Posts Tagged Economics

THE MARCH OF THE ROBOTS HAS ONLY JUST BEGUN!

Today, I added “Rise of the Robots”, by Martin Ford, to my Books That I Recommend tab.  Mr. Ford is a technology entrepreneur and a Futurist.  As I begin this post, there are two points that I should make: 1. The terms Robots or Technology both include Robots, Algorithm-reading machines, and other forms of Automation; 2. Moore’s Law, an off-handed comment in 1965, which predicted that technology will double in both speed and capacity every couple of years, has been relevant ever since.  That means that speed and capacity grow exponentially!

Whatever happened to secretaries and office pools, or afternoon newspapers?  Why do some old downtown bank branches have many more teller windows than are ever opened?  Your desktop word processor made clerical workers unnecessary, and who needs the afternoon newspaper when CNN, and the rest of the 24/7 news cycle is more up-to-date?  And, many teller positions became unnecessary, once customers began to use ATMs and on-line banking from their home.

Consider IBM’s Watson Computer that beat Chess Grand Champion Gary Kasparov, and then went-on to beat Ken Jennings, the All-Time Unbeatable Jeopardy Champion—twice.  By 2013, Watson—now twice as fast—has been assisting the Cleveland Clinic and University of Texas, MD Anderson Cancer Clinic diagnose problems and refine patient cancer treatment plans.  Watson can sift through the 9,000 global medical journals, building its resource database, at light speed.  No group of physicians can match that!

So far, robotics is only considered a threat by those in the industrial sector, where different versions install car doors, lift heavy aircraft engines into place, and apply paint to a varied range of home appliances.  Robots are best-aligned with routine jobs, and are often regarded as potential threats to low-end jobs such as monotonous warehouse or assembly lines jobs.  But, they have mastered various high-end jobs, as well.

Algorithm-reading machines have demonstrated that they can sort through voluminous boxes of documents, weeding-out those that will be relevant to coming court cases, faster than any junior attorney, and more cheaply.  Radiologists too might also feel the threat since computers can read charts just as well as them, and they don’t sleep or ask for a salary.  Writing newspaper articles are already among algorithm-reading machines’ everyday jobs, while composing symphonies are still in the test stages.

Back in early 19th Century England, the Luddites rebelled against the outsourcing of weaving to India; however, in time, these workers found employment in other occupations. This time, jobs at all levels—even burger flippers—are slowly being replace by robots, and in multiple industries.

We often think of Amazon as a retail corporation, which has been causing many retail companies to fold; but, it is also the largest player in cloud computing, and it has a robotics companies that sells its products globally.

Initially, many people thought that some people would still be able to work with, and “supervise”, the robots.  The article (at bottom) describes a woman who is currently doing that at Amazon; however, she realizes that she is actually teaching a robot to do her warehouse job!

In the book, Mr. Ford draws from his own technology background, history and very sound economics.  Over time, as more and more businesses automate, eventually they reverse the outsourcing to lower pay-scale countries, bringing the work back. Basically, many robots work more cheaply than overseas low pay-scale workers!

Many Americans have insufficient retirement funds set aside, and much of credit had been tapped-out in The Great Recession (4Q07-1Q09).  As unemployment increases, college graduates and middle-income employees displace minimum-wage workers.  Also, if banks continue to make bad loans, there could be anther banking crisis.

China cannot become the global economic locomotive, since its economy is 65% based on export.  But, to where?  As the number of workers who are unemployed, or underemployed increases, there will be few consumers left to buy anything other than the bare necessities.  Benevolent business owners who refuse to automate, and keep their current labor forces, they will lose business to the competition, which can undercut them on price.  But even there, without middle-income consumers, who will businesses sell their products to?

Mr. Ford does offer some possible solutions, such as a Guaranteed Income Credit; however, they will take a cooperative bipartisan Congress, and a rational President, to pass any such legislation into law.  Customer-interface businesses, such as plumbers, electricians, and roofers, would be the last to automate.  The most vacant professional positions are nurses, since they provide one-on-one patient care.  But, even these business and occupations cannot prosper in a vacuum!

