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Perishable Pundit
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If One Wants To Evaluate The Impact Of Raising The Minimum Wage.. One Has To Determine If It Actually Raises Compensation finds that having studies of all kinds pass over the Pundit desk throughout the years has clearly established one thing: The answer you get depends on the question you ask. So when Michael Lynn and Christopher Boone of the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration published a study — titled Have Minimum Wage Increases Hurt the Restaurant Industry? The Evidence Says No! — one is left looking at the rather interesting phrasing of the study question. 2/3/2016

What Business Are You In? A Lesson For Farmers From A New York City Real Estate Deal feels that sometimes numbers can be very deceptive — especially if one tries to calculate comparative returns on investment on different asset classes over long periods of time. Even with the recent decline in real estate prices in many parts of the country, one still hears about people who bought property for a pittance a long time ago and now can sell for large profits. In many cases, though, upon close examination these profits turn out to be less impressive than they seem to be, and the lesson is less about real estate than the power of compound interest. 9/27/2011

Krueger Appointment Does Not Bode Well For Industry’s Employment Concerns reports that President Obama, focusing on jobs, has selected Alan Krueger, Bendheim Professor of Economics at Princeton University, to chair the White House Council of Economic Advisers. It is rare that a nominee to this Council has any particular interaction with the food industry, but this selection has turned a few heads in the foodservice sector as Professor Krueger is famous as a result of a deeply flawed paper he wrote with Professor David Card, now with U.C. Berkeley, titled, “Minimum Wages & Employment: A Case Study of the Fast-Food Industry in New Jersey & Pennsylvania.” It was published in the American Economic Review and was wildly controversial because it was counterintuitive and it countervened the conventional economic understanding of demand curves. 9/12/2011

Keynes vs. Hayek In Rap: Rounds One and Two our piece, Is Locally Grow Produce “Worth It”, argued that the push for promotion of “locally grown” as a public policy did not stand up to basic economic scrutiny. Of course, economic literacy is important for everybody in a democracy, as we all have the opportunity to influence public policy through our votes and by reaching out to our elected representatives. We wanted to share two absolutely terrific rap videos that attempt to delineate the differences between two economists: John Maynard Keynes and F.A. Hayek. 5/2/2011

What To Do About Unemployment? feels that the United States has many serious economic problems, yet few are as serious as unemployment. This is because markets will recover, but people, once beaten down, often have a hard time bouncing back. Politicians often pay lip service to unemployment, but few dare take the serious steps that can help solve the problem. They tend to hope for a general rebound in the economy because that doesn’t require them to weigh in on specific changes, which will surely alienate one interest group or another. We decided to analyze the unemployment problem head on and came up with a 10 point plan for causing employment to boom and unemployment to drop dramatically. 10/14/2010

The Professor And The Entrepreneur: Alan S. Blinder vs Jim Prevor On The Nature Of Job Creation takes on Alan S. Blinder, a professor at Princeton and a former vice chairman of the Federal Reserve Board. His opinion influences many, and he is a highly intelligent man, but he lacks any real understanding of what moves entrepreneurs and what promotes entrepreneurialism. So when he wrote a column for The Wall Street Journal, we couldn’t let his financial analysis stand unanswered. We wrote a piece titled Professor Blinder Shows a Blindness to the Entrepreneurial Spirit, for The Weekly Standard. Here are some excerpts. 8/10/2010

Did LeBron James Offer A Lesson To Michelle Obama On How We Should Approach Food Deserts? wrote a piece in The Weekly Standard in which the thesis stated that LeBron James brought to the fore the way tax policy influences behavior. We then pointed out that politicians typically obscure this cost by cutting special breaks for high profile cases — but politicians don’t know how to do such a thing for an individual. We went on to question whether the First Lady’s current focus on food deserts, which involves subsidizing individual retailers, didn’t obscure the need for society to deal with public policy issues, such as security in inner cities. Here is an excerpt. 8/10/2010

