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Managing Capital Flows in Emerging Markets




zhuMin Zhu, Special Advisor to the Managing Director,
International Monetary Fund
This is, of course, a very topical subject—not least here in Brazil which, like many other emerging market economies (EMEs), has been contending with large capital inflows over the past couple of years. While the subject is topical, it is by no means ephemeral or new.

Investors worldwide have woken up to the exciting growth opportunities in emerging market countries, and despite fluctuations from time to time, robust capital flows to EMEs will likely be a structural characteristic of the global financial markets for many years to come.
And I need hardly remind this audience of eminent policy makers, academics, and practioners, that this subject has a long history to which, indeed, many of you have made critical contributions. What I would like to do in my remarks this morning is to give a brief overview of some of the thinking at the Fund on this issue, what it means for emerging market economies in Latin America, and how we hope to take the work agenda forward.

Some History

First, a little history. Since I am still relatively new to the Fund—having assumed my duties just over a year ago—I began reading up on what the Fund has been saying over the years about managing capital flows. While the subject has, at times, been contentious, my own sense is that, by and large, the Fund has tended to be open minded and pragmatic, rather than dogmatic, on this topic.1
The issues, in fact, have been discussed since the very earliest days of the Fund. This year happens to be the seventieth anniversary of the debate between John Maynard Keynes and Harry Dexter White, which is perhaps a natural starting point for us. It makes for fascinating reading.2 It is often assumed for example that Keynes favored capital controls, White opposed them, and that the Fund’s Articles of Agreement are an uneasy compromise between these two great minds. But that is too simplistic a reading of history. In fact, both men recognized that capital flows can bring tremendous benefits for investment and growth—but also that inflow surges and sudden stops can bring risks of economic dislocation.

Since Keynes’ views are generally known, I will not linger on them except to remark that, when drawing up his Plan for the IMF in 1941, Keynes went out of his way to emphasize the need for the post-war system to “greatly facilitate the restoration of international loans and credits for legitimate purposes.”

White, the American, took as his starting point that “the desirability of encouraging the flow of productive capital to areas where it can be most profitably employed needs no emphasis.”

But he was also open to the idea of some controls under specific circumstances. When submitting his doctoral dissertation to Harvard University in 1930, White had written that “some measure of the intelligent* control of the volume and direction of foreign investments is desirable.”

In his Plan for the IMF, White developed the argument further, writing that:

“There has been too easy an acceptance of the view that an enlightened trade and monetary policy requires complete* abandonment of controls over international economic transactions. There is a tendency to regard foreign exchange controls, or any interference with the free movement of funds as, ipso facto, bad … [But] there are times when it is in the best economic interest of a country to impose restrictions on movements of capital…[and] there are periods when failure to impose controls…have led to serious economic disruption.”

Therefore, White concluded “the task before us is not to prohibit instruments of control but to develop those measures of control, those policies of administering such control, as will be the most effective in obtaining the objectives of world-wide sustained prosperity.”*3
It is very much in this spirit that we, at the Fund, have been working over the past couple of years to develop our policy advice on how best to manage capital flows.

Toward an intelligent response to capital flows

Recognizing that once the global financial crisis had passed, capital flows would resume rapidly, researchers at the IMF started thinking about these issues in the fall of 2009, publishing a first paper in early 2010,4 followed by further analytical work in a Staff Discussion Note5 early this year (which Mr. Ostry will discuss tomorrow), as well as papers looking more closely at, and drawing upon, country and regional experiences6. These various strands fed into a paper that carries the institution’s imprimatur and lays out a possible framework for considering these issues.7

I hope that this framework, and the analytical thinking that underpins it, while preliminary, will give us a good basis for providing policy advice to emerging market countries facing surges of capital inflows. It meets, I think, White’s criteria of an “intelligent” response, and of helping to develop measures that “will be the most effective in obtaining the objectives of world-wide sustained prosperity.”
The basic ideas are grounded in sound economic principles, namely:

  • Policy interventions should be as closely aligned to the problem at hand as possible, (which may, at times, mean removing home-grown distortions that amplify inflows);
  • The magnitude of the interventions should be commensurate with distortions they are trying to address;
  • In setting policies, each country also needs to take into account the spillovers and multilateral consequences of its actions.