Now, none of this is going to occur this year, or next, but like ATMs and desktop computers, the range of robots will infiltrate the workforce gradually.  So, if you are currently employed, begin to separate yourself from the pack.  Get your credit straightened out, and build that retirement fund.  And, as I wrote in my last post, add some focus on Technology and Health Care in any investment funds that you might have.

Consider picking-up Rise of the Robots at your Library, or buy the paperback version.  Hopefully, we might see a new day–one of cooperation and common sense–in Congress.  There are solutions; but, it would help to have the whole thing sorted out ahead of time

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SINCE PEOPLE LIVE LONGER TODAY THAN IN PREVIOUS GENERATIONS, OUR MONEY WILL NEED MORE GROWTH IN ORDER TO LAST AS LONG! (Part Two)

This is the second part of yesterday’s discussion.  Since life expectancy has gradually lengthened over the past decades, retirees, or those soon to be, should not be too conservative with their investments. Forty years ago, the rule of thumb was that the bond portion of your portfolio should approximate your age. But, that’s no longer the case.

Today, if a person lives to be 65 years old, thy have a reasonable chance of living past 80, on average.  That means that you will have to stretch the money you have set aside, to supplement Social Security and pension, if any, over a greater length of time.  Also, as all seniors know, Health Care Inflation is a good bit higher than the normal Consumer Price Index. Besides investing more in stocks, consider those industries where the consistent growth has been.

As you can see in the Break-down of the S & P. Index by industry, the three largest “industrial sectors” are: Information Technology; Financials and Health Care.  Also, as noted in Part One, five of the ten largest companies in the index are in the IT/Technology Industry, with only two—Apple and Microsoft—being just over 40 years old.  All the others are much younger.

Now, let’s assume that your current portfolio is nicely balanced, between stocks and bond, and the percentage invested in the various industries matches the S & P reasonably well.  Now, consider how your life has changed from some years ago: less trips to the bank, since you use an ATM at the supermarket and on-line banking; keep up with friends and family by Email; order prescriptions and other things on-line; changed a doctor’s appointment on their web site, greater use of cable network on shows on-demand, etc.  In that sentence, I specifically cited IT/Technology and Health Care products.  And, that’s just the beginning!

Medical science and the overall Health Care industry have made strides in developing new medicines, hospital equipment and other health care needs.  Sure, they’re expensive, and Congress hasn’t been helping; but, so what if it keeps you around longer?  Do you have any options?

IT/Technology and Health Care seem to have been consistently good performers over the years. (I will show you an interactive chart on this.)
The Financial Industry, the second largest industry, has not been as consistent. Besides being somewhat volatile, it has to deal with the booms and busts of both the domestic and global marketplace, and it rightfully must he heavily regulated.  And, don’t forget its role in The Great Recession (4Q07-1Q09).

A certain portion of the other seven industries do belong in your portfolio, and how much depends upon your risk tolerance.  Consumer discretionary, and the like (retail), are being sucked dry by Amazon.  Boeing comes out with a new jumbo jet every fifteen years, or so.  Coke and Kellogg’s haven’t transformed, other than new marketing jingles.  And the last four display their relative importance to the economy by their place at the bottom of the list.

Index Break-down by Industry Size
Information Technology 22.26%
Financials 14.55

Health Care 14.49
Consumer Discretionary 12.27
Industrials 10.27
Consumer Staples 9.05
Energy 6.04
Utilities 3.15
Real Estate 2.91
Materials 2.84

Now, suppose that you wanted to enliven your portfolio—adding a bit more growth to match your longevity—exchange-traded funds (ETFs) are securities that duplicate a particular stock or bond index.  Sector SPDRs are the oldest brand of ETFs, and the company offers one that would only include those companies in the S & P 500 Index, that are in any of the particular industries.  For instance, add a slice of IT/Technology (SYMBOL: XLK) and/or Health Care (XLV). Or, someone else might prefer Financials (XLF), or some of the others.

On the Sector Tracker interactive site, you can check the performance of the various Sector SPDRs over various time frames (small white boxes toward the top).  On the Sector SPDR web site, you can select any of the sectors by just clicking on the blue box, in the upper left. From there, you can down load the Prospectus, the Fact Sheet—which I find quite helpful—and other literature on each ETF.  I have attached Fact Sheets for the IT/Technology and Health Care SPDRs.

