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India's New Finance Hub Taking Shape in Gujarat

NEW DELHI, Nov 29: India's newest financial hub is rising from scrubland near the banks of the Sabarmati river once dominated by marsh birds and grazing buffalo.

In Gujarat, just a few glass-fronted towers greet the 20,000 employees of companies such as JPMorgan Chase & Co. and HSBC Holdings Plc who commute in each weekday. Its full name is Gujarat International Finance Tec-City, but it's more commonly known as GIFT City. It occupies 886 acres between Gujarat's capital, Gandhinagar, and Ahmedabad, its biggest city. As of October, bankers managed a combined $33 billion here.

What's drawing these companies? An exemption from the many rules and taxes that hamper business and trading in the rest of India. GIFT City is an experiment in free markets nestled inside a $3 trillion economy - one of the world's fastest-growing - that's long been reluctant to let its national currency, the rupee, become a plaything of international investors. The goal is to create a welcoming place where India-centric trading that's moved to Dubai, Mauritius or Singapore can return home.

At first, Gujarat seems an unlikely location. On the west coast, it's the ninth-most populous state-and, as a mark of respect for Mahatma Gandhi, who was born in Gujarat, it bans the sale of alcohol, that lubricant for many a financial deal. Narendra Modi started planning GIFT City in 2008, when he was still the Chief Minister, and his ascension to Prime Minister in 2014 allowed him to give the project more policy help and a higher profile. In a July speech to bankers, regulators and executives from India and overseas, he proclaimed that "the vision of India's future is associated with GIFT City."

Prime Minister Modi's government has offered an array of incentives, including a 100% tax holiday for a decade to businesses that set up within the hub's International Financial Services Center, or IFSC. Rules are being tweaked to encourage Indian companies to lease ships and aircraft through GIFT City rather than on foreign shores. Foreign universities will eventually be allowed to bypass regulations to open local campuses, and companies can use an international arbitration centre to avoid India's notoriously poor contract enforcement mechanisms.

A key concern that the financial centre seeks to address is India's lack of full convertibility of its currency. Converting money into foreign currencies requires cumbersome documentation, and that's pushed trading in rupees and rupee-denominated financial assets to offshore centres that Indian regulators can't monitor. But within GIFT City most of these rules don't apply, enabling onshore trading in key currency derivatives contracts, which can counteract some of the effects that offshore trades have on the rupee exchange rate.

Another product has migrated to the financial centre: a popular derivative based on a benchmark gauge of Indian stocks that was traded on the Singapore Stock Exchange. In 2022 the National Stock Exchange opened a cross-border trading link with Singapore - similar to the Hong Kong-Shanghai connect - to allow global investors to trade stock derivatives listed on the Indian market without needing to set up shop in India.

Trading volumes have increased since a single regulator, the IFSC Authority, was created by the government in 2020 to streamline approvals and oversight in the special economic zone. In October, average daily turnover on the two stock exchanges in the financial center climbed to $14.6 billion, from $3.4 billion two years before, cumulative derivative transactions by banks jumped to $466 billion, from $22 billion, and cumulative banking transactions rose to $303 billion, from $45 billion.

"Beyond the shores of India, in some of those centres where India-centric business developed, they are able to notice that something is happening, and things may not be the same in the future," says Injeti Srinivas, the IFSC Authority's chairman. "Business is gravitating toward IFSC."

A new international bullion exchange will let qualified jewellers directly import gold through GIFT City, a change from current rules permitting only some banks and nominated agencies approved by the central bank to do so. That loosening of restrictions is set to widen the importer base in India, the world's second-biggest consumer. An aircraft leasing and financing business is operating in GIFT City to tap into the demand of one of the world's hottest aviation markets for new-plane orders. Ship leasing will start soon.

In July, JPMorgan and Deutsche Bank AGstarted operations in GIFT City. JPMorgan will initially offer clients foreign exchange derivatives and wants to leverage its position as one of the largest suppliers of physical bullion in the country. Deutsche Bank aims to tap the rising number of companies in India that need cross-border banking services, ranging from hedging to financing. (In 2018, Bloomberg LP, the owner of Bloomberg Markets, entered into an agreement to provide capital markets expertise to GIFT City.)