In the context of managing capital flows, this means that countries will want to first exhaust their macro policy options, which include:

  • allowing the exchange rate to appreciate unless it is overvalued and/or external stability is at risk;
  • accumulating reserves in line with country insurance metrics;
  • adjusting the monetary/fiscal policy mix by tightening fiscal policy to maintain a sustainable pace of demand growth and, if conditions permit, lowering policy interest rates

These steps need to be taken before imposing capital controls or prudential measures that may act as capital controls (together referred to as capital flow management measures). This logical primacy of the macroeconomic response helps countries: (i) reap the benefits of capital flows while safeguarding against the risks; (ii) stem the inflow pressures by reducing the incentives for capital to cross the border; and (iii) ensure they are not avoiding external adjustment that may be necessary from a national or multilateral perspective.
This is general advice; of course, it must be tailored to country-specific characteristics. If I may nevertheless generalize a bit, I think that current circumstances make this policy advice especially pertinent for emerging market economies in Latin America:

  • First, history suggests that the unusually favorable external environment is conducive to very high domestic demand growth and a buildup of vulnerabilities in the region.
  • Second, the region is also facing a second tailwind—it is benefiting not only from easy financing conditions but also high terms of trade. Very strong commodity exports create issues of overheating and managing good times that are in many ways similar to capital inflows.
  • Third, unlike Asia, current accounts in Latin America are already in deficit and though these deficits have not reached dangerous levels they can rapidly move to vulnerable positions as domestic demand reacts exuberantly.
  • Finally, the region’s capital accounts tend to be more open and are subject to larger swings in capital flows.  This all implies that Latin America needs to work particularly hard and on different fronts to contain the risk of boom bust cycles.

Beyond a macroeconomic response, prudential measures that improve the functioning and the resilience of the financial sector should be part of the countries’ on-going structural reform efforts, which may need to be stepped up in response to the additional risks that sudden surges of capital might bring.
I will not get into the choice between discriminatory prudential measures and capital controls as this will be discussed extensively during the conference. Suffice it to say that, in general, prudential measures that target the risks that capital inflow surges might bring are to be preferred to capital controls that, by their nature, target the flows themselves. However, the appropriate choice of tools will, in practice, depend on the circumstances, including the nature of the risks posed by the capital inflows, whether the flows are being intermediated through the domestically regulated banking system, and other characteristics that might make one instrument less distortionary and more effective than the other.

A Shared Responsibility

I have spoken at some length on how emerging market economies might respond to capital inflows in part given how pressing the issue is for these countries at the current juncture—Brazil, for example, received $100 billion in portfolio and FDI flows in 2010, and a further $37 billion in the first quarter of this year.
But a multilateral institution like the IMF obviously needs to consider the other side of the coin—namely, policies in capital-exporting countries. To this end, Fund staff are undertaking in-depth analysis of the outward spillovers, through capital flows and otherwise, from the five largest economies in the world—China, the Euro Area, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The findings will be presented in a series of Spillover Reports, to be discussed by our Board, alongside each country’s Article IV report, this July. By shedding light on the impact of one country—or region’s—policies on others, we hope to facilitate the process of finding policies that serve both the national and the global interest.

I do not wish to anticipate these reports—or their discussion by our Executive Board—but to quote the eloquent Mr. White once more: “It is true that rich and powerful countries can for long periods safely and easily ignore the interests of poorer or weaker neighbors or competitors, but by doing so they will imperil the future and reduce the potentiality of their own level of prosperity. The lesson that must be learned is that prosperous neighbors are the best neighbors; that a higher standard of living in one country begets higher standards in others; and that a high level of trade and business is most easily attained when generously and widely shared.”

I believe that White’s words are as true today as they were seventy years ago. What has changed since that time is the definition of “rich and powerful countries.” Today, emerging market countries account for some 40 percent of global GDP, 30 percent of international trade, and almost 20 percent of world external savings. Ensuring that, globally, countries reap the full benefits of capital flows is thus a shared responsibility between advanced and emerging market economies, between surplus and deficit countries, between capital-exporters and capital-importers. Key to this will be addressing structural impediments, on both the supply and demand sides, that may artificially distort the relative price of capital, and result in its less-than-globally optimal allocation.