Be sure to due your homework, consult with whomever you seek investment advice, and give some serious consideration before adding these ETFs, and by how much. Leave a Comment if I can be of any help.  Check your portfolio regularly, if you can, to monitor whether it still meets you needs, as structured!

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SINCE PEOPLE LIVE LONGER TODAY THAN IN PREVIOUS GENERATIONS, OUR MONEY WILL NEED MORE GROWTH IN ORDER TO LAST AS LONG! (Part One)

Traditionally, people have been advised to have a balance, between stocks and bonds, in their retirement funds, with the bond component gradually increasing over time.  And that hasn’t changed; but, the rate at which bonds increase should be slower today.  Over the past decade, inflation has been virtually nonexistent; however, it will return at some point and, as most senior citizens know, health care inflation never really went away!

This post is intended to lay the groundwork for my next one, which will offer some ideas as to how to include a more growth-oriented component to your portfolio.  It is not meant to offer investment advice, per se, but to provide some ideas as to a forward-thinking way of adding to the growth in your portfolio.

These ideas are primarily intended for the hands-on, fairly open-minded investor.  Before you act upon the: study them; confer with whomever you see investment advice from and, if you do act, perhaps do so gradually.

Let me explain the stock market through the Standard and Poor’s 500 Index, which is composed of 500 large company stocks.  Since there are 4,333 publicly traded stocks in the U. S.—between the exchanges and the rarely traded “Pink Sheets”—the 500 stocks in the     S & P, at 11.5% of the total, is a substantial statistical sample. The stocks represent ten different industries, as cited below:

Index Break-down by Industry Size

Information Technology 22.26%
Financials 14.55                                                                   Health Care 14.49
Consumer Discretionary 12.27
Industrials 10.27
Consumer Staples 9.05
Energy 6.04
Utilities 3.15
Real Estate 2.91
Materials 2.84

The stocks represented in most indices are weighted, according to their “equity capitalization,” or relative market value.  Please note that the ten largest companies, in the S & P 500, represent 18.85% of the whole Index, and five of the top ten are in Technology:

Ten Largest 10 Companies:Apple Inc. 3.61%
Microsoft Corporation 2.56
Amazon.com Inc. 1.85
Facebook Inc. Class A 1.72
Johnson & Johnson 1.72
Exxon Mobil Corporation 1.65
JPMorgan Chase & Co. 1.56
Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Class B 1.55
Alphabet Inc. Class A 1.33
Alphabet Inc. Class C 1.30

Total for Top 10 Holdings 18.85%

Over the years, most investment advisors have shown clients the Break-Down by Industry and, perhaps, suggested a little more (“overweighting”) or a little less (“underweighting”) in several of the industries.  Those incremental changes, never more than a percent or two, were mostly to show that they added value; but, in the long run, the recommended strategy was pretty much to maintain the status quo.

Let me emphasize the preponderance of Technology in the S & P 500 Index of the largest companies in the nation, and keep in mind that only Apple and Microsoft are over 40 years old, and just barely, while the rest are much newer companies.  And, while Amazon is considered a Retail company, it owns a robotics company, and it is also the largest source of cloud computing—two of the hottest areas within the technology sector.

The Technology and Health Care industries have been the two consistently best performers in the Index. The Financial industry is the second largest; however, it has to deal with: the ups and downs of the domestic economy, it must rightfully be heavily regulated, it has to respond to the booms and busts of the global marketplace and, for the most part, the financial sector adds very little to the overall economy!

In my next post, I will suggest why the investor, who is willing to take-on moderate risk, should consider adding more Health Care and Technology to their investment portfolios.

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CLIMATE CHANGE! WHAT DID EXXON KNOW, AND WHEN DID IT KNOW IT?

I expect to be writing a post tomorrow, which describes a report on Global Warming, which scientists leaked, fearing that it was too important for the Donald Trump Regime to just cover it up.  This re-post cites the fact that, beginning in 1977, Exxon scientists strongly believed that Global Warming is a man-made phenomena, caused by our use of fossil fuels.  The company’s Chief Scientist briefed the Executive Management Committee, in 1977 and again in 1978, and management just ignored it.

