrutinizing banks’ books with unprecedented intensity and insisting on approving cash distributions, the appointment of key directors, and even job descriptions for board members.

But they have ruled out any future government or central-bank support for ailing financial institutions. Banks must now produce “living wills” showing how they can be wound down without the authorities’ support. The government will wash its hands of them if they run into trouble: the era of “too big to fail” is over.

Perhaps this two-track approach was inevitable, though it would be good to know the desired end-point. Is it a system in which market discipline again dominates, or will regulators sit on the shoulders of management for the foreseeable future?

What about the political outcomes? The research show post such crises, it is the rightists which come to power:

But what have voters concluded? In the first wave of post-crisis elections, the message was clear in one sense, and clouded in another. Whichever government was in power when the crisis hit, whether left or right, was booted out and replaced by a government of the opposite political persuasion.

That was not universally true – see Germany’s Angela Merkel – but it certainly was true in the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and elsewhere. France moved from right to left, and the UK went from left to right. But voters’ verdict on their governments was more or less identical: things went wrong on your watch, so out you go.

But now we can see a more consistent trend developing. Three German economists, Manuel Funke, Moritz Schularik, and Christoph Trebesch, have just produced a fascinating assessment based on more than 800 elections in Western countries over the last 150 years, the results of which they mapped against 100 financial crises. Their headline conclusion is stark: “politics takes a hard right turn following financial crises. On average, far-right votes increase by about a third in the five years following systemic banking distress.”

The Great Depression of the 1930s, which followed the Wall Street crash of 1929, is the most obvious and worrying example that comes to mind, but the trend can be observed even in the Scandinavian countries, following banking crises there in the early 1990s. So seeking to explain, say, the rise of the National Front in France in terms of President François Hollande’s personal and political unpopularity is not sensible. There are greater forces at work than his exotic private life and inability to connect with voters.

The second major conclusion that Funke, Schularik, and Trebesch draw is that governing becomes harder after financial crises, for two reasons. The rise of the far right lies alongside a political landscape that is typically fragmented, with more parties, and a lower share of the vote going to the governing party, whether of the left or the right. So decisive legislative action becomes more challenging.

At the same time, a surge of extra-parliamentary mobilization occurs: more and longer strikes and more and larger demonstrations. Control of the streets by government is not as secure. The average number of anti-government demonstrations triples, the frequency of violent riots doubles, and general strikes increase by at least a third. Greece has boosted those numbers recently.

The only comforting conclusion that the three economists reach is that these effects gradually peter out. The data tell us that after five years, the worst is over. That does not seem to be the way things are moving now in Europe, if we look at France’s recent election scare, not to mention Finland and Poland, where right-wing populists have now come to power. Maybe the answer is that the clock starts ticking on the five years when the crisis is fully over, which is not yet true in Europe.

So politics seems set to remain a difficult trade for some time. And the bankers and financiers who are widely blamed for the crisis will remain in the sin bin for a while yet, until voters’ expectations of economic and financial stability are more consistently satisfied.

Nice bit..

A different kind of Call money market in Andhra Pradesh (and a tragic one)..

December 18, 2015

Call money is something usually associated with money markets. The name literally means money is available on a call from a lender and to be delivered back to the lender on a return call. Nowadays it means a market where lenders lend their surpluses on an overnight basis (if weekend then 3 days) on an unsecured basis (no collateral). Accordingly, you have call market interest rates which have become the preferred way for targeting interest rates for central banks.

It seems there is a different call market existing in Andhra Pradesh which is more on traditional lines. Here, money is available on a phone call and is given back on a call. The interest rates are crazily high. In a real tragedy, one such family committed suicide as they could not pay back the interest after getting a call. Thiis how one got to know of this market. 

On Thursday morning, 36-year-old Siva Kumar, a resident of Diguvanagulavaripalle village in Chittoor district, took his family to the Ayyappa temple. After offering prayers, they rode on a mobike to neighbouring Errajivaripalem village. On the banks of the Sitamma lake, they then posed for a family photograph.  

It was a picture of a family on an outing — till all of them jumped into the water. Eyewitnesses said villagers tried to save the family of four — Siva Kumar, his wife Leelavathi (30) and their two children Naveen (8) and Kavya (6) — but failed. Their bodies were retrieved in the evening.

