Finance news. My opinion.

April 18, 2014

Brewers seeks to rekindle Belgium’s love of beer

Filed under: Uncategorized, house — Tags: , , , — Professor @ 3:18 pm

DWORP, Belgium (AP) — The ruby lettering on the front of the old corner pub “In de Welkom” has peeled almost beyond recognition. Owner Leza Wauters, a tough 87-year-old, is holding on to her business but can’t say how much longer. Sooner or later, yet another bar with a warm “Welcome” will be gone.

Serving local geuze, triples and pils beers for generations, the pub has embodied what the drink means to Belgians — bringing together families and friends with cheers of “sante” and “gezondheid,” gulping down tasty suds before ordering more.

Now, the tables are often empty, a sign of the hard times many pubs like these have fallen upon as Belgians have stopped drinking beer like they used to. The beer industry, meanwhile, has increasingly relied on exporting the world-class beers to far-flung markets.

Not good, they say here.

The Belgian beer federation is trying to rekindle local interest in the drink with a “Proud of our Beers” public awareness campaign, including a tricolor national flag with the middle yellow turned into a glass of beer.

“Belgian beer made in Belgium but not drunk in Belgium is not really Belgian beer anymore,” said Gert Christiaens, the owner of the Oud Beersel brewery, which won a silver medal at the World Beer Cup last week with his geuze, a sour beer made through natural fermentation.

“If it is not in their roots anymore and they cannot pass it on to the next couple of generations, then we’ve lost. We cannot claim the heritage of Belgian beer if nobody knows about it,” he said.

Beer consumption in Belgium is still relatively high — at 74 liters (16 criminal records.2 gallons) a head annually. But that is a 27 percent drop since 1992.

In just about any town or village, pensioners can point out the places were bars used to be, and are now gone. Guidea, the research institute of the industry, says the number of drinking establishments has declined from 38,128 in 1983 to 17,512 in 2012, the last year on record in this nation of 10.5 million.

Exports, meanwhile, have risen, from 5.47 million hectoliters in 2000 to 11.69 million a dozen years later to account for roughly two-thirds of production now.

Sven Gatz, the head of the Belgian Brewers federation, says the overall trend is not good for the local industry.

“You cannot be a strong beer country only exporting beer,” he said at his gilded, baroque headquarters on one of Europe’s finest squares, the Brussels Grand Place, proof of the exalted status beer has in this country.

It’s not only about boosting current sales but about preserving for the future the identity and national heritage that had made the Belgian beers famous in the first place, he argued. In a globalized market, that identity is valuable.

Leza Wauters remembers the good times well. “Oh, we had more than 50 cafes in Dworp,” she said of the bucolic village 15 kilometers (10 miles) south of Brussels, part of a hilly area of pastures whose landscapes, and beers, figured in the paintings of the famous artist Breughel. “It was incredible - it was almost like everyone had a cafe.”

Now the village’s pubs can be counted on two hands, she said.

Her granddaughter Barbara Danis fondly remembers time spent at the “In de Welkom” but recognizes its days may be numbered. Most clients are of an older generation that used to congregate daily in the pubs but that is now fading away.

“You used to have card players who came here every day,” she said. Now, her grandmother complains, those games are over.

Younger clients are tough to attract because they prefer to enjoy drinks at home. They move around mainly by car — and have to heed modern drunk driving laws — whereas clients in older times would walk to their local pub. Laws prohibiting smoking in pubs have also hurt business.

Siene Verhelst, who ducked into the “In de Welkom” after a walk in the surrounding woods to order an amber Westmalle trappist beer, pondered: “You are lucky to be here, because this can be over next week.”

Part of the decline in interest in beer was also due to the growing industrialization of beer production that often alienated locals.

“In the 1960s to the eighties, the bigger breweries took over the midsized breweries, the midsized breweries took over the small brewers and there was consolidation,” said Gatz. That has reduced the amount of choice and severed the sense of identification a local population had with their local brew.

The world’s largest brewer, AB Inbev, is an extreme example. Part of the Belgium-based conglomerate originated in the country but it has become so large that most of its brands are foreign — Budweiser, Corona, Beck’s criminal record search.

There is some hope, however, that the beer culture might be revitalized by what is, ironically, a global trend — the surge in microbreweries.