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EXXON KNEW THE MAJOR CAUSE OF CLIMATE CHANGE IN 1977, AND IT HAS BEEN SPENDING MILLIONS, MAYBE BILLIONS, EVER SINCE DENYING IT.

Way back in 1977, Laura Shaw, a 12 year-old, won her class science fair, in Cranford, N. J, with an experiment about the so-called “greenhouse effect”.  She filled two identical vessels with water and a thermometer.  Then, Ms. Shaw covered one with plastic wrap, and turned a lamp on them.

After a period of time, the vessel with the plastic wrap registered a higher temperature than the uncovered one.  She surmised that the plastic wrap created the same effect as carbon dioxide, which traps reflected heat from the Sun, thus warming the Earth.

You or I might have thought that our children were young geniuses to have found that relationship, between a plastic cover and global warming; however, Ms. Shaw had some expert assistance. As it turns out, her father is Henry Shaw, and at that time, he was one of the Exxon scientists who were specifically researching the effects of global warming—more specifically, that which was caused by carbon dioxide, created by man-made emissions.

Exxon (now ExxonMobil) was aware of climate change as early as 1977, eleven years before the problem became known by the general public.  In fact, besides formulating various climate models, the oil company also outfitted a tanker to study how much CO2 was absorbed by the oceans.  And, in July of 1977, Exxon’s senior scientist, James Black, delivered a sobering message on the topic.

Mr. Black advised Exxon’s executive management committee that: “… there is general scientific agreement that the most likely manner in which mankind is influencing the global climate is through carbon dioxide release from the burning of fossil fuels.”  One year later, he warned the same group that there was general scientific agreement that the “…doubling of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere would influence global warming by two or three degrees.”  Black than suggested—now in 1978, mind you—that mankind had a five to ten year window in which to make hard decisions, since energy strategies might become critical. Exxon needed to act!

Rather than make the hard decisions—developing cleaner-burning fuels, teaming with the coal industry to follow suit, and considering renewable energy–Exxon, Chevron, Mobil, Shell, BP, and Peabody Coal, just stuck their collective heads in the sand.  They formed a the American Petroleum Institute, a non-profit organization to manage the disinformation of declaring that “Climate Change is a Hoax”.  In fact, they hired the same public relations firm that Big Tobacco had hired to deny tobacco’s link to lung cancer, some years before.

To use the old cliche about Nero fiddling while Rome burned would be a very serious understatement.  Considering that five of those energy companies were in the Standard and Poor’s 500, money was of little consequence, especially when it comes to fighting for the Industry’s very survival.

Energy lobbyists convinced Washington not to sign the Kyoto Protocol, from the U. N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (as of 1990 emission levels). As one of world’s two biggest polluters, along with China, it is imperative that the U. S. ratify the Protocol, set meaningful CO2 reduction goals—and stick to them! Will there be more success this week—now 25 years later?

Currently, both Houses of the U. S. Congress, have appointed loyal climate change deniers, from oil-dependent states, to head the various committees that are supposed to oversee science and the environment:

Senator James M. Imhofe (R-OK) is Chairman of the House Committee on the Environment. Last February, Senator Inhofe brought a snowball into the Senate Chamber under the false assumption that that proved that “Climate Change is a Hoax!” (Remember the API Mission Statement?)  On the contrary, however, the snowball merely demonstrated the opposite, as described in a prior blog post.

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), and also a GOP candidate for President, heads the Sub-Committee on Space, Science and Competition.  Cruz’ sub-committee delayed the updated NASA satellites, which provide vital weather information worldwide.  Smart move, huh?
And, Congressman Lamar S. Smith (R-TX) is Chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.  When faced with broad testimony by earth scientists that man is definitely accelerating global warming, Smith began investigating the scientists, and thus taking them away from their important research. Attacking the messengers, in other words.