Pundit’s Mailbag — Produce Industry Not Immune To Credit Card Fraud received this note regarding our piece, Cash Or Credit? Which Is More Expensive?, from John F. King, Owner of King Orchards, who writes expressing his frustration over variable rate credit card fees. It is not too difficult a problem. If one can, one simply assumes the highest costs and prices on that assumption — if someone uses a card that costs the merchant less, you make a tad more profit. Alternatively one can use the average cost paid for credit card fees over the course of the year — some sales are more profitable and some less, but they all average out. As far as the issue of third parties making deductions from a merchant account, there is something odd here. 1/28/2010

Cash Or Credit? Which Is More Expensive? remarks on a piece in The New York Times titled, “The Damage of Card Awards”, which posits that the “Fees that merchants build to cover rewards programs lead to higher prices, which are passed on to poorer customers.” The specific issue of credit card rewards is trivial. More broadly the whole issue of complaining about the cost of credit card fees is really an example of how hard it is to change our perspectives in business. 1/18/2010

Warning To Family Businesses: Death Tax Rears Its Ugly Head One Year From Now reports that the estate tax has expired. Barring a change in the law it will come back on January 1, 2011. United Fresh is involved in an ag coalition calling for an exemption for family farms. This is an attempt to address an undesirable side effect of the tax, families may have to sell their farm to pay the tax. It is, however, nothing but special interest politicking as there is no reason why a family should have to sell their produce wholesaling business, to pay the tax any more than they should have to sell their farm. The estate tax is a foolish tax. We wrote about it almost a decade ago here, and the basic points remain the same. 1/5/2010

Laying Groundwork During The Recession remembers over a year ago we ran, Tesco Uses Poor Economy As Excuse For Fresh & Easy Pullback, and followed up with, What Will Be The Fate of Fresh & Easy. Bill Gerlach, Research and Development Director with Melissa’s, responded to say no business would be open to expansion in a recession, and his point rings true. We are not Tesco, yet as this year closes, we thought it appropriate to share precisely how the Pundit elected to conduct business this recession year. When Bill Gerlach asked us: “Jim, would YOU seriously expand ANY business in this economic climate?” our answer was enthusiastically yes. Today’s Pundit will include several pieces that tell you what we did with this recession. 12/18/2009

Pundit’s Mailbag — Financial Shake-Ups And South Pacific received a nice note and a reading recommendation: “The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World” by Niall Ferguson, from James L. Novak, Extension Economist and Professor at Auburn University. We haven’t read Professor Ferguson’s new book, but the comments Professor Novak makes reminds us of two things. First, there is a hint of some of the work of Columbia University’s Joseph E. Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize-winning economist whose work has revolved around “Information Economics.” Second, Professor Novak’s comment about “shaking up the world order” reminds us of a scene from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical South Pacific, based on James A. Michener’s Tales of the South Pacific. 5/20/2009

Pundit’s Plan For Solving The Banking Crisis showcases a spoof that ran on Saturday Night Live making fun of the government’s flailing around in an attempt to find an approach that would solve the banking crisis. In it, the comedic clip portrays Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner unveiling a new plan to set aside $420 Billion. This time the money won’t go for more bailouts… no, instead, the $420 billion will “go to the first individual who comes up with a workable plan to solve the banking crisis.” Well, we couldn’t let a challenge like that go to waste, so we wrote up the solution. The Weekly Standard, a high-powered political magazine based in DC, picked up our bait: How to Detoxify the Banks. 3/27/2009

Perishable Thoughts — Winners Are Those Who Dare thanks Scott Danner, Chief Operating Officer of Liberty Fruit Co., Kansas City, Kansas, who has been among the more prolific contributors to the Pundit in general, and this Perishable Thoughts section in particular. We are not certain that there is some preponderance of evidence that those who dare tend to win. Many who dare probably lose. We are certain, however, that almost all the winners are those who dared. In this sense it may be analogous to investing. If you concentrate your investments, you are at great risk. Most people who select one single stock to own do not become rich; they go broke. 3/6/2009

Advice For Republicans: Seize The High Ground debate over President Obama’s stimulus proposal is gaining traction as people come to see it as a grab-bag of special-interest projects the Democrats are trying to push through without scrutiny. Now is the moment for the Republicans to seize the high ground by insisting upon “interest-neutral” principles like good government rules, or adopting substantive standards by which the stimulus bill could merit their votes. This stimulus bill may yet persuade Americans that an effective government — a government that works — is one that can achieve intended aims. Yet a government — or a bill — that attempts to do everything from stimulate the economy to promote alternative energy to increase college aid and expand access to the Internet will do none of these things well. By insisting on policies narrowly tailored to achieve intended aims — in this case stimulate the economy to get us out of a recession — Republicans will actually be the party of strong government, defined as a government capable of achieving its intended goals. 2/6/2009