Next door to Dworp is Buizingen, where Kloris Deville and his dad Bart have turned Den Herberg — “The Inn” — into a thriving little pub over a half dozen years with heaving weekend clientele, partly because they started their own microbrewery in the back.

Bart Deville says he’s produced up to a dozen new beers and is finding huge demand — he has a huge storage room full of a new brew for which he still has to find a fitting name.

Microbreweries have found success across the globe, but Belgians are inspired by their particularly rich and long tradition.

It is what moved Gert Christiaens to drop a career in the telecoms services and become a brewer. Twelve years ago, at the age of 25, he was shocked to hear a bartender tell him that his favorite geuze would soon be extinct, as the brewery had closed down.

“A couple of days later I rang the brewery,” he said, and now Christiaens brews the Oud Beersel gueze himself, winning global prizes along the way and expanding his business to make it sustainable.

“I did not want this heritage of Belgium to disappear,” he said.


AP Video journalist Mark D. Carlson contributed to this story


March 29, 2014

Senate Advances Long-Term Unemployment Benefits Extension - Bloomberg

Filed under: Uncategorized, loans — Tags: , , , — Professor @ 2:16 pm

The U.S. Senate voted to advance legislation restoring benefits for the long-term unemployed that the Obama administration has sought to revive since they expired late last year.

By a vote of 65-34, with 60 required for approval, the Senate agreed to move toward taking up the measure, which is the product of a bipartisan agreement struck earlier this month by Rhode Island Democrat Jack Reed, Nevada Republican Dean Heller and eight other senators.

Ten Republicans joined with the chamber

March 24, 2014

US stock futures poised to start the week higher

Filed under: Uncategorized, term — Tags: , , , — Professor @ 5:28 pm

Wall Street looked ready to start the week with a slight gain as U.S. stock futures edged up Monday in pre-market trading.

KEEPING SCORE: Dow Jones industrial average futures were up 35 points, or 0.2 percent, to 16,256 as of 8:50 a.m. Eastern time. Standard & Poor’s 500 index futures were up five points, or 0.3 percent, to 1,862 and Nasdaq futures were up 13 points, or 0.3 percent, to 3,652.

CHINA WATCH: Asian stock markets got a boost on expectations of economic stimulus in China. A report showed that China’s manufacturing fell to an eight-month low in March in another sign of slowing growth in the world’s No. 2 economy.

TREASURYS AND COMMODITIES: The yield on the 10-year U fast cash advance.S. Treasury note climbed to 2.76 percent from 2.74 percent late Friday. The price of crude oil rose 59 cents to $100.05 a barrel. Gold sank $18.70 to $1,317.40 an ounce.

EUROPE: Major indexes were mostly lower in Europe. Both Germany’s DAX and France’s CAC-40 dropped 0.2 percent. Britain’s FTSE 100 slipped 0.1 percent.

ASIA: Hong Kong’s Hang Seng surged 2.8 percent. Japan’s Nikkei gained 1.8 percent.


March 16, 2014

Investigators conclude missing jet was hijacked: Official

Filed under: Uncategorized, technology — Tags: , , , — Professor @ 2:32 pm

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA—Investigators have concluded that one or more people with significant flying experience hijacked the missing Malaysia Airlines jet, switched off communication devices and steered it off-course, a Malaysian government official involved in the investigation said Saturday.

No motive has been established and no demands have been made known, and it is not yet clear where the plane was taken, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media. The official said that hijacking was no longer a theory.

“It is conclusive,” he said.

Related: Where on Earth is Flight 370?

The Boeing 777’s communication with the ground was severed just under one hour into a flight March 8 from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Malaysian officials have said radar data suggest it may have turned back toward and crossed over the Malaysian peninsula after setting out on a northeastern path toward the Chinese capital.

Earlier, an American official told The Associated Press that investigators are examining the possibility of “human intervention” in the plane’s disappearance, adding it may have been “an act of piracy.”

While other theories are still being examined, the U.S. official said key evidence suggesting human intervention is that contact with the Boeing 777’s transponder stopped about a dozen minutes before a messaging system on the jet quit paperless payday loans. Such a gap would be unlikely in the case of an in-flight catastrophe.