The mass suicide showed that the ‘call money lending’ racket in Andhra Pradesh has taken a deadly turn. The family has left behind a note naming the moneylenders whose harassment forced them to take the extreme step. Their neighbours too told the local media that Siva Kumar was being constantly harassed by moneylenders.

The ‘call money lending’ racket makes loans readily available on the basis of phone calls. The moneylender comes to the borrower’s doorstep with the cash and a promissory note. The interest rates range between 120% and 200%. The lender, similarly, can ask for the money back over the phone at any time. If the borrower can’t repay, life and property comes under threat.

It runs both deep and wide in Andhra Pradesh, evidence gathered by the police during raids in Krishna, Guntur, Kadapa, Prakasam, East Godavari and several other places show. The raids also exposed the deep-rooted association private moneylenders have with leaders of all political parties as well as some bureaucrats. The police also discovered how moneylenders threatened, coerced and dragged women into prostitution when they could not repay loans in time.

This is such a sad story. How distorted financial markets continue to create havoc with public. How people continue to avail loans from informal financial sector and pay via their lives. So many years of efforts of financial inclusion is still far from complete.

One also needs to note how such informal financial markets emerge and thrive with huge political support. This one uses technology to give money in a very prompt manner but on non-payment use the traditional coercive  ways to force repayment or think of other ways to escape.

The role of banks and devil in growing an economy..

December 17, 2015

Here is a two month old interview of Adair Turner which is a great read. He discusses his new book, Between Debt and the Devil: Money, Credit, and Fixing Global Finance and the critical questions — and radical solutions — that can help put us on a better economic path.

First some bit on banks:


Rise of peer to peer funding networks in China..

December 9, 2015

I pointed to this interesting article on rise of P2P funding networks in India.

There is an article on the same happening in China too and of course on a bigger scale:


Teaching Corporate finance basics via a verse..

December 8, 2015

The Pfizer reverse merger for tax gains is one of those classic corporate finance cases. Jessica Einhorn, (former dean at Johns Hopkins University) has a verse on corp fin. She has prepared similar verses on central banks, unemployment and bicoins as well..

The rise and fall of Brazil’s banking golden boy..

November 27, 2015

Another of those once golden banking boy bites the dust. This one is a Brazilian banker – Andre Esteves.

Andre Esteves, the brash banker who once joked his firm’s name, Grupo BTG Pactual, stood for “better than Goldman”, became the latest high-profile executive dragged into Brazil’s widening corruption scandal.

The 47-year-old billionaire was arrested in on Wednesday, along with Senator Delcidio Amaral, police said. Esteves allegedly sought an agreement with Amaral to interfere with testimony from a jailed former executive of oil producer Petroleo Brasileiro SA, according to a court document.

Esteves made a splash on the international financial stage – and became Brazil’s youngest self-made billionaire – when he sold Pactual to UBS for $2.6 billion in 2006. He and partners bought it back three years later and set off on an expansion, snapping up businesses including the Swiss private-banking unit of Assicurazioni Generali SpA. The firm sold shares to the public in 2012.

What is it about banking and finance that most of its earlier priests end up being ostracised later? Prof Galbraith in his book on history of money pointed to several of such cases in the past which continues till date.

Crowdfunding or Crowdphishing?

November 20, 2015

US SEC recently allowed crowdfunding. Prof Robert Shiller has a piece on the same:

If one were seeking a perfect example of why it’s so hard to make financial markets work well, one would not have to look further than the difficulties and controversies surrounding crowdfunding in the United States. After deliberating for more than three years, the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) last month issued a final rule that will allow true crowdfunding; and yet the new regulatory framework still falls far short of what’s needed to boost crowdfunding worldwide.

True crowdfunding, or equity crowdfunding, refers to the activities of online platforms that sell shares of startup companies directly to large numbers of small investors, bypassing traditional venture capital or investment banking. The concept is analogous to that of online auctions. But, unlike allowing individuals to offer their furniture to the whole world, crowdfunding is supposed to raise money fast, from those in the know, for businesses that bankers might not understand. It certainly sounds exciting.