Pundit’s Mailbag — More Credit For Banks, More Debt For Families considers that, as the industry and the nation mull over the matter of a giant national stimulus program, we might do well to turn to the wisdom of Joe McGuire. By day Joe is a mild-mannered V.P. of Sales at Rosemont Farms. By night he is obviously a student of classical economics, as is evidenced by this letter he submitted to us at the peak of the financial crisis. There are many details of the stimulus bill that are debatable. Is it large enough? Is it too large? Will the money be spent too slowly? Will it be spent in areas of the economy with spare capacity? One could go on and on. The key question though is whether, even getting the details right, is “stimulus” what we actually need? Or as Joe puts it, “It strikes me as odd that some think we can cure the problem of excessive credit with more credit.” 2/6/2009

Perishable Thoughts — Shovel-Ready recalls that when he appeared on Meet the Press on December 7, 2008 President-elect used a phrase that has become the very centerpiece of the American political debate over the President’s proposed stimulus package. The phrase he used? “Shovel-ready”. The phrase “shovel-ready” is absolutely crucial to President Obama’s stimulus package. The unfortunate truth is that the stimulative effects of “shovel-ready” projects are probably near zero. 1/28/2009

Perishable Thoughts — A Time No More For Ostentatious Spending? poses the question, now that we live in the midst of a recession, what is the effect of such events on human happiness? One of the effects of so many people losing so much so quickly is a cultural shift in which ostentation is out of fashion. Retailers such as Whole Foods, Nieman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue have suffered, and this is popularly assumed to be a matter of affordability. Perhaps. Perhaps, though, there is more to it. Maybe there was a time when showing one could afford such stores added prestige, while today, showing you can afford such things makes you a boor. Perhaps simple is the new upscale. Our Perishable Thought for today exposes the paradox of human contentment. 1/22/2009

Perishable Thoughts — Keeping Things ‘In Perspective’ For 2009 relates how The Wall Street Journal recently ran a non-fiction potboiler entitled, “The Weekend That Wall Street Died.” The article is the story of the ending, perhaps forever, of the freewheeling, lightly regulated culture of Wall Street investment banking. In a sidebar to the print edition of the story, The Wall Street Journal featured quotes from different investment bankers at different phases in the crisis. We’ve selected one of these quotes as our first Perishable Thought of 2009 because it strikes us as not only almost precisely correct but as a kind of wisdom that we can all take from this “annus horriblus.” 1/7/2009

If Men Were Angels received a thoughtful letter just in time for this holiday edition of the Pundit in response to our recent piece, So Much For Regulation: SEC Misses A Big One…Why Think FDA Will Do Better?, from John Shelford of Shelford Consulting. We read John’s letter on morality and human virtue as posing four questions for us, grand questions, and indeed, at Christmas time, a religious holiday that has been adopted as a secular one as well, these questions are apropos. Let us try and wrestle with them one by one. 12/25/2008

So Much For Regulation: SEC Misses A Big One...Why Think FDA Will Do Better? explores how when it comes to those who see increased government regulation as some kind of panacea for food safety problems, the case of Bernard L. Madoff offers instruction. This example of S.E.C. negligence goes all the way back to the Clinton administration. It may speak to an inherent limitation of federal regulation: It encourages passivity by others in the chain. We don’t know why the S.E.C. didn’t aggressively follow up on “credible accusations”. What these lapses add up to is a certainty that wishes don’t make things so and that simply charging a regulatory body with keeping food safe is no more likely to make it so than charging the S.E.C. with keeping accounts safe made that so. 12/18/2008

Perishable Thoughts — Courage To Bet On Your Ideas saw that the Times of London ran a piece, titled, “Fed Throws Out the Rulebook”, which pointed out the unprecedented nature of the actions by the Federal Reserve Board, in one section saying “Mr. Bernanke has launched the US on an uncharted path of what economists call “quantitative easing”, emergency measures to stimulate an economy in the clutches of deflationary collapse.” Well Mr. Bernanke certainly has confidence in his convictions, which brought to mind this fairly shop-worn quote from a pop-psychology classic. We can praise Ben Bernanke for acting boldly but, really, the open question is not is he bold or timid but, rather, is he correct? 12/18/2008