The Malaysian official said only a skilled aviator could navigate the plane the way it was flown after its last confirmed location over the South China Sea, and that it appeared to have been steered to avoid radar detection. The official said it had been established with a “more than 50 per cent” degree of certainty that military radar had picked up the missing plane after it dropped off civilian radar.

Why anyone would want to do this is unclear. Malaysian authorities and others will be urgently investigating the backgrounds of the two pilots and 10 crew members, as well the 227 passengers on board.

Some experts have said that pilot suicide may be the most likely explanation for the disappearance, as was suspected in a SilkAir crash during a flight from Singapore to Jakarta in 1997 and an EgyptAir flight in 1999.

A massive international search effort began initially in the South China Sea where the plane’s transponders stopped transmitting. It has since been expanded onto the other side of the Malay peninsula up into the Andaman Sea and into the Indian Ocean.


March 8, 2014

What you need to know about March health deadline

Filed under: Uncategorized, marketing — Tags: , , , — Professor @ 12:04 pm

WASHINGTON • Sick of hearing about the health care law?

Plenty of people have tuned out after all the political jabber and website woes.

But now is the time to tune back in, before it’s too late.

The big deadline is coming March 31.

By that day, for the first time, nearly everyone in the United States is required to be signed up for health insurance or risk paying a fine.

Here’s what you need to know about this month’s open enrollment countdown:


Most people don’t need to do anything. Even before the health care law passed in 2010, more than 8 out of 10 U.S. residents had coverage, usually through their workplace plans or the government’s Medicare or Medicaid programs. Some have private policies that meet the law’s requirements.

If you’re already covered that way, you meet the law’s requirements.

Since October, about 4 million people have signed up for private plans through the new state and federal marketplaces, President Barack Obama’s administration says, although it’s not clear how many were already insured elsewhere. In addition, many poor adults now have Medicaid coverage for the first time through expansions of the program in about half the states.

Obama is urging people who have coverage to help any uninsured friends and relatives get signed up.


Chances are you’ll hear more reminders about health care this month. The push is on to reach millions of uninsured people.

Wooing Hispanics is a priority, but it’s just one component of a broader effort by the administration, insurers, medical associations and nonprofit groups to get the word out and guide people through the sometimes-rocky enrollment process. They plan special events at colleges, libraries, churches and work sites.

Singing cats, dogs, parrots — even a goldfish — are promoting the message in TV and online spots from the Ad Council.

A big hurdle for the effort: As recently as last month, three-fourths of the uninsured didn’t know there was a March 31 deadline, according to polling conducted for the Kaiser Family Foundation. Most said they didn’t know much about the law and had an unfavorable opinion of it.

Plus, many worry they won’t be able to afford the new plans.

The enrollment campaign is emphasizing that subsidies are available on a sliding scale to help low-income and middle-class households pay for their insurance.

How to enroll? Start at or by calling 1-800-318-2596. Residents of states running their own marketplaces will be directed there; people in other states go through the federal exchange.

After March 31, many people won’t be able to get subsidized coverage this year, even if they become seriously ill.

The next open enrollment period is set to begin Nov. 15, for coverage in 2015.


There are exceptions. The big one is the Medicaid program for the poor. People who meet the requirements can sign up anytime, with no deadline.

Also, people remain eligible for Medicare whenever they turn 65.

If you are insured now and lose your coverage during the year, by getting laid off from your job, for example, you can use an exchange to find a new policy then. People can sign up outside the open enrollment period in special situations such as having a baby or moving to another state payday advance.

You can choose to buy insurance outside the marketplaces and still benefit from consumer protections in the law.

People who do that wouldn’t normally be eligible for premium subsidies. But the Obama administration says exceptions will be made for people whose attempts to buy marketplace insurance on time were stymied by continuing problems with some enrollment websites.


Some 12 million people could gain health coverage this year because of the law, if congressional auditors’ predictions don’t prove overly optimistic.

Even so, tens of millions still would go without.

That’s partly because of immigrants in the country illegally; they aren’t eligible for marketplace policies.

Some of the uninsured will not find out about the program in time, will find it confusing or too costly, or will just procrastinate too long. Some feel confident of their health and prefer to risk going uninsured instead of paying premiums. Others are philosophically opposed to participating.

Figuring out just how many of the uninsured got coverage this year won’t be easy because the numbers are fuzzy.

