I continue to get lots of questions about this Jim Rickards ad from Agora, and the ad itself has been (clumsily) updated a few times since we covered it back in November of 2017, so I’m (lightly) updating my coverage here… I’ll cut to the chase at the start and say that no, President Trump did not nominate a “gold bug” to run the Federal Reserve, and the US did not cooperate with the world’s other major economies to form a new gold standard on January 1, 2018… and I’d bet you whatever you want that they won’t do it on November 8, 2018, either.
So that’s a long way of saying that most of the article below was first published on November 7, 2017, when I first covered this ad. It has been lightly updated, with some additional sarcasm applied to cover the interim nine months… indeed, I’d say it has been more carefully updated than the ad itself, which seems to have been updated solely through the use of a “find and replace” change for the dates and still refers to Janet Yellen as a member of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, but, well, that’s just a little extra snarkiness from me — no charge.
This ad is so ridiculous I resisted spending time with it for a while… but the questions are piling up, so let’s dig in and see what Jim Rickards is peddling. Be warned, I’ll probably use too many words and may do a bit of ranting.
The basic premise is the same one he has used for years now in his ads — the dollar is going to weaken (or collapse) and be replaced by some variation of the gold standard, because that’s the only way to solve the US dollar’s problems and reset the global economic balance (and deal with our massive debt). He used to refer to this idea as “Reagan Gold,” since Ronald Reagan was a proponent of returning to the gold standard but was reportedly talked out of it by his advisors… and the fearmongering for a while was focused on the Yuan supplanting the dollar as the world’s “reserve currency” … now it’s “Trump’s Reboot” that features as the ad headline.
I’ll go out on a limb and let you know my bias up front: I think that’s ridiculous. The notion that any government will willingly give up control of its money supply and be restrained by a gold backing of any sort is laughable. The cat is out of the bag, we’re not going to be able to catch it and stuff it back in.
I do agree that “fiat currencies” (that’s “all currencies,” in case you’re wondering — there are no asset-backed currencies currently) are going to lose value over time, and that we might see that accelerate into real inflation at some point, but I can’t see Donald Trump or Xi Jinping deciding that fixing the currency to some arbitrary amount of gold and giving up the ability to print and borrow from the future is a good idea. Those who have control don’t easily surrender it — candidates are happy to talk about the gold standard and a return to monetary discipline, but once they’re actually in office no one wants discipline if they’re told that it will hurt their ability to increase military spending, or provide tax cuts, or constrain their options in whatever way they care about.
If gold is used to somehow back a formal currency again, I suspect it would be by China in an effort to competitively leverage the yuan into prominence, as the US did with the dollar in the first half of the 20th century… and I suspect it wouldn’t work for long, because China is going to have to go on a deficit spending spree to keep its own population mollified in the next few decades, too, as their country ages and increases its consumption.
US debt and consumption and Chinese industrialization and manufacturing will no longer be the twin pillars of the global economy in the decades to come, most likely, but I don’t expect that the world will give up on its addiction to growth (which is partially fueled by inflation, and currency devaluation, because that makes people feel that they’re making progress), or that countries will surrender their ability to undercut their neighbors by devaluing their currencies — the world monetary order will probably evolve in some way none of us can predict, but it’s hard to imagine Germany and Japan and China lining up behind the US to support US consumption or monetary leadership again, as they have in the past, or even just to prop up their US customers.
So that long-winded screed is where I’m coming from… now that I’ve got that off my chest, let’s see what Rickards is actually recommending….
“I believe President Trump will host an international monetary summit at his ‘Winter White House’ in Florida, the historic Mar-a-Lago resort.
“Using his stature as leader of the free world, he’ll bring the financial leaders of the globe together.
“This would include delegates from the U.S., China, Japan, Germany, Italy, France, the UK and the International Monetary Fund.
“Then, they’ll agree to simultaneously revalue all of their currencies against gold until the price reached $10,000 per ounce. (If you’re skeptical, I’ll give you ironclad proof that this could happen in a second.)
“The Federal Reserve board will then call a special board meeting… vote on the new policy… walk outside and announce to the world that effective immediately, the price of gold is $10,000 per ounce.
“The Fed will make the $10,000 price stick by using the Treasury’s gold in Fort Knox and the major U.S. bank gold dealers to conduct ‘open market operations’ in gold.”