Oddly enough, when those who deny Climate Change wish to provide their own “expert” scientific testimony, they have turned to Wei-Hock Soon. Although Dr. Soon is a respected scientist, he is currently employed by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Over the past decade, Dr. Soon’s research and his funding ($1.2 million) have come largely from fossil fuel interests.  Some of that funding has allegedly been linked to Southern Company (a large utility) and the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation.  (Mr. Koch is a co-owner of Koch Industries, a very large privately-owned energy company.)

Aside from all of the claims and counter-claims, on both sides of the Climate Change issue, there is basic evidence all around us: melting glaciers; rising tides; wildfires and droughts worldwide; erratic weather patterns; etc.  And, the idea that Big Energy interests would seek “expert” opinion from an astrophysicist, on matters pertaining to earth sciences, is simply ludicrous.  So, if the probable cause behind climate change was so obvious to 12 year-old Laura Shaw, way back in 1977, why can’t many in the U. S. Congress, Big Energy and other climate change deniers still realize that today?

NOTE:  For readers who wish more detailed information on Exxon, its Energy Industry co-conspirators and Climate Change, the attached report, from the Union of Concerned Scientists, should prove quite informative.

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DONALD, “JUST BEGUN!” REALLY? THAT JOBS REPORT, ON FRIDAY, HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH YOU! JULY WAS JUST THE 83RD STRAIGHT MONTH OF ECONOMIC GROWTH!

The Department of Labor announced that 209,000 new non-agricultural jobs were created last month, as compared to analysts’ projections of 175,000.  (Agricultural jobs are generally extracted, because they are seasonal, and vary by region of the country.)  The unemployment rate dropped incrementally to 4.3%, from 4.4%.

Donald Trump, as usual, claimed credit for the employment uptick, as well as the stock market slowly edging upward, past 22,000 on the Dow.  But, let’s put the economy into context!  What part of Donald Trump’s Agenda did he sign into law, which might have stimulated the economy, created an uptick in the labor market, or removed the disruption and uncertainty that has surrounded the Trump Regime, since Day One?    Not a damn thing! Also, it’s lucky for America that he hasn’t!

Consider his Economic Agenda.   His Tax “Reform” is not a reform; rather, it just replaces the Bush Tax Cuts, for the Top Two Percent, which had expired in 2010.   He talks about a needed Infrastructure Plan; but, where is it?  And, his Trade Policy is complete lunacy: opting-out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and enabling China to join, and probably take our leadership role; while, at the same time, he is also disrupting our trading agreements and strategic alliances with Canada and Mexico, and he has alienated the entire Continent of Europe.   No, Donald, you have not accomplished anything, at all!   And, perhaps, that’s to our good fortune!

Your predecessor assumed an economy with the worst Recession since The Great Depression of the 1930s, a 10.0% unemployment rate, and a stock market, which had dropped by more than 50% in the previous 18 months.  He went to work, rolled-up his sleeves, fought the Republicans who lectured him and obstructed him every step of the way.  But, President Obama got things turned-around, and without a Tweet or a photo-op!

I believe, Donald, that if you check with your Secretary of Labor, you will find that the continued growth of the economy is due to the fact that the U. S. has just enjoyed its 83rd straight month of growth in a row.  Oh and by the way, President Obama saved General Motors and Chrysler Corporation, and kept 1.9 million Americans working.

Employees of those companies, including their parts and component suppliers, finance subsidiaries, insurance companies, dealerships, etc,  continued working, paying taxes and contributing to our economic growth.   So Donald, don’t you dare pretend to take credit for President’s Obama’s great economic accomplishments!

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REAL TAX REFORM IS MUCH OVERDUE! BUT, IT SHOULD BE LEFT TO A PROFESSIONAL BIPARTISAN COMMISSION, AND NOT TO POLITICIANS!

Donald Trump boasts that he will reform the Internal Revenue Code.  Our tax code was first codified about 100 years ago, is now some 17,000 pages and still growing; but, not all of our tax statutes have been included yet!  Previous changes and additions had political motivation, based on the ideology of whatever party was in power.  And thus, Tax Reform has truly become a political football; but, without any coherent agenda!