The administration’s enrollment count includes people who already were insured and used the exchanges to find a better deal, or switched from private insurance to Medicaid, or already qualified for Medicaid before the changes.

Some who sign up will end up uninsured anyway, if they fail to pay their premiums.

The budget experts predict enrollment will grow in future years and by 2017 some 92 percent of legal residents too young for Medicare will have insurance.

But even then, about 30 million people in the United States would go uncovered.


A gap in the law means some low-income workers can’t get help.

The insurance marketplaces weren’t designed to serve people whose low incomes qualify them for expanded Medicaid instead. But some states have declined to expand their Medicaid programs. That means that in those states, many poor people will get left out.

People who fall into the gap won’t be penalized for failing to get covered.

Some others are exempt from the insurance mandate, too: American Indians, those with religious objections, prisoners, immigrants in the country illegally, and people considered too poor to buy coverage even with financial assistance.


The law says people who aren’t covered in 2014 are liable for a fine. That amounts to $95 per uninsured person or about 1 percent of income, whichever is higher. The penalty goes up in later years.

A year from now, the Internal Revenue Service will be asking taxpayers filing their forms for proof of insurance coverage. Insurance companies are supposed to provide that documentation to their customers.

If you owe a penalty for being uninsured,the IRS can’t put people in jail or garnishee wages to get the money. But it can withhold the penalty from a future year’s tax refund.


March 1, 2014

Volatility will keep Bitcoin on the fringes of finance

Filed under: Uncategorized, house — Tags: , , , — Professor @ 11:56 pm

For anyone who’s fascinated by investment fads, bitcoin has been one for the ages.

It has no intrinsic value, and yet it rose nearly 90-fold last year, inviting comparisons to Dutch tulip bulbs and dot-com stocks. Now it’s down by 50 percent after a series of blows, including last week’s failure of a major bitcoin exchange.

Yet it’s too soon to declare bitcoin a failure. Fans still claim it can catch on as a virtual currency that’s widely accepted as payment for goods and services. Even skeptics concede that it might have a place in the financial markets of the future.

“I have my doubts that it could be a good currency,” says David Andolfatto, a St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank economist who’s hosting a public discussion on bitcoin later this month, “but I can see some modest value if a growing number of merchants start accepting bitcoin.”

Of course, bitcoin could also go the way of or Semper Augustus, the most prized tulip bulb in the 17th century. That’s why the collapse of Mt. Gox, once the largest exchange for converting bitcoin to other currencies, poses a big test. The Tokyo-based exchange filed bankruptcy last week amid reports that more than $400 million worth of bitcoins had gone missing.

The world of virtual currencies already seemed like a dark and secretive place to most people. Bitcoin was used by Silk Road, an illicit drug trading site that authorities shut down last year. Apple has banned bitcoin-related apps from its App Store, apparently out of concern over the currency’s legal status.

Now, on top of those problems, we have the disappearance of about 6 percent of all the bitcoins in the world. Could that be enough to send bitcoin’s price spiraling toward zero? Andolfatto doesn’t think so.

“It’s like a bank robber going to the Bank of America and stealing all the money in the vault,” he said. “You don’t lose faith in the U.S. dollar just because somebody stole it.”

Vance Crowe, who owns the Articulate Ventures communications firm in University City, still has faith in bitcoin. He accepted $3,000 worth from a client last November and still holds some of the virtual currency.

“The way I look at it, this is a sad but important step for bitcoin,” he said. “Maybe it will make the bitcoin system stronger.” He pointed out that bitcoin’s underlying software — a shared ledger system that keeps track of all transactions — hasn’t been implicated in the Mt. Gox failure.

Kevin LaFata, who runs software firm High Orbit in Fenton, has advertised that he’ll accept bitcoin. No one has paid him that way yet, but he thinks some foreign clients could reduce transaction costs by using the virtual currency.

LaFata isn’t deterred by the Mt. Gox collapse, either. “It’s probably a good thing if somebody who had a bad reputation is finally getting out of the game,” he says.

With the support of true believers like Crowe and LaFata, bitcoin should be able to survive. Its volatility, though, will probably consign it to the fringes of finance.