The issues are not easy, either analytically or politically. Certainly, we at the Fund do not have all of the answers, and our thinking will surely continue to evolve. Yet we know that this is a pressing matter for our entire membership. That is why I would like to thank the Brazilian authorities for convening this conference with us, and it is why we are looking to you, the participants, to help us analyze the issues over the next couple of days through productive discussions and debates.

  1. See, for example, the Independent Evaluation Office Report on the Evaluation of the IMF’s Approach to Capital Account Liberalization, 2005, available at:
  2. The International Monetary Fund, 1945-65. Vol. III, Documents by Keith Horsefield, 1969, (Washington DC: International Monetary Fund).
  3. * Emphasis added.
  4. “Capital Inflows: The Role of Controls” by Jonathan D. Ostry, Atish R. Ghosh, Karl Habermeier, Marcos Chamon, Mahvash S. Qureshi, and Dennis Reinhardt, Staff Position Note 10/04 (2010), available at:
  5. “Managing Capital Inflows: What Tools to Use?” by Jonathan D. Ostry, Atish R. Ghosh, Karl Habermeier, Luc Laeven, Marcos Chamon, Mahvash S. Qureshi, and Annamaria Kokenyne. Staff Discussion Note 11/06 (2011), available at:
  6. “Managing Abundance to Avoid a Bust in Latin America” by Nicolás Eyzaguirre, Martin Kaufman, Steven Phillips, and Rodrigo Valdés. Staff Discussion Note 11/07 (2011), available at
  7. Recent Experiences in Managing Capital Inflows—Cross-cutting Themes and Possible Policy Framework (2011), available at:

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Lockdown 2.0 – Here’s how to be the best-looking person in the virtual room



Lockdown 2.0 – Here's how to be the best-looking person in the virtual room 1

By Jeff Carlson, author of The Photographer’s Guide to Luminar 4 and Take Control of Your Digital Photos

suggests “the product you’re creating is not the camera, the lens or a webcam’s clever industrial design. It’s the subject, you, which is just on e part of the entire image they see. You want that image to convey quality, not convenience.”

Technology experts at Reincubate saw an opportunity in the rise of remote-working video calls and developed the app, Camo, to improve the video quality of our webcam calls. As part of this, they consulted the digital photography expert and author, Jeff Carlson, to reveal how we can look our best online. 

It’s clear by now that COVID-19 has normalised remote working, but as part of this the importance of video calls has risen exponentially. While we’re all used to seeing the more casual sides of our colleagues (t-shirt and shorts, anyone?), poor webcam quality is slightly less forgivable.

But how can we improve how we look on video? We consulted Jeff Carlson for some top tips– here is what he had to say.

  1. Improve the picture quality of your call

The better your camera, the higher quality your webcam calls will be. Most webcams (as well as currently being hard to get hold of and expensive), are subpar. A DSLR setup will give you the best picture, but will cost $1,500+. You can also use your iPhone’s amazing camera as a webcam, using the new app from Reincubate, Camo.

Jeff’s comments “The iPhone’s camera system features dedicated coprocessors for evaluating and adjusting the image in real time. Apple has put a tremendous amount of work into its imaging software as a way to compensate for the necessarily small camera sensors. Although it all works in service of creating stills and video, you get the same benefits when using the iPhone as a webcam.”

Aidan Fitzpatrick, CEO of Reincubate explains why the team created Camo, “Earlier this year our team moved to working remotely, and in video calls everyone looked pretty bad, irrespective of whether they were on built-in Mac webcams or third-party ones. Thus began my journey to build Camo: an iPhone has one of the world’s best cameras in it, so could we make it work as a webcam? Category-leading webcams are noticeably worse than an iPhone 7. This makes sense: six weeks of Apple’s R&D spend tops Logitech’s annual gross revenue.”

  1. Place your camera at eye level

A video call will never quite be the same as a face-to-face conversation, but bringing your camera up to eye level is a good place to start. That can involve putting your laptop on a stand or pile of books, mounting a webcam to the top of your display screen, or even using a tripod to get the perfect position.

Jeff points out, “If the camera is looking down on you, you’ll appear minimized in the frame; if it’s looking up, you’re inviting people to focus on your chin, neck, or nostrils. Most important, positioning the camera off your eye level is a distraction. Look them in the eye, even if they’re miles or continents away.