Regulators outside the US have often been more accommodating, and some crowdfunding platforms are already operating. For example, Symbid in the Netherlands and Crowdcube in the United Kingdom were both founded in 2011. But crowdfunding is still not a major factor in world markets. And that will not change without adequate – and innovative – financial regulation.

There is a conceptual barrier to understanding the problems that officials might face in regulating crowdfunding, owing to the failure of prevailing economic models to account for the manipulative and devious aspects of human behavior. Economists typically describe people’s rational, honest side, but ignore their duplicity. As a result, they underestimate the downside risks of crowdsourcing.

The risks consist not so much in outright fraud – big lies that would be jailable offenses – as in more subtle forms of deception. It may well be open deception, with promoters steering gullible amateurs around a business plan’s fatal flaw, or disclosing it only grudgingly or in the fine print.

He says such crowdsourcing platforms should curb expected phishing as well:

The 2012 US legislation that tasked the SEC with rulemaking for crowdfunding platforms specified that no startup can use them to raise more than $1 million a year. This is practically worthless in terms of limiting the scope for deception. In fact, including this provision was a serious mistake, and needs to be corrected with new legislation. A million dollars is not enough, and the cap will tend to limit crowdfunding to small ideas.

Some of the SEC rules do work against deception. Notably, crowdfunding platforms must provide communication channels “through which investors can communicate with one another and with representatives of the issuer about offerings made available.”

That is a good rule, fundamental to the entire idea of crowdfunding. But the SEC could do more than just avow its belief in “uncensored and transparent crowd discussions.” It should require that the intermediary sponsoring a platform install a surveillance system to guard against interference and shills offering phony comments.

The SEC and other regulators could go even further. They could nudge intermediaries to create a platform that summarizes commenters’ record and reputation. Indeed, why not pay commenters who accumulate “likes” or whose comments on issuers turn out to be valuable in light of evidence of those enterprises’ subsequent success?

For the financial system as a whole, success ultimately depends on trust and confidence, both of which, like suspicion and fear, are highly contagious. That’s why, if crowdfunding is to reach its global potential, crowdphishing must be prevented from the outset. Regulators need to get the rules right (and it would help if they hurried up about it).

How technology is reshaping financial markets. The focus is usually on banks but some interesting changes happening in equity markets as well..

Goldman closes its BRIC fund

November 18, 2015

How ironical to see Goldman close its BRIC Fund. It created the BRIC acronym from nowhere and created huge hysteria and hype. Just recently the BRICS nations have started their own bank and are pretyy gung ho about the whole group members.

And after all this, it goes on to close its own BRIC fund.


Role of bank branches in age of mobile banking..

November 17, 2015

Kristle Cortés of Cleveland Fed has a short note on the topic.

She says though it is true that role of branches in world of mobile banking has dimmed somewhat, but the branches remain important for local information. So the role of branch is likely to shift from being the one that collects deposits/gives credit to the one that collects and maintains information. The info bit role the branch was doing anyways but it becomes more important now:


When financial markets misread politics

November 16, 2015

Well as they say money has no color. Financial markets are pretty notorious for saluting the rising sun no matter how scorching the heat of the sun is likely to be. As this sun descents, the markets quickly shrug off the baggage and ride on to the next rising sun.  All this happens without minimal fuss and behaving as if nothing has happened.

Dani Rodrik has a piece on financial markets responding to Turkey elections:

When Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) defied pundits and pollsters by regaining a parliamentary majority in the country’s general election on November 1, financial markets cheered. The next day, the Istanbul stock exchange rose by more than 5%, and the Turkish lira rallied.  Never mind that one would be hard pressed to find anyone in business or financial circles these days with a nice thing to say about Recep Tayyip Erdoğan or the AKP that he led before ascending to the presidency in 2014. And make no mistake: Though Turkey’s president is supposed to be above party politics, Erdoğan remains very much at the helm.

Indeed, it was Erdoğan’s divide-and-rule strategy – fueling religious populism and nationalist sentiment, and inflaming ethnic tension with the Kurds – that carried the AKP to victory. Arguably, it was the only strategy that could work. After all, his regime has alienated liberals with its attacks on the media; business leaders with its expropriation of companies affiliated with his erstwhile allies in the so-called Gülen movement; and the West with its confrontational language and inconsistent stance on the Islamic State.

