Monday, December 12, 2011

Monday Watch

Weekend Headlines


  • EU Banks Taking Government Cash Seen Sparking 'Vicious Cycle'. European banks turning to their governments to raise required capital could trigger a downward spiral of declining sovereign-debt prices and further losses for the lenders. The European Banking Authority ordered the region’s banks on Dec. 8 to raise 115 billion euros ($154 billion) by June. Faced with dwindling profits and unable to tap capital markets to sell new shares, firms may be forced to seek government help. About 70 percent of the capital requirement falls on lenders in Spain, Greece, Italy and Portugal, countries struggling to convince the world they can pay their debts. “If the Southern governments put money in their banks, their sovereign debt will go up, exacerbating their problems,” said Karel Lannoo, chief executive officer of the Centre for European Policy Studies in Brussels. “Then the banks’ losses will rise because they hold the government debt. That’s a vicious cycle. It’s hard to know which one to stabilize first, the sovereign bonds or the banks.” European Union leaders meeting in Brussels last week agreed to move toward a closer fiscal union, with harsher penalties for countries violating budgetary constraints. With the action, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her counterparts aim to stem the erosion of confidence in the ability of some nations to pay their debts. Market reaction to the announcement was mixed, with stocks climbing and bonds falling.
  • Fifth European Solution Failing to Ease Stress: Credit Markets. The fifth agreement in 19 months intended to resolve Europe's sovereign crisis is failing to ease stress in the debt markets. A credit-default swaps index tied to Greece, Italy, Spain and 12 other western European nations rose last week, reversing its biggest drop ever and approaching the record reached Nov. 25. A gauge of banks' reluctance to lend to one another in euros remains at about the highest since February 2009. The premium they pay to convert euro payments into dollars jumped the most in five weeks and is more than double this year's average.
  • Bundesbank Cools ECB Bond-Buying Talk. Germany’s top central banker cooled speculation that the European Central Bank will extend its role as European leaders pressed their case that a new fiscal accord will deliver the region from its two-year-old debt crisis. Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung that while the new accord represents “progress,” the onus is on governments rather than the Frankfurt-based ECB to resolve the crisis with financial backing. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said euro- area policy makers will now focus on implementing the Dec. 9 pact to strengthen budget rules as quickly as possible. “The mandate for redistributing taxpayer money among member states clearly does not lie in monetary policy,” Weidmann told the newspaper in an interview published yesterday. “Financing of sovereign debt through central banks is and remains forbidden by treaty,” the central banker said. The Franco-German-led agreement, which provides tighter budget rules and an additional 200 billion euros ($267 billion) to the euro war chest, is part of an effort to reassure investors that European leaders can master the crisis. ECB President Mario Draghi lauded the accord, stoking hopes among investors that the central bank might step up bond purchases.
  • Obama Says Righting U.S. Economy Will Be 'Long-Term Project'. President Barack Obama said restoring the U.S. to robust economic growth is “a long-term project” and will take more than one term and likely “more than one president.” Americans “have every reason to be impatient” with the pace of the recovery, Obama said in an interview with the CBS program “60 minutes,” according to an excerpt released by the network. “I didn’t underestimate how tough this was going to be,” Obama said. “I always believed that this was a long-term project.” The state of the economy likely will be the top issue in the presidential campaign as the Republican candidates have been making Obama’s policies a central part of their arguments. Unemployment will average 8.7 percent in 2012, according to the median forecast by economists surveyed by Bloomberg News from Dec. 2-8. Republicans, including former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, among the front-runners for the party’s presidential nomination, have faulted Obama for a forecast released at the start of his administration that the stimulus package he pushed through Congress would keep the unemployment rate from rising above 8 percent. It’s been above that level since February 2009 and hit a peak of 10.1 percent in October of that year.
  • China Sovereign Fund Has About 60% of Assets Invested in U.S., Jin Says. China Investment Corp., the nation’s sovereign wealth fund, has about 60 percent of its assets in the U.S., which has many investment opportunities and a good legal system, Jin Liqun told CNBC in an interview yesterday. Jin, chairman of CIC’s supervisory board, said that much of the rest of the fund’s assets are in Europe, other nations in Asia and Canada, with investments in resources, real estate and “open-market transactions.” The fund needs to take a “serious look” at the financial industry in the U.S. and Europe to see if it’s ready for “serious discussions” about investment, Jin told the financial news channel. China Investment managed $409.6 billion at the end of 2010, making it the world’s fifth-largest national fund, according to Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute. “The European debt crisis can hardly get solved in the near term and banks there are likely to suffer further losses” from potential write-downs in debt holdings, said Lu Zhiming, a Shanghai-based analyst at Bank of Communications Co. “The timing doesn’t look right yet for investments.” China’s central bank plans to create a new investment vehicle to manage $300 billion in foreign reserves, Reuters reported yesterday, citing two unidentified people familiar with the matter. The vehicle will run two funds that pursue “more aggressive” investments in the U.S. and Europe markets to generate higher returns, the report said. Regarding aid for Europe, Jin said that China is still a developing, low-income nation; that its “hard-won” financial reserves are important for the nation’s economy; and that it’s not the job of CIC or any Chinese companies, state-owned or private, to rescue any country in distress.