And dammit, he plays unfair by saying he’s going to use math! People hate math!
“For mathematical reasons I’ll explain in just a second, gold will need to be $10,000. No more, no less.”
And, of course, you’ll get rich from this if you own the right assets:
“This will immediately put an end to the currency wars and the debt-based dollar system.
“It will be a one-time “reboot” period that will put the world on solid footing for economic growth for decades to come.
“The immediate adjustment would create a massive windfall for gold bullion holders and owners of gold mining shares (though that’s not the true opportunity here).”
You can’t create value out of nothing, of course, not on a grand scale, so if this does turn out to happen it would not be because gold suddenly becomes four or five times more valuable… it would be because the value of the US dollar is slashed versus gold. So yes, the gold price would go up dramatically in dollar terms — but in that case, there would also likely be massive stock market inflation in US$ terms. Everything would go up in dollar terms, but the dollar would collapse (as it arguably should… but who would vote for that?)
I think the problem, at least in Trump’s view and in the view of most recent Presidents, if they were being honest behind closed doors, is not that the US economy needs a stronger backing to the dollar… it’s that the US needs a weaker dollar to help deter imports and encourage exports and make it more feasible to service the mounting federal debt and meet other financial obligations. Rickards cites a Stratfor article about Trump’s interest in a new global monetary accord to reset exchange rates (with or without gold being involved), like the Plaza Accord of the 1980s or the Bretton Woods Accord after World War Two, and that’s worth a read if you want a broader perspective.
I’m not an internationally renowned economist, I haven’t written any books about monetary policy… that’s just my opinion and assessment. I might be wrong, I’d just urge you to keep an open mind to the many different possibilities that exist — the same story about the end of the US dollar has been peddled with vigor by newsletter and TV pundits since the financial crisis (well, really since the 1970s, off and on), and the return to some sort of gold standard, and wealth for those who choose the right gold-related investment, is the common thread that runs through most of those pitches in recent years.
So far, those predicting the collapse of the dollar have all been very, very wrong — or, at the least, absurdly hyperbolic. The dollar is collapsing… it’s just happening very, very slowly.
Unsustainable debt in the 1980s became catastrophic deficits in the 1990s and the end of the world in the 2000s and the rise of the Yuan and Euro to crush the US$ in the 2010s, and we’ll soon find out what the predicted calamity is for the 2020s… sometimes some of the predictions of doom will be right, at least for short periods of time, but taking all of them seriously and being frightened out of the market for any big chunk of the last thirty or forty years could easily have been catastrophic for your portfolio. Read the doomsayers, sure, but don’t believe everything you read — for the past thirty-plus years it has been pretty easy to build a logical argument for the collapse of the US dollar (or of the United States in general), and for the past 30 years that has been the wrong argument to follow. That doesn’t mean it will always be wrong… but it means making a big bet on the timing is foolhardy.
Logical arguments are easy to build in complex systems, especially when the writer is (or sounds like) a well-informed expert in areas that the reader doesn’t understand fully… and even more so when the people who are reading that argument already have an ideological axe to grind (as most of us do in this poisoned partisan environment, where “winning” is better than being intelligent or correct).
In general, if you find yourself nodding at these kinds of ads and saying to yourself “that’s what I’ve been telling everyone all along!” … you’re being played.
Newsletter ads use political figures as attention-getters — they know that if you love Reagan or Trump or Obama or Clinton (or loathe them), using those names will get your attention, and if you agree with the ad’s premise (that Obama destroyed the economy and Trump is heroically trying to save it, in this case), then you’re almost on the hook — that’s how they use the tribalism of the American voter to get you to type in your credit card number (this guy agrees with me, he must be smart! Us smart guys gotta stick together! We’re the only thing keeping the world from falling apart! Thanks for letting me send you $79, Mr. Rickards, please send me the ad for your $2,000 service next!)
It works the other way, too — it’s just not as clean, and not as lucrative, because the core of the modern newsletter business is built on appealing to the people who are most likely to be active investors and have extra money, which, on average, is a 60-year-old white man who leans conservative. That’s not true of every newsletter, of course, nor of every subscriber, but I think age and wealth are the most reliable demographic indicators for “might want to subscribe to a newsletter,” and they’re also the most reliable demographic indicators for “conservative politics” … and if you can appeal to someone’s instincts and form a bond with them, you’re halfway to a sale. All you have to do after that, is convince them that you’ve got the secret to make them rich.