Lockdown 2.0 – Here's how to be the best-looking person in the virtual room 2

Low camera placement from a MacBook

  1. Make the most of natural lighting

Be aware of the lighting in the room and move yourself to face natural lighting if you can. Positioning the camera so any natural light is behind you takes the light away from your face, which can make it harder to see and read expressions on a call.

Jeff Carlson’s top tip: “If the light from outside is too harsh, diffuse it and create softer shadows by tacking up a white sheet or a stand-alone diffuser over the window.” 

Lockdown 2.0 – Here's how to be the best-looking person in the virtual room 3Lockdown 2.0 – Here's how to be the best-looking person in the virtual room 4

Backlit against a window Facing natural light

  1. Use supplementary lighting like ring lights

The downside to natural lighting is that you’re at the mercy of the elements: if it’s too bright you’ll have the sun in your eyes, if it’s too dark you won’t be well lit.

Jeff recommends adding supplementary lighting if you’re looking to really enhance your video calls. After all, it looks like remote working will be carrying on for quite some time.

“The light can be just as easy as a household or inexpensive work light. Angle the light so it’s bouncing off a wall or the ceiling, depending on your work area, which, again, diffuses the light and makes it more flattering.

Or, for a little money, use a softbox or a shoot-through umbrella with daylight bulbs (5500K temperature), or if space is tight, LED panels. Larger lights are better for distributing illumination– don’t be afraid to get them in close to you. Placement depends on the look you’re going after; start by positioning one at a 45-degree angle in front and to the side of you, which lights most of your face while retaining nice shadow detail.” 

In some cases, a ring light may work best. LEDs are arranged in a circle, with space in the middle to put the camera’s lens and get direct illumination from the direction of the camera.

  1. Centre yourself in the frame

Make sure you’re getting the right angle and that you’re using the frame effectively.

“You should aim for people to see your head and part of your torso, not all the space between your hair and the ceiling. Leave a little space above your head so it’s not cut off, but not enough that someone’s eyes are going to drift there.”

  1. Be mindful of your backdrop

It’s not always easy to get the quiet space needed for video calls when working from home, but try as best you can to remove anything too distracting from your background.

“Get rid of clutter or anything that’s distracting or unprofessional, because you can bet that will be the second thing the viewers notice after they see you. (The Twitter account @RateMySkypeRoom is an amusing ongoing commentary on the environments people on television are connecting from.)”

A busy background as seen by a webcam

  1. Make the most of virtual backgrounds

If you’re really struggling with finding a background that looks professional, try using a virtual background.

Jeff suggests: “Some apps can identify your presence in the scene and create a live mask that enables you to use an entirely different image to cover the background. While it’s a fun feature, the quality of the masking is still rudimentary, even with a green screen background that makes this sort of keying more accurate.”

  1. Be aware of your audio settings

Our laptop webcams, cameras, and mobile phones all include microphones, but if it’s at all possible, use a separate microphone instead.

“That can be an inexpensive lavalier mic, a USB microphone, or a set of iPhone earbuds. You can also get wireless lavalier models if you’re moving around during a call, such as presenting at a whiteboard in the camera’s field of view.

The idea is to get the microphone closer to your mouth so it’s recording what you say, not other sounds or echoes in the room. If you type during meetings, mount the mic on an arm instead of resting it on the same surface as your keyboard.”

  1. Be wary of video app add-ons

Video apps like Zoom include a ‘Touch up your appearance’ option in the Video settings. This applies a skin-smoothing filter to your face, but more often than not, the end result looks artificially blurry instead of smooth.

“Zoom also includes settings for suppressing persistent and intermittent background noise, and echo cancellation. They’re all set to Auto by default, but you can choose how aggressive or not the feature is.”

  1. Be the best looking person in the virtual room

What’s important to remember about video calls at this point in time is that most people are new to what is, really, personal broadcasting. That means you can easily get an edge, just by adopting a few suggestions in this article. When your video and audio quality improves, people will take notice.