And yet financial markets, evidently placing a premium on stability, hailed the outcome. A majority AKP government, investors apparently believed, would be much better than the likely alternative: a period of political uncertainty, followed by a weak and indecisive coalition or minority administration. But, in this case, there was not much wisdom in crowds.

It is true that the AKP had a few good years after first coming to power in late 2002. But the party’s room for mischief was constrained by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund abroad and secularists at home. Once those limits were removed, Erdoğan’s governments embraced economic populism and authoritarian politics. Investors’ apparent optimism following the AKP’s victory recalls Einstein’s definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome.

:-) How similar all this resembles India’s politics as well!

Prof Rodrik says this does not apply to Turkey alone:

Turkey certainly isn’t the only case where financial markets have misread a country’s politics. Consider Brazil, whose currency, the real, has been hammered since mid-2014 – much worse than most other emerging-market currencies – largely because of a major corruption scandal unfolding there. Prosecutors have revealed a wide-ranging kickback scheme centered on the state-owned oil company Petrobras and involving executives, parliamentarians, and government officials. So it may seem natural that financial markets have been spooked.

Yet the most important outcome of the scandal has been to highlight the remarkable strength, not weakness, of Brazil’s legal and democratic institutions. The prosecutor and judge on the case have been allowed to do their job, despite the natural impulse of President Dilma Rousseff’s government to quash the investigation. And, from all appearances, the probe has been following proper judicial procedures and has not been used to advance the opposition’s political agenda.

Beyond the judiciary, a slew of institutions, including the federal police and the finance ministry, have taken part and worked in synch. Leading businessmen and politicians have been jailed, among them the former treasurer of the ruling Workers’ Party.

Financial markets are supposed to be forward-looking, and many economists believe that they allocate resources in a way that reflects all available information. But an accurate comparison of Brazil’s experience with that of other emerging-market economies, where corruption is no less a problem, would, if anything, lead to an upgrade of Brazil’s standing among investors.

This emphasised bit is what textbooks usually preach. But political economy of finance (the real world finance) is much different. Here, how financial markets align themselves to ruling political party is as important. How they eulogize the political leader and build grand narratives over big bang reforms and so on is quite a story by itself

He also picks examples of other countries and finally ends:

We know from painful experience that financial markets’ short-term focus and herd behavior often lead them to neglect significant economic fundamentals. We should not be surprised that the same characteristics can distort markets’ judgment of countries’ governance and political prospects.

Well said.

As they say, the show must go on. Not many have mastered the phrase as financial markets have done..

How to explore Arctic sea? via govt ship or private ship?

October 29, 2015

Chris Edwards of Cato has a nice post on the topic.

Being from Cato his answer is of course private. There is some research backing the view as well..

In researching an upcoming study on privatization, I came across an interesting illustration of the advantages of private science over government science. Private science focuses on efficiency and results, but government science maybe not so much.

The study by Jonathan Karpoff in the Journal of Political Economy found:

From 1818 to 1909, 35 government and 57 privately-funded expeditions sought to locate and navigate a Northwest Passage, discover the North Pole, and make other significant discoveries in arctic regions. Most major arctic discoveries were made by private expeditions. Most tragedies were publicly funded. By other measures as well, publicly-funded expeditions performed poorly. … Although public expeditions made some significant discoveries, they did so at substantially higher cost (as measured by crew size or vessel tonnage) than private discoveries.

Historical accounts indicate that, compared to private expeditions, public expeditions: (1) employed leaders that were relatively unmotivated and unprepared for arctic exploration; (2) separated the initiation and implementation functions of executive leadership; and (3) adapted slowly to new information about clothing, diet, shelter, modes of arctic travel, organizational structure, and optimal party size. These shortcomings resulted from, and contributed to, poorly aligned incentives among key contributors.

My upcoming study will look at the advantages of privatizing federal activities such postal services, air traffic control, and passenger rail. But policymakers should also explore the advantages of privatizing federal science activities.

Cato adjunct Terence Kealey has written about the advantages of private over government science, and he will discuss that topic at an upcoming Chicago seminar.