So let’s move on to that, shall we?
January 1November 8, President Trump Could Have Total Control Over the Federal Reserve. The First Time for Any President Since 1914
January 1November 8, 2018, could end up being a conservative date.
“Everything I’m explaining could conceivably happen much sooner than I’m explaining here…”
Yes, President Trump has the opportunity to fill a lot of seats on the Federal Reserve… though if his appointment of Jay Powell as the next Fed Chair to succeed Janet Yellen is any indication, he’s not going to do anything drastic (the ad has been running for about a year now and originally said that Rickards thinks a “gold bug” has the inside track to be the next Fed Chair, but Jay Powell was nominated and that didn’t happen).
They didn’t even bother to update the ad, other than using that new “subscribe now!” November 8, 2018 date — Rickards’ ad still refers to Janet Yellen as a Fed Governor, though she retired more than six months ago when Powell was sworn in to replace her. So take those dates with a HUGE amount of skepticism, they’re designed to spur action on the subscription, not to predict the future — Rickards probably wouldn’t be right in predicting the future with any specificity anyway, of course, because he’s a human being, but this date is almost certainly coming from the marketers. They sent out essentially the ad back in November of 2017 with a January 1 2018 “deadline”, then again in March of 2018 with a March 21 deadline (also failing to update for Jay Powell succeeding Yellen as Fed Chair), and now I’m getting the latest version again with a November 2018 date.
Presidential candidates hate the Fed, Presidents love the Fed, and Powell is very much a moderate Fed insider and has followed Janet Yellen’s path pretty precisely… and the Fed’s policies and leadership have not been particularly partisan, we’ve seen the same easy money and dollar devaluation policies hold pretty strong sway under both “Republican” and “Democratic” Fed Governors for decades now.
Remember that math we threatened? Here’s where Rickards re-introduces it:
“If they choose more than $10,000 per ounce, we’ll have severe inflation.
“And if they choose less than $10,000 per ounce, we’ll have severe deflation.
“It needs to be $10,000 per ounce.
“That’s a mathematical certainty….
“($26.5 trillion x 40%) ÷ 1 billion oz. of gold = $10,000 per ounce.”
$26.5 trillion is “M1”, the total money supply. I don’t know where he gets that — the US M1 is about $3.5 trillion, so $26.5 trillion is probably about right, though M1 only counts actual paper (and coin) currency and “demand deposits” (checking accounts, pretty much) so it excludes a vast amount of what most people would consider “money” (CDs, money market accounts, etc., probably totaling about 3-4X that amount).
The 40% is the “gold backing” percentage that he thinks will be implemented (since that’s in the original Federal Reserve authorization legislation), and the one billion ounces is roughly how much gold currently exists in the world (above ground). That’s fine, and we know what numbers he’s working with — but to say that this equation has only one possible set of inputs and one possible answer as a “mathematical certainty” is to ignore that any possible “reboot” of the world’s monetary relationships would be the result of a negotiation performed by human beings.
Rickards is arguing that gold is critical and is the only “real” money… but he also says that arbitrarily increasing the gold price by more than 600% and fixing the gold price won’t cause deflation or inflation? If gold is going to go up, then the value of the dollar has to go down… right? There have to be two sides to the equation.
But anyway, if the gold price is set by the US government in some new “Mar a Lago Accord” and gold is suddenly worth $10,000 an ounce, that dramatically increases the value of gold producers in dollar terms. Even if this doesn’t create massive asset inflation throughout the rest of the economy, it probably leads to every country nationalizing its gold mines, if we’re being honest… but let’s pretend that doesn’t happen – Barrick Gold produces 5.5 million ounces a year or so, which would mean that their revenue goes from $8 billion to $55 billion, and their gross margin goes from about 35% to 90%. That level of cash trickles down quickly through the mining economy, every single possible gold deposit is subject to a bidding war of epic proportions, environmental restrictions are lifted (or cash is thrown at solving environmental problems at particular mines), labor and mining costs go up dramatically as everyone pushes to produce more… it would be bedlam, particularly because the price would be set in that narrow band, it wouldn’t be allowed to fall back down as production dramatically increases. Even the bitcoin miners might give up and become actual miners.