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Bringing finance into the 21st Century – How COVID and collaboration are catalysing digital transformation



Bringing finance into the 21st Century – How COVID and collaboration are catalysing digital transformation 5

By Keith Phillips, CEO of TISATech

If just six or seven months ago someone had told you that in a matter of weeks people around the world would be locked down in their homes, trying to navigate modern work systems from a prehistoric laptop, bickering with family over who’s hogging the Wi-Fi, migrating online to manage all financial services digitally, all while washing their hands every five minutes in fear of a global pandemic… You’d think they had lost their mind. But this very quickly became the reality for huge swathes of the world and we’re about to go through that all over again as the UK government has asked that those who can work from home should.

Unsurprisingly, statistics show that lockdown restrictions introduced by the UK government in March, led to a sharp increase in people adopting digital services. Banks encouraged its customers to log onto online banking, as they limited (and eventually halted) services at branches. This forced many customers online as their primary means of managing personal finances for the first time.

If anyone had doubts before, the Covid-19 pandemic proved to us the importance of well-functioning, effective digital financial services platforms, for both financial institutions and the people using them.

But with this sudden mass online migration, it’s become clear that traditional banks have struggled to keep up with servicing clients virtually. Legacy banking systems have always stilted the digitisation of financial services, but the pandemic thrust this issue into the limelight. Fintech firms, which focus intently on digital and mobile services, knew it was only a matter of time before financial institutions’ reliance was to increase at an unprecedented rate.

For years, fintechs have been called upon by traditional players to find solutions to problems borne from those clunky legacy systems, like manual completion of account changes and money transfers. Now it is the demand for these services to be online coupled with the need for financial services firms to cut costs, since Covid-19 hit the economy.

Covid-19 has catalysed the urgent need to bring digital transformation to a wider pool of financial services businesses. Customers now have even higher expectations of larger institutions, demanding that they keep up with what the younger and more nimble challengers have to offer. Industry leaders realise that they must transform their businesses as soon as possible, by streamlining and digitising operations to compete and, ultimately, improve services for their customers.

The race for digital acceleration began far before the recent pandemic – in fact, following the 2008 financial crisis is likely more accurate. Since the credit crunch, there has been a wave of new fintech firms, full of young, bright techies looking to be the next big thing. Fintechs have marketed themselves hard at big conferences and expos or by hosting ‘hackathons’, trying to prove themselves as the fastest, most innovative or the most vital to the future of the industry.

However, even during this period where accelerating innovation in online financial services and legacy systems is crucial, the conditions brought about by the pandemic have not been conducive to this much-needed transformation.

The second issue, which again was clear far before the pandemic, is that fact that no matter how nimble or clever the fintechs’ solutions are, it is still hard to implement the solutions seamlessly, as the sector is highly fragmented with banks using extremely outdated systems populated with vast amounts of data.

With the significance of the pandemic becoming more and more clear, and the need for better digital products and services becoming more crucial to financial services firms and consumers by the day, the industry has finally come together to provide a solution.

The TISAtech project was launched last month by The Investing and Saving Alliance (TISA), a membership organisation in the UK with more than 200 leading financial institutions as members. TISA asked The Disruption House, a specialist benchmarking and data analytics business, to create a clearing house platform for the industry to help it more effectively integrate new financial technology. The project aims to enhance products and services while reducing friction and ultimately lowering costs which are passed on to the customers.

With nearly 4,000 fintechs from around the world participating, it will be the world’s largest marketplace dedicated to Open Finance, Savings, and Investment.

Not only will it provide a ‘matchmaking’ service between financial institutions an fintechs, it will also host a sandbox environment. Financial institutions can pose real problems with real data and the fintechs are given the space to race to the bottom – to find the most constructive, cost-effective solution.

Yes, there are other marketplaces, but they all seem to struggle to achieve a return on investment. There is a genuine need for the ‘Trivago’ of financial technology – a one stop shop, run by an independent body, which can do more than just matchmaking. It needs to go above and beyond to encompass the sandboxing, assessments, profiling of fintechs to separate the wheat from the chaff, and provide a space for true collaboration.

The pandemic has taught us that we are more effective if we work together. We need mass support and collaboration to find solutions to problems. Businesses and industries are no different. If fintechs and financial institutions can work together, there is a real chance that we can start to lessen the economic hit for many businesses and consumers by lowering costs and streamlining better services and products. And even if it is just making it that little bit easier to manage personal finances from home when fighting with your children for the Wi-Fi, we are making a difference.