“Bitcoins are not going to be very good money because their purchasing power is going to fluctuate wildly,” Andolfatto said. “If you got paid in bitcoins and then you discovered your paycheck would buy just half as much bread as the one before, it would be really frustrating.”


August 29, 2013

Toronto fourth most livable city in world: Economist

Filed under: Uncategorized, economics — Tags: , , , — Professor @ 1:12 am

Three of the top 10 most livable cities in the world are Canadian.

Vancouver, Toronto and Calgary are third, fourth and fifth, respectively, on the list compiled annually by the Intelligence Unit of the business and political weekly magazine The Economist. That’s also where they stood last year.

Both Toronto and Vancouver won perfect 100-point scores for stability, healthcare and education. The 100-point score for infrastructure The Economist gave Melbourne and Vienna propelled them to first and second place on the list.

Melbourne has been the top city on the livability list since 2011, when it squeezed out Vancouver. Toronto and Calgary have traditionally been in the top five as well.

The Economist bases its ratings of 140 cities on 30 factors across five categories: stability, healthcare, culture and environment, education and infrastructure.

Eight of the top 10 cities are in Canada and Australia, which the Intelligence Unit points out reflects them being mid-sized cities in wealthier countries with relatively low population density and good healthcare and education.

The other cities on the top 10 list, from fifth through ninth, are Adelaide, Sydney, Helsinki and Perth.

Half of the bottom 10 cities are in Africa: Douala, Cameroon; Tripoli, Libya; Algiers, Algeria; Harare, Zimbabwe and Lagos, Nigeria.

Syria’s capital of Damascus ranks dead last because of the civil war tearing apart the country. Damascus also registered the biggest decline in livability over the last five years, by more than 20 per cent.


August 14, 2013

Carney Seen Hitting Jobless Threshold Before BOE Forecasts - Bloomberg

Filed under: Uncategorized, business — Tags: , , , — Professor @ 10:48 am

U.K. unemployment will hit Mark Carney

August 11, 2013

Toronto jeweler’s song to be featured on True Blood

Filed under: Uncategorized, business — Tags: , , , — Professor @ 5:04 am

Sam Rosenbaum didn’t think he’d get his big break at 61. Much less for a song he wrote 17 years ago.

But the Toronto jeweler will hear his tune on HBO’s airwaves during Sunday night’s episode of the wildly popular vampire drama True Blood, and he has his dead father to thank.

Rosenbaum, who is not a professional musician, says the song came to him in 1996 after his dad, who had died seven years earlier, visited him in a dream.

“We were both sitting on a bench in a beautiful garden,” said Rosenbaum. “We looked at each other but didn’t talk. It was non-verbal communication. He just gave me this amazing feeling.”

Rosenbaum woke up and scurried down to the piano in his basement. Still brimming with euphoria, he churned out a song called “Why Did You Leave Me Now?” in less than an hour. Despite being a music manager at the time, he’d had scant experience writing songs.

“The words came, the melody came, I couldn’t even explain it,” he said. “It was a song that expressed a loss.”

Rosenbaum had the song professionally recorded with Liz Rodrigues, one of the artists he managed, on vocals. Despite his initial excitement, the song barely made a blip on the popular music radar.

“Everybody in the music business thinks their song’s going to become famous,” he said. “But nothing happened online payday loans. I just forgot about it.”

Rosenbaum eventually ditched the music industry. He decided to enter the jewelry sales business and remained there for 17 years. He moved on.

But a month ago, out of nowhere, he got a call from True Blood’s musical director, Gary Calamar. He said he wanted to use “Why Did You Leave Me Now?” in his series.

“At first, I didn’t believe it,” said Rosenbaum. “But I Googled him and found out he was the Real McCoy. He was a Grammy nominee.”

Rosenbaum asked Calamar how he found the song. Calamar said his producers happened to stumble upon it on iTunes under Rodrigues’ album, Just a Dream.

To Rosenbaum, it’s a miracle.

“I look at it as a gift from my father,” said Rosenbaum. “I call it divine intervention. How else can something like this happen?”

Ask Calamar, and he’ll tell you a slightly less juicy story to sink your fangs into.

“It was the title, “Why Did You Leave Me Now?” that got the attention of the producers, as each episode title of True Blood is named after a song that appears in the episode,” he said. “We came across it on an iTunes search, and we thought it worked perfectly in the scene.”