Like I said, the genie doesn’t go back into the bottle easily. Or the cat back into the bag, or whatever metaphor I threw at you earlier.
And there sure as heck isn’t any way that the world’s serfs would stand by and say, “OK, let’s go to a gold standard — but first, make sure all the people who have gold make some windfall profits, OK? Great!”
If you’re going to switch to a currency that is backed by something, and want to fix problems and deter governmental debt excess, rather than reward speculators, I would assume that it would have to be at something approximating the current price… either it’s backed by some combination of natural resources, or by a smaller percentage of gold, or whatever — the important thing would not be fixing the problems we already have and letting the gold price “catch up” to where things would be if we had stayed on the gold standard all along, it would be preventing the future problems that are coming because of the unsustainable debt-fueled system, and allowing for stability in the future. Even that seems unlikely to me, in a world where “muddle through” is everyone’s mantra and the absence of global leadership is palpable, but it’s at least imaginable.
More from Rickards…
“From the year 1450 to roughly 1925, from Portugal to the British Empire, the world’s superpowers have risen and fallen on the strength and acceptance of their currencies.
“Based on centuries of data analyzed by the president of world markets at a multibillion-dollar bank, the average lifespan for a world reserve currency like the U.S. dollar is a little bit more than 90 years.
“And get this: The dollar has been the world reserve’s currency for 91 years!
“The clock is ticking and Donald Trump knows it.”
Well, if you consider that the dollar was really “gold” until Nixon removed us from the gold standard, you could argue that Bretton Woods fixed agreements and gold were really the reserve currency until then… so it’s only been the “fiat dollar” that’s been the reserve currency for 45 years or so. And for probably half that time or more, it was largely because the US military was the protector of Saudi Arabia’s oil reserves (solidifying the “petro dollar” rule and forcing everyone to use dollars to buy oil) and defender of Western Europe’s borders… and, frankly, because no other currency was big enough or trusted enough to handle the role. The US being the only “superpower” in the world for 20+ years and a massive consumer market, despite the more recent re-emergence of China and Russia, clearly has had a huge impact on currencies as well.
Rickards also cites a Wall Street Journal article about the only solution to debt and trade problems being “monetary policy” and resetting America’s economy — it wasn’t actually an article, it was an opinion piece, but its’ worth a read and you can see it here.
Dammit, I got off track again. What’s this investment he’s talking up?
He finally gets to sounding a bit more rational…
“DO NOT PUT 100% OF YOUR WEALTH INTO GOLD.
“I need to emphasize that because people often misunderstand me and think I recommend putting everything you own in gold.
“Instead I recommend you take five very simple steps immediately to prepare for this massive monetary shift that’s coming.
“Don’t get me wrong, I support a dollar reboot by President Trump.
“But we need to be honest with ourselves.
“Just because we may agree with President Trump’s move… doesn’t mean that it will happen with 100% certainty or that the transition will be smooth.”
That’s an understatement, that a sudden 80%+ devaluation of the dollar might not be “smooth” (that’s just the flip side to saying that gold would rise 600% — the dollar would fall 85% in gold terms)… but what are his five steps?
“Step #1: Position Yourself for 1,000% Gains in the ‘Dollar Reboot Composite’
“I may be the only person who you’ll hear about this from. I call it the ‘Dollar Reboot Composite’ because it’s the perfect play for this new monetary event.
“This little-known investment is not a coin or bar of gold, silver, platinum or palladium.
“But it IS a physical precious metal investment.
“It’s not a stock, bond, option, ETF, miner, currency or anything else you’ve ever heard of. If you try to find it on Google Finance or Yahoo Finance, you won’t.
“You CANNOT buy it in your brokerage account.
“And your local bullion dealer WILL NOT know about it either.”
That could be pretty much anything in the “allocated storage” category, but I expect he’s talking up the “PMC Ounce” — which is just a way of creating a managed asset out of precious metals and selling it like a “token” that’s part gold, part silver, part platinum and part palladium. In fact, the folks behind the PMC Ounce have trumpeted the fact that Rickards has recommended their product, though I don’t know if they’re being truthful or not – that promo piece is here.