  • Arab States May Suffer Foreign-Investment Slump. Arab states have suffered a slump in foreign direct investment of as much as 24 percent this year as political unrest sweeps the region, according to the group that insures such funding against non-commercial risks. Foreign financing will shrink to between $50 billion and $55 billion in 2011 from $66.2 billion the previous year, the Arab Investment & Export Credit Guarantee Corp., known as Dhaman, said in an e-mailed response to questions. The total value of insurance operations concluded by Dhaman in the first eight months was about $780 million, “a significant increase” versus last year, indicating heightened concern, Fahad al-Ibrahim, its director-general, said in the e-mail.Egypt is worst affected, with foreign direct investment dropping an estimated 92 percent to $500 million, according to a report issued by Dhaman in October. Tunisia, where the so-called Arab Spring began, is estimated to have drawn $1.2 billion in funding this year, a decline of 20 percent, the report said. Kuwait-based Dhaman’s figures, which have not been verified by individual governments, suggest Libya received about $500 million, down 87 percent, and Syria $484 million, where unrest continues, a decline of 65 percent. Bahrain, which witnessed anti-government protests by the majority Shiite population, may have suffered a 36 percent drop to $100 million.
  • Funds Cut Bets on Rising Food Costs to 27-Month Low: Commodities. Hedge funds cut bullish bets on agricultural prices to the lowest in more than two years on signs of expanding global supplies. A measure of speculative positions across 11 products from wheat to coffee to cattle fell 3.6 percent to 258,071 futures and options in the week ended Dec. 6, Commodity Futures Trading Commission data show. That’s the lowest since September 2009. Bullish wagers on corn fell 11 percent to a 17-month low, and bearish ones on cocoa increased for a fourth week.
  • US Online Holiday Sales Rise 15% to $24.6 Billion. U.S. online sales in the holiday season to date are up 15 percent to $24.6 billion, according to comScore. The research firm said Sunday sales on six individual days during the first 39 days of the November-to-December shopping season have exceeded $1 billion, led by Cyber Monday, the Monday after Thanksgiving, when sales hit $1.25 billion. Sales in the most recent week ended Dec. 9 rose 15 percent to $5.9 billion, the Reston, Va., company said. “As we enter what will be the heaviest week of the season for online retailers — beginning with ‘Green Monday’ on Dec. 12 — all signs are now pointing to a strong finish to the season,” comScore Chairman Gian Fulgoni said.
  • International Debt Sales at 6-Year Low on Euro Crisis, BIS Says. The euro-region’s debt crisis has affected financial markets globally, pushing up borrowing costs for banks and triggering sell-offs in emerging-market assets, according to the Bank for International Settlements. Gross debt issuance in international markets dropped to $1.66 trillion in the three months through September, the lowest since 2005 as buyers demanded higher compensation for risk, the BIS said in its Quarterly Review. Investors withdrew more than $25 billion from emerging-market funds in August and September as they sought to either reduce risk or sent money home to repair their balance sheets, it said. “News on the euro-area sovereign debt crisis drove most developments in global financial markets between early September and the beginning of December,” the report said. “Financial institutions with direct exposure to euro-area sovereigns saw their costs and access to funding deteriorate.” The problem was exacerbated by a deteriorating economic outlook, the BIS said. The European Central Bank on Dec. 8 revised down its growth forecast for next year to a range of minus 0.4 percent to plus 1.0 percent, from 0.4 percent to 2.2 percent previously.
  • China Stock Correlation Hits Record on Growth Concerns: Chart of the Day. Chinese shares traded in Hong Kong are moving in synch with mainland counterparts in becoming more pessimistic about the nation's equities amid slowing growth. The relationship between H shares in Hong Kong and yuan-denominated A shares in Shanghai was the closest ever, as measured by a correlation coefficient of .66 on Dec. 2, according to 120-day observation periods compiled by Bloomberg since January 1994.
  • U.S. to Give Jordan $120 Million in Support, Al Ghad Reports. The U.S. is due to transfer $120 million to Jordan by the end of the year as part of promised assistance for the kingdom’s efforts to introduce changes, Al Ghad said. The move came after Jordan implemented a series of measures to improve the business environment, promote investment and enhancing transparency, the newspaper said, citing an unidentified Jordanian official. The U.S. transferred $64 million to Jordan in November, it said. U.S. annual assistance to Jordan totals $660 million, of which $360 million is in economic assistance and the remainder in military aid, it said.
  • No One Says Who Took $586B in Fed Swaps. For all the transparency forced on the Federal Reserve by Congress and the courts, one of the central bank’s emergency-lending programs remains so secretive that names of borrowers may be hidden from the Fed itself. As part of a currency-swap plan active from 2007 to 2010 and revived to fight the European debt crisis, the Fed lends dollars to other central banks, which auction them to local commercial banks. Lending peaked at $586 billion in December 2008. While the transactions with other central banks are all disclosed, the Fed doesn’t track where the dollars ultimately end up, and European officials don’t share borrowers’ identities outside the continent. The lack of openness may leave the U.S. government and public in the dark on the beneficiaries and potential risks from one of the Fed’s largest crisis-loan programs. The European Central Bank’s three-month dollar lending through the swap lines surged last week to $50.7 billion from $400 million after the Nov. 30 announcement that the Fed, in concert with the ECB and four other central banks, lowered the interest rate by a half percentage point. “Increased transparency is warranted here,” given the size of the Fed’s aid and current pressures on European banks, said Representative Randy Neugebauer, a Texas Republican who heads the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. Whether the U.S. should make disclosure of the recipients a condition of the swap lines is “probably a discussion we need to have,” possibly in a hearing that includes Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke, Neugebauer said.
  • Global Sweet Spot in Computer Stocks as Net Estimate Falls Least. Profit forecasts for computer and software makers are holding up better than any industry in the world, a sign of confidence that corporate spending will keep the American economy expanding next year. Net income at companies from Apple Inc. to Oracle Corp. will rise 11 percent in 2012 on average, according to more than 2,900 analyst projections compiled by Bloomberg. The profit estimate is down 2.3 percent from its peak this year, the smallest reduction of any industry in the MSCI World Index. Utility forecasts were cut the most at 29 percent.