Meanwhile, if you plan to explore the Arctic, it would be best to go on a private rather than government ship. There would be less chance of getting scurvy–at least that’s the way it used to be, according to Karpoff.

Nice bit..

How financial advice distorts financial choices/decisions?

October 16, 2015

Luigi Guiso and Gabriele Foà have a nice piece on the topic.

They try and figure whether fianncial advice by experts is biased or unbiased.  The idea is pretty simple. If people are making decisions based on prices then advice is biased. However, if decisions are based on characteristics of firms, then it is unbiased:


How internet is going to shape mutual fund investing?

October 12, 2015

Much of attention of technology in finance remains on banking. However, technology has played a much more significant role in shaping and changing capital markets. Right from trading to settling billions of transactions, it is being done is a jiffy and in a seamless manner. And then in investing too. One can just buy and sell financial securities in a much easier manner now (though this has made things riskier as well, but that is how it goes).

This piece by Dhirendra Kumar of Valueresearch is  on how internet could change mutual fund investing in future. It is a much slower process now which keeps the “app” generation away. Interestingly, this time it is not the regulator but the funds which have opted for the slower process:

Even as the digital revolution is transforming every kind of commerce, investing in mutual funds seems firmly stuck in the early years of internet-enablement. Think of a youthful new investor, used to downloading an app or opening a website and getting everything done within minutes. Such an investor would be surprised to discover that face-to-face, physical verification and even paper forms are still the modus operandi for investing in mutual funds.

This seems to be the case because under the Prevention of Money Laundering Scheme, the onus of positively identifying its own customers lies with each business independently. They take the view that it doesn’t matter if someone has been biometrically identified by Aadhar, and has had an in-person verification for a bank account linked to that Aadhaar!No mutual fund will let you invest without such a process, even if you have an Aadhaar number and a netbanking-enabled bank account linked to Aadhaar. The surprising thing is that if you have these two, then you can start a new National Pension System (NPS) account and begin investing in it through an entirely online process.

But in mutual funds, no such thing can be done. Recently, in an interview with Value Research’s Mutual Fund Insight, I asked SEBI Chief UK Sinha why this was the case. His answer was a surprising one. He said that such a thing was possible and had been so for a year. However, mutual funds choose not do so.

Similar issues were seen earlier as well:

My mind goes back to 1992, when the IPO of Master Gain, a closed-end fund from the then Unit Trust of India unexpectedly got 65 lakh applications. These were paper forms which people queued up to first buy and then deposit. Most banking, cheque clearing, record keeping statements, unit transfers etc were all obviously paper-based and manual. A significant chunk of investors had long-running issues because of faulty records, signature mismatches and other problems. I know because I was one of them.

Even at the time, it was obvious that complete computerisation and networking was the only way forward. And yet, if you had told me back in the day that fully networked and computerised access to autorickshaws would arrive before it would for mutual funds, it wouldn’t even have sounded like a good joke. However, I’m sure that these days will soon pass. The kind of push that is now coming from customers as well as regulators for end-to-end digital flow for investing means that it won’t be long before the change arrives. SEBI has set up a committee under Nandan Nilekani to lay out a roadmap on the issue, and RBI is apparently onboard for bank KYCs being valid. Sinha believes that we are heading for a quantum leap in the way people get digital access to fund investing.

What is needed is a unified way for investors to start and access fund through a single interface for all funds. Of course, like all such changes, this will be disruptive for many who are part of the process now. There will no doubt be disintermediation, and there will be a levelling of the playing field between big players and small. No doubt, the big players will not like it and will resist it in some way. That’s where both customer pressure and regulatory push will play a role. The potential of the pie becoming larger should surely be the bigger attraction than fighting over slices of a smaller pie.

The point about digital transactions is not that they should be not just possible but overwhelmingly more convenient and substantially cheaper. If that is true then usage will explode. The benefits that will come through are enormous. It should be easy and quick to learn about mutual fund investing, choose an investment and then transact with minimal friction. The democratisation of investing that can come through such access can have a transformative effect on the whole activity of investing.

For all you know some funds are already on the way as some commentators have pointed. SEBI continues to do things without making much noise..

Actually more than these supposed changes, we need good cheap internet connectivity and proper electricity to run the show.  In India’s app design city, we have neither of these two things..


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