Return To Prudent Lending observes that as our economic woes continue, many are making the mistake of seeing the restriction of credit as an anomaly… as a symptom of the credit crisis… as something that if markets were functioning normally would not happen. Perhaps, however, it is the loose credit standards of recent years that should be viewed as an anomaly. What now seems horribly strict is really just a return to prudent lending standards. In fact what is really happening is that the distinction between equity and debt is being reestablished. So now what? Does the economy just stop? Not at all. We stop hiding risk or pretending it doesn’t exist. 12/9/2008

Will It Work? is the question many ask as they look at shrinking 401-K statements and read headlines with both President and President-elect declaring their plans to stabilize the economy. Here we showcase appearances by Peter Schiff, who heads up Euro Pacific Capital, and has been as accurate as anybody in predicting what would happen to the stock market and to the broader economy. His diagnosis — that we need to have a deep recession, allow companies and people to go bankrupt so we can liquidate their debts — is surely harsh, but that doesn’t mean he is wrong. Schiff is really saying that all our efforts to stimulate demand are on the wrong side of the equation. We should instead focus on the production side. Aye but here is the rub: Stimulation of production is just as flawed as stimulation of consumption if the production is not valued. 12/3/2008

Bailout Analysis Ahead Of The Times thought we would give a two-minute shout out recapping some of our breaking coverage of the financial crisis to point out some of the really incredible value we’ve been delivering on the Pundit, and with all this value being delivered, if we bump into each other at PMA, or if you come by our booth # 515 to say hello, we don’t want to hear that you are not getting value for your subscription price. Oh wait, other publications charge hundreds of dollars for subscription. The Perishable Pundit? We don’t charge at all. What a value indeed. 10/23/2008

Bolstered By ‘Too-Big-to-Fail’ Theory, GM/Chrysler-Merger Plan Is To Make Two Losers Into A Winner asks if you’ve wondered why General Motors and Chrysler may merge? So what could be the point? How can combining these two losers make a winner? How about this as a theory: GM wants to bulk up. GM has a 24% share of the US auto market, Chrysler 11%. Combine them and you have over a third of the market. What is the lesson of the last few weeks? Be “too big to fail”!!! The word on the street is that GM President Frederick Henderson has been pushing the deal. Perhaps he is thinking he can become so big so that if GM threatens bankruptcy the government will feel it has to lend it money until the business cycle turns. 10/16/2008

Lost Incentives For Home Buying reports many commentators say individuals who imprudently bought houses with mortgages they could not afford to pay deserve a share of the blame, we think the situation is a little more complex. These consumers were not irrational; the old model of a substantial down payment no longer worked because home prices rose faster than families could save. Now the psychology has shifted. Instead of rushing to buy a house because they won’t be able to afford it next year, people feel they can wait. People currently have no reason to borrow money. We are not urging any of the following as a policy prescription, but the only policy changes available to increase the demand for housing would most likely come in one of these three areas. 10/16/2008

Perishable Thoughts — Reacting To Adversity contemplates how whether one is sold out by his stock broker because he was on margin, loses one’s house because he couldn’t make the interest rate reset or comes out on the wrong side of a produce speculation, one question worth pondering is how one ought to react to adversity. In our recent financial calamity, many took risks and now they have turned out badly. Yet the risks were not so dramatic as those taken by the author of this Perishable Thought, Robert Falcon Scott, and the members of his expedition. And the consequences of losing are not as great. 10/16/2008

Perishable Thoughts — Stock-Market Fundamentals imparts investing wisdom from stock market authorities Benjamin Graham and David Dodd. The problem is that the prerequisite for Graham & Dodd’s advice is having money one doesn’t need. One of the things that has happened is that many people have come to believe they should be able to make a living off their investments. Today there are plenty of twenty-somethings who set out to make a living day-trading, but with inadequate capital to make a living, they try to use leverage. This is significant because our quote becomes irrelevant if one is on margin. The key is to put oneself in a position so that the gyrations of the market don’t matter. Then one can invest by identifying opportunities and waiting for the world to see them as well. 10/15/2008