"We think the GIFT City policy is a calibrated approach toward internationalisation of the rupee," says Srinivasan Varadarajan, a managing director in global emerging markets at Deutsche Bank in Mumbai. "It is similar in some characteristics to what has been seen in Asia over the last decade."

Jaxay Shah, founder and managing director of property developer Savvy Infrastructure Pvt., is among the people betting on this growth. His company, which built the tower that houses Bank of America Corp. offices and the IFSCA's temporary headquarters, has purchased two nearby plots to double its holdings in GIFT City. "When else in my career would I get this kind of smart city, where there is an economic vision and no red tape?" Mr Shah says.

GIFT City is the first in India to offer district cooling, an energy-efficient air conditioning system, as well as central waste, water and electricity management. Although it offers beautiful streets and boulevards and pristine sports centres, plus recent additions including a school and a hospital, workers tend to disappear in the evenings, taking electric buses to homes in nearby cities that have amenities such as cinemas and fast-food restaurants.

Some younger executives in Mumbai, Delhi and Gujarat, who asked not to be identified because they weren't authorised to comment, say they're often questioned on calls about whether alcohol will be permitted. Multiple policymakers and lawmakers told Bloomberg Markets that they expect authorities will provide yet another rule exemption-to allow licences to buy and consume alcohol. The state government realises it needs to amend its teetotaller requirements to attract residents and ensure the project's success, they say.

And that, in a nutshell, is the story of GIFT City: an oasis in which companies can escape rules and bureaucracy. An attempt to lure billions of dollars back to onshore markets. A "sandbox" in which fintechs can play with new products with seamless links to global systems. Perhaps even a vision for India's future.

India's Forex Reserves Fall To Lowest Since July 2020

NEW DELHI, Oct 28: India's forex reserves dropped by USD 3.847 billion to USD 524.52 billion for the week ended October 21, the RBI said on Friday. This is the lowest since July 2020.

The overall reserves had dropped by USD 4.50 billion to USD 528.37 billion in the previous reporting week, and have been declining for many months now.

In October 2021, the country's forex kitty had reached an all-time high of USD 645 billion. The reserves have been declining as the central bank deploys the kitty to defend the rupee amid pressures caused majorly by global developments.

Foreign currency assets (FCA), a major component of the overall reserves, saw a drop of USD 3.593 billion to USD 465.075 billion during the week to October 21, according to the Weekly Statistical Supplement released by the RBI on Friday.

Expressed in dollar terms, the foreign currency assets include the effect of appreciation or depreciation of non-US units like the euro, pound and yen held in the foreign exchange reserves.

Gold reserves saw a decline of USD 247 million in value to USD 37.206 billion, it said.

The Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) were up by USD 7 million to USD 17.44 billion, the top bank said.

The country's reserve position with the IMF was down by USD 14 million to USD 4.799 billion in the reporting week, the central bank data showed.

Google's Second Fine In India In Less Than A Week. Bill: ₹ 936 Crores

NEW DELHI: Google was fined ₹ 936.44 crore on Tuesday by the Commission of India (CCI) for the second time in less than a week, taking the total penalty to ₹ 2,274 core, for misusing its dominant position about Play Store policy and ordered the tech giant to stop engaging in unfair commercial practises.

After yet another antitrust probe this month, the US tech firm was found guilty of abusing its dominant market position to promote its payments app and in-app payment system, according to the CCI on Tuesday.

The CCI tweeted it fined Google for anti-competitive practices in relation to its Play Store policies.

That comes after the CCI fined Google ₹ 1,337.76 crore for anti-competitive practices related to Android on Thursday last week.

App stores are required for developers to distribute their apps to end users, and the availability of app store(s) is directly related to the operating system (OS) present on a smart device.

From an understanding of the market dynamics for mobile operating systems available for licencing in India, Google's Android OS has successfully reaped the benefits of indirect network effects.

The CCI said the Android mobile ecosystem's primary software distribution channel is Google's Play Store, which enables its owners to profit from the apps released to the market.