I suppose it’s easy and convenient, though I don’t know what their premiums and discounts are to buy and sell “PMC Ounces” compared to the cost to buy and sell gold or silver coins or bars. The chart on their website indincates that PMC has outperformed gold, silver and platinum over the past ten years, mostly, it seems, because of the leverage of silver during its huge run… but certainly it’s close to the performance of gold. When Rickards first cited this idea about a year ago, the PMC Ounce was worth $87.33, and it’s about half gold ($44.69 gold, $15.92 silver, $17.47 palladiium, $9.25 platinum) — the proportions are based on weight, so by weight the theoretical construct of the PMC Ounce is 93.75% silver, 3.5% gold, 1.75% palladium and 1% platinum.
I don’t know anything bad about PMC Ounce and the folks who run it, the Neptune Global Bullion Exchange, and I’m happy enough buying gold and silver coins in the proportions I like without dealing with another online storage account so I probably won’t investigate this further, but if you find those folks to be trustworthy in providing allocated storage of those precious metals in the quantities assessed by the PMC formula, the main questions to ask would be what kind of premium you pay to buy those precious metals, and what you pay in terms of a discount to sell them and “withdraw” your money.
For smaller purchases (anything below $70,000 or so), my quick look at their website indicates that the current “premium” you pay to buy a PMC Ounce is a pretty steep 5.5%, so presumably that (and the discount you get when you sell, which they don’t disclose as clearly) is where their profit comes from… so hopefully they don’t also charge a management or storage fee, though I didn’t research further. All providers of precious metals for either delivery or storage charge a premium over the “spot” price, though it’s not always that high — for silver the lowest premium is probably in the 3% range for coins and bars, for gold it’s slightly lower, with generic coins (like Krugerrands) often available at about a 2% markup. And unless you’re selling them yourself on ebay, you’ll probably also have to take a similar discount cut to sell them back to a dealer.
So that’s one — the PMC Ounce. Take it or leave it. It is now worth about $80.84 as of September 17, 2018, so it’s down about 7.5% since I first covered this ad on November 7, 2017, which makes sense… gold is down about 6%, and silver tends to be much more volatile and is down more.
“Step #2: Get 10% of Your Assets in Precious Metals, the Correct Way
“I recommend that every single American immediately put 10% of their investable assets into gold and silver…
“Donald Trump himself owns hundreds of ounces worth of physical gold.
“So does Trump’s budget chief — along with nearly $1 million in gold investments.
“But it pains me to see everyday Americans make simple mistakes when buying gold… or get suckered into buying collectible gold coins.”
He provides a chart to tell you what that means, so this isn’t a “secret” step — basically, if you do the math he’s suggesting you put 10% of your money into physical precious metals, with 90% of that gold and 10% silver, starting with US Gold and Silver Eagle coins until you get up to a big enough number that you need to buy gold bullion bars. His “special report” will include his parameters and guidelines for how to calculate, buy, and store those goodies… but you can also certainly research that and make your own call.
For those who ask, I have most recently been using APMEX for buying and selling precious metal products online and find them reliable, and their prices and service competitive (I don’t have a business relationship of any kind with them, and I can’t promise that they won’t screw up, I’m just sharing my personal experience). And you can keep your coins wherever you want — a safe, a self-storage facility like Porter Stansberry was recommending for a while, a coffee can buried in the yard, a safe deposit box, whatever makes you comfortable (just don’t tell me where it is… but do tell your spouse or write it down somewhere or leave a treasure map or something so it isn’t lost if you get hit by a bus).
“Step #3: Develop Donald Trump’s Ultimate Hard Asset Strategy
“Donald Trump’s financial disclosures show that he owns a very peculiar mixture of assets…
“On one line item, he has a $100,000-$250,000 asset that, though a drop in the bucket compared to his billions in net worth, says a lot about what Donald Trump believes could happen in the economy.
“It could rise roughly eightfold in the coming months…
“And end up being his best performing asset in 2017, because he didn’t need to sell before taking the oath of office….
“It’s the strategy of a prominent industrialist and investor with diverse holdings in Germany and abroad during the 1920s….
“He was an ultra-wealthy investor whose opinion was eagerly sought on important political matters, who exercised powerful behind-the-scenes influence and who seemed to make all the right moves when it came to playing markets.
“He was known as the “Inflation King” because he was able to protect and grow his wealth despite Germany’s massive hyperinflation in the 1920s.