Real reform must be placed in the hands of a totally bipartisan Commission, composed of tax and other financial professionals.  The job at hand, however, could be compared to tearing down an old dilapidated building, and then starting from scratch.  The existing tax code is much too vital to the on-going functioning of our federal government to go on without it!  Therefore, the Tax-Reform Commission needs to be appointed for, let’s say, a ten-year term, and be subject to the oversight of a bipartisan Senate Tax-Reform Select Committee.

Such a Tax-Reform Commission, should be totally staffed and directed by professionals, who are knowledgeable in the functioning of the federal government.   Similarities to the operation of the bipartisan Congressional Budget Office easily come to mind.  The Leadership could be appointed by the (to be formed) Senate Select Committee, with the committee appointing replacement commission members, as needed.

The Commission should be expected to operate over, let’s say, a ten-year period, so as to: focus on the truly long-term nature of its mission, as well as to remove it from the regular political process.  Furthermore, the establishing legislation should include a provision for a subsequent commission to be appointed every several decades.

 

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IF TRUMP INVOKES QUOTAS AND/OR TARIFFS TO PROTECT THE STEEL AND ALUMINUM INDUSTRIES, AMERICA AND THE WORLD WILL SUFFER!

Trade Protection was a major topic at the recent G-20 Summit, in Hamburg, Germany; along with Climate Change, and Immigration, were the primary concerns addressed by the leaders of the 20 largest economies.  The evils of Protectionism are widely-known, since it was one of the major causes of The Great Depression, in the 1930s.  Donald Trump, however, doesn’t seem to understand History and, for him, it’s just full steam ahead—regardless of the long-term implications!

Quotas and tariffs are generally the two major tools that nations use to overcome price advantages on foreign competitors’ imports.  Since the World Trade Organization was established in 1995, to regulate International Trade; however, the imposition of such protective measures has decreased.  But, most attendees at the G-20 Summit seemed genuinely fearful; because, the world’s largest economy—representing 25% of global GDP—is threatening to use protectionism against foreign steel and aluminum companies. Such actions, however, generally result in similar response from the targeted countries.

Before a country considers its various courses of action, it should analyze exactly why its products’ sales have weakened!  Are the problems incurred industry-wide, or just within one sub-sector?  Or only one company?  Are the products or services effected of some national security importance?  Have the companies impacted maintained industry technological and best practices standards in their production processes?  I seriously doubt that the Trump Regime had gone through such a thorough review process, before threatening quotas and/or tariffs?  That’s just not his style!

The purpose of the WTO is to diffuse any such disagreements, before trade wars erupt. And yes, when one nation fires the first volley, the other side normally retaliates. In many cases, such trade wars may spread, and the contagion might go global, as it did in the build-up to The Great Depression.  Recently, China and the European Union have taken the U. S. to the WTO, regarding these most recent protectionist threats!

Lately, the major American steel and aluminum corporations have been prodding Trump to follow-up on his various threats.  Do problems exist only in the major corporations within the two industries, the so-called “integrateds”, which function throughout the full range of products, or are the smaller, specialty companies having the same problems. These industries are not monoliths—and perhaps some companies are more or less technologically efficient, and up-to-date than others.

If foreign corporations are taking unfair advantage—using child or slave labor, or receiving government subsidies—such cases should be addressed by the WTO.  On the other hand, there are corporations who hide behind the government when they fail to maintain basic competitive standards.  It’s not the role of any government to fight corporate or industry battles, especially when the relevant corporations failed to invest in themselves, in order to enhance profitability!

Government surely should defend businesses and industries, when they are taken advantage of, but it should insure that the true problem(s) are not within the company’s or industry’s own control.  I can recall, back during the Reagan Administration, when quotas were imposed on foreign steel imports.  Subsequently, the domestic producers raised prices, just because they could!

When countries get into a Trade War–with quotas and tariffs flying in both directions–prices often rise in all nations involved.  Higher prices often cause consumer demand to decline, unemployment can ensue, and recession might be the end result–perhaps in all countries involved.  It is difficult for the respective governments take rational corrective action during a trade war, when the next round might be just around the corner!  So, hopefully these recent Protectionist threats are just one of Trump’s latest rants!

NOTE:  Welcome to Tola, in Nigeria!

 

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