Laws Encourage Imprudent Behavior On Wall Street references a New York Times piece entitled, The Road to Lehman’s Failure Was Littered With Lost Chances. As we read it, we realized that our current laws may be combining with compensation practices to put the interests of executives and board members out of alignment with the public interest. Why do we say this? The focus in both law and compensation practice has been to ally the interests of executives with those of shareholders. What we have learned in this financial crisis is that, in many cases, the public interest is not so concerned with avoiding the losses that individual shareholders might suffer if their shares are diluted, but it seems heavily focused on avoiding the panic that accompanies corporate collapse, especially of financial institutions. 10/14/2008

Perishable Thoughts — Something For Nothing asks with all the focus on bailouts by the federal government and, in fact, governments around the world, one question worth asking is when the government gives money to “bail out” an institution, where does that money come from? A wry thought on this subject is provided by Rick Eastes, Director of Special Projects for Ballantine Produce Company. We think that the issue of bailouts tends to be thought of in two steps. First, the focus is on the immediate problem and the “solution” the bailout will provide. That the bailout must be paid for either by individuals — perhaps in the form of higher taxes or, collectively, perhaps through an inflation of the currency, is thought of only later. 10/14/2008

Perishable Thoughts comments that there is much evidence that the financial crisis and the general tightening of the credit markets has seeped into the general economy. Things are not looking good. But at times like this is when we can really appreciate being in the food business. This all came to mind because we have been traveling extensively and one of our stops was Washington, DC. We stayed at the Mayflower and turned to the Guest Services Directory to check out what restaurants the hotel had. We were greeted with a quote that seemed apropos for a moment when the need of people to eat was quite literally, our industry’s “bread & butter” in this uncertain economy. 10/7/2008

Pundit’s Six-Point Proposal To Fix Financial Failures shared a response from Robert Salomon, a professor at NYU’s Stern School of Business in regard to our recent piece Government Bailout Requires Deeper Analysis. Robert writes that doing nothing in response to this crisis “will result in financial Armageddon.” The situation is serious, but we think that allowing one person, without any real supervision, to allocate $700 billion is a recipe for corruption. We also think that it won’t solve the problem. We need to act quickly and any rational system for valuing and acquiring assets on this scale will take months to set up. So we would propose the following. 10/1/2008

McCain And Obama Make A Proposal — The Intellectual Bankruptcy Of Our Politics May Be A Bigger Problem Than The Financial Insolvency Of Wall Street. interprets raising the cap on federally insured bank deposits to $250,000 from $100,000 as good politics — a way to get support from people with over $100,000 in the bank — but it is horrible policy. On the one hand, that is way too much insurance for the government to give to people who are chasing yield. On the other hand, it is a wildly insufficient amount when it comes to stopping bank panics. The McCain and Obama proposals provide too much incentive to speculate on getting the best yield — without providing businesses and citizens the assurance that their checking account balances are completely safe. 10/1/2008

Government Bailout Requires Deeper Analysis examines how the government’s plan to “fix” the financial crisis is built on an incorrect premise and probably won’t work, it is either unnecessary or immoral. In a sense, it is just a pay-off to powerful political interests. Our opposition has little to do with ideological purity or an opposition to government intervention in the markets. Here we explain our six concerns. Once we get beyond critique of this particular proposal and things the government is doing now, we can start thinking about broader changes that would make it less likely that we would have such problems in the future. We think these five points would be a good start. 9/26/2008

Perishable Thoughts thanks Tim York, President of Markon Cooperative, who sent a quote perfect for reflecting on a financial meltdown. There is no question that one learns more from failure than success and, as the quote implies, success can be positively dangerous. Few things worse can happen to a young man than to win a lot of money the first time he goes to a racetrack or a casino. Indeed the arrogance of the “Masters of the Universe” played a big role in the actions leading to the credit crisis. Yet in our current situation, we are not so sure we would accept chalking it up to hubris born of success; in many cases it strikes us as a function of the way people were paid. 9/26/2008