“I believe you need to know his strategy by heart and apply it to your own finances.”
Well, Donald Trump’s ultimate hard asset is, of course, leveraged real estate — if you borrow lots of money to buy and build properties, then the properties (at least theoretically) hold their value but the debt is devalued as the currency depreciates. If you take it beyond just real estate you can compare it to Warren Buffett buying up valuable assets and hoarding them (railroads, power plants, etc.). That’s largely what fueled the rise of that “inflation king,” Hugo Stinnes, whose story Rickards has told in free articles in the past — you can get a good sense of that from this free Rickards piece from 2015, for example.
What does that mean? Well, it’s a good reminder that strong companies with valuable assets that society will need in the future will always probably be the best real defense against inflation. Railroads and power utilities can raise prices, farmers can raise prices… though the most successful ones, of course, will be the owners of truly unique assets or intellectual property that can be price makers and lead the inflation charge (like Coca Cola in years past, for example, which people have happily paid a premium for over the past century), instead of price takers in a commoditized industry (like farmers who sell Buffett’s hated broccoli, one stalk of which is akin to another).
Strong companies with products that are in demand tend to “win” in inflation, just like they win the rest of the time — it’s not just about “hard assets” like gold coins or diamonds that you can hide in your shoe, though those certainly come into play in the panic scenarios… like being anything other than blonde, blue-eyed and conformist in 1930s Germany.
Other folks will extoll the virtues of farmland, as well, or of collectibles like valuable art — if you can afford to own a farm on the side, or you’ve got a Rembrandt in the closet, then you’ve already wasted way too much time reading my blather… go have some fun with your money.
And then Rickards throws out some more red meat for partisans with step 4…
“Step #4: Become a Shareholder in the ‘Deplorables-Only Gold Fund’
“I’ve uncovered and developed a brand-new gold investment opportunity just for Americans like you.
“It also has nothing to do with owning physical gold.
“Or tiny penny-stock junior gold miners for that matter.
“And it’s not an ETF.
“Instead it’s something totally proprietary, tailored to my exact specifications to make the perfect gold speculation.”
I suspect that what Rickards is talking about here is some sort of customized basket of gold mining stocks through Motif Investing — as he did for his “New World Money” argument that the SDR would replace the US Dollar, which meant he thought you should build a portfolio of currencies that mimic the SDR (someone else has put up a motif for that here, if you’re curious).
I don’t know how far I’d go in assuming that Jim Rickards can put together the ideal gold stock portfolio for you, though he might be better at it than I am, but you can pretty easily access solid ETFs of gold stocks — I like the idea of the Sprott Gold Miners ETF (SGDM), which weights based on the “quality” of producers and also overweights the royalty companies… but it’s worth noting that this “smart” index has done substantially worse over the past three years than the plain old GDX ETF that’s market-cap weighted (down 37%, versus down “only” 30% for the GDX). For that matter, most of the precious metals equity mutual funds, like Tocqueville Gold and First Eagle Gold, have also done worse than the GDX ETF in recent years (partly because they tend to hold some cash and some gold — ETFs are always fully invested).
This is an easy industry to overthink — if gold goes way up, 99% of the gold stocks and all of the gold mining mutual funds and ETFs will likely do phenomenally well. If it goes down, as it has recently, they’ll do very badly — Gold is down about 6% since I covered an earlier variation of this Rickards “reboot” in November of last year, and the average big gold miner is down about 20%.
And, well, I’m sick of gold… those are the main recommendations teased in the pitch, along with “get a copy of Rickards’ book” (The New Case for Gold, you can get it pretty much anywhere if you like, including your library). Nothing too crazy, other than the notion that gold “mathematically has to” go to $10,000 but you should only have 10% of your portfolio in gold.
So I’ll turn it over to you, the few of my dear readers who could sit through that much of my blatheration without falling asleep. Like the PMC Ounce, or particular gold miners or gold funds? Think Rickards has a gift for choosing mining stocks? Do you see a new global currency agreement backed by gold, and gold prices at $10,000? If so, what other side effects do you think might show up from that radical change? Have any made-up dates of your own you’d like to recommend, since Rickards apparently can’t even keep his dates straight when he updates his ads? Let us know with a comment below. I’ve left the original comments from last year at the end, in case you want to see what anyone else had to say.
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