Wall Street Journal:
  • Mortgage Fees Eyed to Offset Payroll Tax Reduction. Congress and the Obama administration are turning to an unlikely source to pay for the proposed extension of the payroll-tax cut: mortgage-finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The revenue source proposed by both Senate Democrats and House Republicans would boost fees that Fannie and Freddie collect from lenders. But that is raising hackles in the real-estate industry. Builders, Realtors and lenders say it would amount to a tax that would be passed on to mortgage borrowers.
  • Probe of GM's(GM) Volt Fires May Be Lengthy. General Motors Co. could be in for a lengthy investigation over why the batteries on several Chevrolet Volt cars caught fire, potentially hurting sales of the plug-in vehicle.
  • Hedge Funds' Fading Star. Once seen as the Gods of finance, hedge-fund managers need to work much harder to convince clients they are worth their fees.
  • German Bunds: Harbor or Storm? It is proving to be one of the toughest calls of 2012: Buy or sell German Bunds? Throughout the European financial crisis, German government bonds retained their haven aura, rewarding investors who clung to debt of the economic powerhouse. Now, though, many see a threat that measures taken to save the euro will leave Germany shouldering the burden, a negative for bond prices.
  • America's New Energy Security by Daniel Yergin. Thanks to new technology, the U.S. has become less dependent on petroleum imports from unstable countries. Every president since Richard Nixon has called for energy independence. Nevertheless, U.S. reliance on imported oil long seemed to be headed in only one direction—up—and that pointed to inevitably increasing dependence on the huge resources of the Middle East. No longer. U.S. petroleum imports, on a net basis, reached their peak—60%—of domestic consumption in 2005. Since then, they have been going in the other direction. They are now down to 46%. What's happening?
  • New United Nations Global Warming Deal Struck. Climate negotiators agreed a pact on Sunday that would for the first time force all the biggest polluters to take action on greenhouse gas emissions, but critics said the action plan was not aggressive enough to slow the pace of global warming. The package of accords extended the Kyoto Protocol, the only global pact that enforces carbon cuts, agreed the format of a fund to help poor countries tackle climate change and mapped out a path to a legally binding agreement on emissions reductions.
  • OECD Warns of Developed World Funding Crisis. Markets and governments face an uphill struggle to fund themselves next year amid extreme uncertainty over the eurozone and the global economy, as new figures reveal that the borrowing of industrialized governments has surged beyond $10 trillion this year and is forecast to grow further in 2012.
Business Insider:
Zero Hedge:
NY Times:
  • European Banks Hunt for Ways to Increase Capital. As Europe continues to grapple with its sovereign debt crisis, many of the Continent’s banks are facing increased financing costs and limited access to much-needed cash, according to the Bank for International Settlements, an association of the world’s central banks. In its quarterly review to be published on Monday, the Swiss-based institution said European banks, including Commerzbank of Germany, BNP Paribas of France and Lloyds Banking Group of Britain, are selling assets and increasing customers’ interest rates in an effort to bolster their balance sheets. The steps come as the European Banking Authority has increased the amount that it expects banks will have to raise to meet new capital requirements.
NY Post:
  • Falcone Follies. Hedge-fund billionaire Phil Falcone got pummeled with a double dose of bad news yesterday — a one-two punch that could knock the legs out from under his already limping career. The 49-year-old’s $3 billion investment in LightSquared was slammed late yesterday when it emerged that the 4G wireless venture failed a major government test that is expected to severely cripple its chances of getting off the ground this year. That blow was preceded by the news that Falcone and two high-ranking employees of his $5.7 billion hedge fund, Harbinger Capital, were served with Wells Notices by the Securities and Exchange Commission for alleged securities violations. Such notices offer warning from SEC staffers that they plan to recommend that the agency proceed with a civil suit.
  • Pakistan Says U.S. Drones In Its Air Space Will Be Shot Down. Pakistan will shoot down any U.S. drone that intrudes its air space per new directives, a senior Pakistani official told NBC News on Saturday. According to the new Pakistani defense policy, "Any object entering into our air space, including U.S. drones, will be treated as hostile and be shot down," a senior Pakistani military official told NBC News.
Washington Post:
  • Russians Turn Out To Demand End Of Putin Rule. (video) Tens of thousands of people held the largest anti-government protests that post-Soviet Russia has ever seen to criticize electoral fraud and demand an end to Vladimir Putin's rule.
CBS News:
  • Poll: Most Say Obama Doesn't Deserve Second Term. Less than one year out from Election Day 2012, voters remain overwhelmingly pessimistic about the economy, and their concerns are taking a toll on President Obama's re-election chances. Just 41 percent of Americans think Mr. Obama has performed his job well enough to be elected to a second term, whereas 54 percent don't think so. Views of how he has handled the economy is the obvious drag on the president's ratings: While just 33 percent approve, 60 percent disapprove. Similarly, just 35 percent approve his his handling of job creation while 58 percent disapprove. Views on the national economy remain very negative: Since early 2008, roughly three in four Americans (and sometimes even more) have said the economy is in bad shape. Now, 86 percent of Americans characterize the economy as at least somewhat bad, including 42 percent who say it is very bad. Just 21 percent think the economy is getting better, and 39 percent think it is getting worse, up from 32 percent last month. Another 40 percent think the economy isn't changing. When asked if Mr.Obama has made real progress fixing the economy, 68 percent say he has not, and just 28 percent say he has. And while 37 percent say the Obama administration's policies prevented the country from going into a deeper recession, just under half - 49 percent - say those policies did not do that. In addition, more think the policies of the Obama administration have mostly favored Wall Street (42 percent) than mostly favored average Americans (38 percent).