AIG Bailout Gives Short-term Relief Many Dangers Long-term sees the Fed’s decision to lend $85 billion to AIG in exchange for an ownership stake as basically putting the company into bankruptcy, but in an orderly way so that its obligations will be honored and its assets do not have to be sold at fire-sale prices. The bail out was a bad idea. The government is either wrong about the consequences of an AIG failure or it got snookered by Wall Street. Although the bailout is structured — as was the Bear Stearns bailout — to reduce moral hazard for owners — it increases the likelihood of future reckless behavior. In addition, by not compelling the sale of assets, the Treasury’s bailout avoids a speedy reckoning. 9/18/2008

Perishable Thoughts — Youth, Experience And The Subprime Crisis extends a hat tip to Richard A. Aust of LiquidPress Company in Lake Forest, California. He sent along one of his favorite quotes from Dee Hock, founder and former CEO of VISA Credit Card Corporation, which focuses on how to hire great people. We give our own opinions on great people, and in the context of the current financial crisis, illuminate one of the eternal tensions in society: A tension between the energy of youth, with its blindness to the possibility of loss, and the restraining influence of the aged, with memories of a lifetime of experience in which they have seen loss. 9/18/2008

Perishable Thoughts — Lessons From Bernard Baruch thinks that with the Dow Jones Industrial Average down over 500 points on Monday, we thought it appropriate to contemplate the words of noted financier Bernard Mannes Baruch, who was not only a financial wizard, becoming a millionaire on Wall Street before 30, but also a prominent counselor to Presidents, from Wilson to Kennedy. Yet we elected to highlight Baruch’s quote about information because the truth is that there is plenty of money out there. What has been missing is good information to allow legitimate business decisions. 9/16/2008

More To Bear Stearns/JP Morgan Deal Than Meets The Eye recalls how our piece, Lessons For Everyone From Bear Stearns, pointed out that in Bear’s collapse, there were lessons for all businesspeople regarding leverage. A sharp young academic at NYU’s Stern School of Business gave us an insight, in a piece entitled, Rescue for Bear or Bailout for JP Morgan, that we hadn’t seen before as an explanation to help us better understand the Bear Stearns/JP Morgan deal. The information is not publicly available to test this thesis, but that doesn’t mean it is wrong, and it is a useful reminder that we often have no choice but to operate but in a state of ignorance. 4/11/2008

Lessons For Everyone From Bear Stearns observes that the collapse of Bear Stearns there will be many questions to be addressed. One valuable one is for all business people to understand how such a dramatic collapse could occur. Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase said of Bear’s downfall: “No one on Wall Street could have anticipated this,” but it is not true. What happened was unpredictable as to timing but highly predictable as to likelihood. There are two timeless business lessons that the collapse of Bear Stearns should remind all business people of: leverage is a two-edged sword and borrowing short and lending or investing long is a big problem. 3/25/2008

A Tip About TIPS explains the term TIPS refers to Treasury-Inflation Protected Securities, basically, Treasury bonds where the principal amount of the bond fluctuates with the consumer price index. Many people find them complex — although they really are not. What is interesting about this article is that the author, Brett Arends, ridicules them as an investment in the current interest rate environment. He goes on to call the investment absurd. We think that Mr. Arends is missing the point entirely. The fact that the market is driving the yields so low on inflation-protected bonds is a clear indication that the market — the collective wisdom of people investing money — is expecting very high inflation. 2/22/2008

Subprime Crisis Affects Us All shares a humorous U.K. video take on the subprime mortgage crisis which perfectly captures the absurdity of the situation. The government is desperately trying to do something, but the situation is constraining. The dollar is weak, commodity prices are high… if the Fed tries to lower interest rates enough to save all these institutions, we can expect inflation to zoom. Many of the government proposals are going to make the problem worse. Many other plans are outright catastrophes. Long term, there are a few steps we could take that reduce the likelihood of such a crisis happening again. 12/14/2007

On Other Things Perishable in case anyone needs a reminder that food is not the only thing perishable… just take a look at the news that Acer will be acquiring Gateway. Gateway shares peaked at $84 in November 1999 and then began a more than seven-year slide in value. Earlier this month, the stock bottomed out at $1.13 a share. Gateway shares jumped 50% on the takeover news Monday, closing at $1.82. Fruit must be eaten while ripe. 8/29/2007


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