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What to Know Before You Expand Across Borders



What to Know Before You Expand Across Borders 6

By Sean King, Director of International Tax at McGuire Sponsel

The American retail giant, Target Corporation, has a market cap of $64 billion and access to seemingly limitless resources and advisors. So, when the company engaged in its first global expansion, how could anything possibly go wrong?

Less than two years after opening its first Canadian store in 2013, Target shut down all133 Canadian locations and terminated more than 17,000 Canadian employees.

Expansion of an operation to another country can create unique challenges that may impact the financial viability of the entire enterprise. If Target Corporation can colossally fail in its expansion to Canada, how might Mom ‘N’ Pop LLC fare when expanding into Switzerland, Singapore, or Australia?

Successful global expansion requires an understanding of multilayered taxes, regulatory hurdles, employment laws, and cultural nuances. Fortunately, with the right guidance, global expansion can be both possible and profitable for businesses of any size.

Permanent establishment

Any company with global ambitions must first consider whether the company’s expansion outside of the U.S. will give rise to a taxable presence in the local country. In the cross-border context, a “permanent establishment” can be created in a local country when the enterprise reaches a certain level of activity, which is problematic because it exposes the U.S. multinational to taxation in the foreign country.

Foreign entity incorporation

To avoid permanent establishment risk, many U.S. multinationals choose to operate overseas through a formal corporate subsidiary, which reduces the company’s foreign income tax exposure, though it may result in an additional level of foreign income tax on the subsidiary’s earnings. In most jurisdictions, multinationals can operate their business in the foreign country as a branch, a pass through (e.g., partnership,) or a corporation.

As a branch, the U.S. multinational does not create a subsidiary in the foreign country. It holds assets, employees, and bank accounts under its own name. With a pass through, the U.S. multinational creates a separate entity in the foreign country that is treated as a partnership under the tax law of the foreign country but not necessarily as a partnership under U.S. tax law.

U.S. multinationals can also create corporate subsidiaries in the foreign country treated as corporations under the tax law of both the foreign country and the U.S., with possibly two levels of income taxation in the foreign country plus U.S. income taxation of earnings repatriated to the U.S. as dividends.

Check-the-box planning

Under U.S. entity classification rules, certain types of entities can “check the box” to elect their classification to be taxed as a corporation with two levels of tax, a partnership with pass-through taxation, or even be disregarded for U.S. federal income tax purposes. The check the box election allows U.S. multinationals to engage in more effective global tax planning.

Toll charges, transfer pricing and treaties

When establishing a foreign corporate subsidiary, the U.S. multinational will likely need to transfer certain assets to the new entity to make it fully operational. However, in many cases, the U.S. multinational cannot perform the transfer without recognizing taxable income. In the international context, the IRS imposes certain outbound “toll charges” on the transfer of appreciated property to a foreign entity, which are usually provided for in IRC Section 367 and subject to various exceptions and nuances.

Instead, the U.S. multinational may prefer to license intellectual property to the foreign subsidiary for a fee rather than transfer the property outright. However, licensing requires the company and foreign subsidiary to adhere to transfer pricing rules, as dictated by IRC Section 482. The U.S. multinational and the foreign subsidiary must interact in an arms-length manner regarding pricing and economic terms. Furthermore, any such arrangement may attract withholding taxes when royalties are paid across a border.

Are you GILTI?

Certain U.S. multinationals opt to focus on deferring the income recognition at the U.S. level. In doing so, they simply leave overseas profits overseas and delay repatriating any of the earnings to the U.S.

Despite the general merits of this form of planning, U.S. multinationals will be subject to certain IRS anti-deferral mechanisms, commonly known as “Subpart F” and GILTI. Essentially, U.S. shareholders of certain foreign corporations are forced to recognize their pro rata share of certain types of income generated by these foreign entities at the time the income is earned instead of waiting until the foreign entity formally repatriates the income to the U.S.

The end goal

Essentially, all effective international tax planning boils down to treasury management. Effective and early tax planning can properly allow a company to better achieve its initial goal: profitability.

If global expansion is on the horizon for your company, consult a licensed professional for advice concerning your specific situation.

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