August 7, 2013

Where Obamacare premiums will soar

Filed under: Uncategorized, money — Tags: , , , — Professor @ 11:28 pm

While many residents in New York and California may see sizable decreases in their premiums, Americans in many places could face significant increases if they buy insurance through state-based exchanges next year.

That’s because these people live in states where insurers were allowed to sell bare-bones plans and exclude the sick, which has kept costs down. Under Obamacare, insurers must offer a package of essential benefits — including maternity, mental health and medications — and must cover all who apply. But more comprehensive coverage may lead to more expensive insurance plans.

Under Obamacare, all Americans must have insurance coverage starting in 2014 or face penalties of $95 or 1% of family income, whichever is greater. Enrollment in the exchanges begins October 1, with coverage kicking in in January. Plans will come in four tiers, ranging from bronze to platinum.

Some lightly regulated states, including Indiana, Ohio, Florida and South Carolina, have recently released preliminary rate information highlighting steep price increases. Unlike the blue states of California and New York, these are Republican-led states that have strongly opposed the Affordable Care Act, as Obamacare is officially known.

Comparing this year’s and next year’s plans isn’t easy because the structure of the plans is so different. Each state comes up with its own method.

Behind the numbers in 3 key states. In Florida, for instance, officials constructed a hypothetical silver-level plan based on the offerings available today. Then they looked at how the cost of that plan compares to the average silver plan that will be available on the exchange. Florida found premiums will rise between 7.6% and 58.8%, depending on the insurer. The average increase would be 35%.

The main driver of the premium increases is the Obamacare mandate that coverage be offered to everyone, said Kevin McCarty, Florida’s insurance commissioner. There are just short of a million enrollees in the individual market in Florida, while 3.8 million are uninsured. The state does not allow new entrants into a “high-risk pool,” which provides coverage to the sick.

“People who are in their 50s with high blood pressure have no coverage options,” he said.

Ohio, meanwhile, said there would be an average increase of 41% by comparing a trade association’s report of premiums for all plans available today with the average premium expected on the exchange.

Indiana officials said prices would rise an average of 72%. But they were looking at the cost of providing care, not actual premiums.

All of these rate hikes must still be reviewed by the federal government and do not take into account the fact that Americans with incomes up to $45,960 for an individual and $94,200 for a family of four will be eligible for federal subsidies paydayloans.

So why aren’t there such big premium increases in other states? New York, for example, already required that insurers provide comprehensive coverage to all who apply. Rates there could fall by half since the pool will expand to include many younger, healthier residents under Obamacare. But New York is more the exception than the rule, experts said.

Rate hikes depend on age and gender. To give consumers a better idea of how premiums will change, CNNMoney took a look at the plans provided by one insurer: Physicians Health Plan of Northern Indiana.

Our analysis found that 21-year-old men will pay a lot more for an exchange plan, but 42-year-old women and 62-year-old men will shell out less for a silver-level plan that comes with a $2,500 deductible and a roughly $25 co-pay for office visits.

Under this scenario, a young man’s monthly rate will rise to $214 on the exchange next year, up 63% from today. The woman, however, will pay $284, a drop of more than 7%, while the older man will be charged $615, a nearly 6% decrease. This is because Obamacare requires that women pay the same amount as men and does not allow insurers to charge older participants more than three times the young.

Physicians Health expects most enrollees to sign up for bronze or silver plans, which have lower monthly premiums but carry higher deductibles and co-pays, according to Jim Brunnemer, the insurer’s chief financial officer. Today, its members typically buy high deductible plans.

To be sure, there are some states where premiums will fall or come in lower than expected. The Obama administration pointed to a recent Department of Health and Human Services study of 11 states with publicly available premium data that showed rates are below Congressional Budget Office projections.

“When the marketplaces open on Oct. 1, plans will have to compete side by side, and consumers will be able to choose the one that best fits their budget and needs,” said Joanne Peters, a department spokeswoman.

While premiums may go up in other states, Obamacare advocates say people will receive more comprehensive coverage. Also, the law limits the amount people have to pay out-of-pocket for deductibles and co-pays to $6,350 in 2014.

“A lot of people will get more for their money,” said Sarah Lueck, senior policy analyst for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “Even people paying a higher rate will benefit. It will be a big change in most states.”


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