  • Hedge Fund Subscriptions Hit Post-Lehman High. Hedge funds look set to end 2011 with higher cumulative net subscriptions than at any time since the collapse of U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers, as investors opt for alternative strategies to ride out stormy markets. The GlobeOp Capital Movement Index, which tracks monthly net subscriptions to and redemptions from hedge funds managing around $170 billion of assets, advanced 1.55 points to 141.01 points this month, topping the 140-point mark for the first time since October 2008, when Lehman's demise sent markets across the world into a tailspin.
  • Anti-Wall Street Activists Look to Block West Coast Ports. Anti-Wall Street protesters, hoping to briefly cripple a key supply chain of American commerce and re-energize their movement, plan to attempt to block major West Coast ports on Monday. The planned action comes after the Occupy movement that began in New York in September has seen its tent camps in most big West Coast cities dismantled in police raids, leaving the movement looking for new avenues to voice its discontent.
  • China Workshops Struggle, But Tougher Times Ahead. A broad and bruising downturn is sweeping through China's giant manufacturing sector, ensnaring thousands of factories already fighting for survival in the face of plunging profit margins. While the misery has not yet reached levels seen in 2008 when global financial turmoil caused trade to seize up, Chinese exporters across industries are battling hard times as Europe's crisis and tight credit conditions at home pummel sales. The tough times are clear from China's trade data released this weekend, which showed exports growth in November at its most sluggish in two years. Sales to Europe, China's biggest market, rose in single digits for the third straight month, a sharp slowdown considering growth averaged more than 18 percent in the first eight months of 2011.
  • More IMF in euro zone would be act of desperation - ECB's Stark. Higher involvement by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in the euro zone's efforts to stem its debt crisis would be an act of desperation, outgoing European Central Bank chief economist Juergen Stark said, calling for a quantum leap by the currency bloc. "It would be an act of desperation," he was quoted as saying by Sueddeutsche Zeitung due for publication on Monday. Stark said he envisaged an informal panel of experts to check on member states' budgets. "That would be the nucleus for a future European finance ministry," he said.


  • Austria Says Eurozone Deal Lacks 'Firepower'. A summit deal struck by all EU countries except Britain lacks the necessary "firepower" to tackle the underlying causes of the eurozone crisis, the Austrian chancellor said Saturday. "A firewall was created, but it is not strong or large enough to have a big deterrent effect on speculators and the financial markets in the coming years," Werner Faymann told the Salzburger Nachrichten daily in an interview. "The decisions taken lack the necessary firepower to have a sustained effect." He said that an agreement in Brussels on Friday on tighter budget discipline was a "large step on the path towards more independence from financial markets and (sovereign bond) creditors." But he added: "What is missing are financial market regulations, a European rating agency (and) European revenues from financial markets through a tax on financial transactions."


  • Eurozone Leaders Deluded If They Think This 'Sticking Plaster' Treaty Can Solve The Debt Crisis. So, now we know what the latest euro-crisis summit has to offer. The fifth comprehensive effort to stabilise the eurozone in nineteen months, this latest Brussels gab-fest produced a slew of headlines and initiatives. But what did it really achieve? The single currency remains just as incoherent as it was last weekend, just as vulnerable to systemic collapse. The region’s banks and governments are still very highly indebted. Eurozone leaders are deluded if they think some diplomatic sticking plaster, and a lot of bluster, can hold together an inherently unstable structure. What’s more, to use a combination of borrowed and printed money to bail-out cash-strapped governments, which are insolvent largely because they, in turn, are standing behind insolvent banks, is to treat the symptoms of the crisis, not the cause. This historic policy error – tackling the results of the problem rather than the problem itself – has characterised the West’s response to this sub-prime fiasco from the very beginning, not just in the eurozone but in the UK and US too. Europe’s predicament is so much worse, though, given the restrictions imposed by the single-currency straitjacket.
  • EU treaty: Britain is being 'left behind' ... a rickety cart drawn by pantomime horse Merkozy. The EU treaty agreement shows eurozone politicians continue to be obsessed with the symptoms, ignoring the the underlying macro problems.
  • Merkel's Teutonic Summit Enshrines Hooverism in EU Treaty Law. Angela Merkel’s summit has sealed a 1930s outcome for Europe, further entrenching Germany’s misguided and contractionary policies without offering any viable way out of the crisis at hand.

The Spectator:

  • 10 Myths About Cameron's EU Veto. The EU veto that Cameron pulled in the early hours of Thursday morning has been widely misunderstood on all sides. Here are the 10 most common myths:

Der Spiegel:

  • The euro accord reached in Brussels last week requires thorough review to ensure it's constitutional, Bundestag President Norbert Lammert said in an interview. The German parilament will "carefully review potential constitutional problems that may arise through direct intervention" by European authorities in national budgets, Lammert, a member of the ruling Christian Democrats and parliaments' most senior lawmaker, said.


  • Allianz SE Chief Economist Michael Heise said the European Central Bank shouldn't massively widen its bond purchases, citing an interview. Heise said the ECB shouldn't do anything that reduces the member states' willingness to reform.
  • Bayer AG Expects the euro crisis to weigh on margins in its health unit as well as its plastics business as consumers cut spending on drugs, citing an interview with CEO Marijn Dekkers. Drug bills continue to go unpaid in Greece, Italy and Spain, citing Dekkers. Outstanding debts have reach a "significant three-digit million figure," Dekkers said.


  • Italy's banking association will oppose new capital requirements set by the European Banking Association "in every way" and is ready to take legal action should it be required, the association's head Giuseppe Mussari said.


  • Denmark will have difficulty in supporting everything contained within the accord struck by European Union leaders on Friday, Foreign Minister Villy Soevndal said in an interview.

Edmonton Sun:

  • Financial Guru Lambasts Environment. Jobs. Oil. The Keystone XL pipeline's got 'em, and America needs 'em. So, git 'er done. That's the word from heavy hitters from Texas weighing in on the $7-billion project that would carry a million barrels of Alberta crude to the Gulf Coast — and U.S. markets — each day.

Toronto Sun:

  • Don't Pretend We Know What Causes Climate Change. Not only is the Kyoto Protocol technically flawed, the so-called science behind it is utter twaddle. Never mind complicated things like non-linear mathematics or, indeed, mathematics of any sort. The alarmists can't possibly know how to predict the future of Earth's climate because they can't explain its past.

Financial News:

  • China Smaller Developers May Face Repayment Pressure. A "turning point" is emerging in China's property prices and some small- and medium-sized developers may face pressure from maturing loans, China Banking Regulatory Commission Assistant Chairman Yan Qingmin wrote. The banking regulator will monitor banks' asset quality as the economy slows, Yan wrote.


  • China has no intention to and wouldn't be able to use finance as a toll to control European nations, citing Fu Ying, a vice foreign minister.

Tehran Times:

  • Global demand for crude oil may decline in the second quarter of 2012 and OPEC members need to be vigilant, citing Mohammad Ali Khatibi, Iran's governor to the group.
Weekend Recommendations
  • Made positive comments on (CVS), (MET), (SJM), (EXPE) and (UNP).
Night Trading
  • Asian indices are -.25% to +1.25% on average.
  • Asia Ex-Japan Investment Grade CDS Index 193.50 -11.5 basis points.
  • Asia Pacific Sovereign CDS Index 153.0 -1.0 basis point.
  • FTSE-100 futures +.08%.
  • S&P 500 futures -.18%.
  • NASDAQ 100 futures -.11%.
Morning Preview Links

Earnings of Note
  • (NX)/.24
Economic Releases
2:00 pm EST
  • The Monthly Budget Deficit for November is estimated at -$139.0B versus -$150.4B in October.
Upcoming Splits
  • (ROST) 2-for-1
Other Potential Market Movers
  • The 3-Year Treasury Note Auction and the China 3-Day Annual Economic Summit could also impact trading today.
BOTTOM LINE: Asian indices are mostly higher, boosted by financial and industrial shares in the region. I expect US stocks to open modestly lower and to rally into the afternoon, finishing mixed. The Portfolio is 75% net long heading into the week.

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