According to Google's Play Store policies, app developers must exclusively use Google Play's Billing System (GPBS) to accept payments for apps distributed or sold through the Google Play Store and for some in-app purchases.

Additionally, app developers cannot include wording that encourages users to buy the digital item outside of the app or include a direct link within an app to a website that accepts an alternate payment method, called the anti-steering provisions.

According to its evaluation, the Indian watchdog concluded that Google dominated the Indian markets for app stores for Android smart mobile OS and licensable OS for smart mobile devices, forcing app developers to use the GPBS was unfair and arbitrary.

The enormous pool of prospective customers who use Android would be lost if the app developers did not go by Google's policy of using GPBS and were not allowed to advertise their apps on the Play Store, which the CCI said lacks any real economic reason to need GPBS usage to access the Play Store for premium apps and in-app purchases.

The option to choose a preferred payment processor from the open market is taken away from the app creators, added the watchdog.

Google is yet to comment on the latest penalty.

After the fine by the CCI last week, on Friday, Google had said that penalty was "a major setback for Indian consumers and businesses" and that the firm would review the decision to evaluate the next steps.

IMF Cuts Global Growth, Says 'For Many, 2023 Will Feel Like A Recession'

WASHINGTON, Oct 11: Global growth is expected to slow further next year, the IMF said Tuesday, downgrading its forecasts as countries grapple with the fallout from Russia's invasion of Ukraine, spiraling cost-of-living and economic downturns.

The world economy has been dealt multiple blows, with the war in Ukraine driving up food and energy prices following the coronavirus outbreak, while soaring costs and rising interest rates threaten to reverberate around the globe.

"This year's shocks will re-open economic wounds that were only partially healed post-pandemic," said International Monetary Fund economic counsellor Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas in a blog post accompanying the fund's latest World Economic Outlook.

More than a third of the global economy is headed for contraction this year or next, and the three biggest economies -- the United States, European Union and China -- will continue to stall, he warned.

"The worst is yet to come and, for many people 2023 will feel like a recession," said Gourinchas.

In its report, the IMF trimmed its 2023 global GDP forecast to 2.7 percent, 0.2 points down from July expectations.

Its world growth forecast for this year remains unchanged at 3.2 percent.

The global growth profile is its "weakest" since 2001, apart from during the global financial crisis and the worst of the pandemic, the IMF said.

This reflects slowdowns for the biggest economies, including a US GDP contraction in the first half of 2022 and continued lockdowns in China as it faces a property market crisis.

A key factor behind the slowdown is a shift in policy as central banks try to bring down soaring inflation, with higher interest rates starting to take the heat out of domestic demand.

Growing price pressures are the most immediate threat to prosperity, said Gourinchas in the report, adding that central banks are now "laser-focused on restoring price stability".

Global inflation is expected to peak at 9.5 percent this year before dropping to 4.1 percent by 2024.

Misjudging the persistence of inflation could prove detrimental to future macroeconomic stability, he warned, "by gravely undermining the hard-won credibility of central banks."

Asked about the Federal Reserve's rate hikes, Gourinchas told a press briefing on Tuesday that the IMF is not calling for an acceleration, but this "doesn't mean that they should pause on the path... that we've seen" either.

This is because banks were starting from a point where rates were historically low as countries emerged from the pandemic, he said.

Current challenges do not mean a large downturn is inevitable, but the fund also warned many low-income countries are either in, or close to debt distress.

Progress toward debt restructurings for the hardest-hit is needed to avoid a wave of sovereign debt crisis.

"Time may soon be running out," said Gourinchas.

While the G20 has agreed on a "common framework" for debt restructuring for the poorest countries, only three have qualified and "more progress is needed," he told reporters.

The IMF has also cut forecasts for the world's two biggest economies, the United States and China.

US economic growth for this year is now pegged at 1.6 percent, 0.7 points below the fund's July forecast, due to an "unexpected real GDP contraction in the second quarter," the IMF said.

"Declining real disposable income continues to eat into consumer demand, and higher interest rates are taking an important toll on spending," the report added.

The Federal Reserve has been raising interest rates aggressively to tamp down surging inflation, which is slowing economic activity. And the central bank has said more increases are likely to come.

A slowdown in the Euro area is expected to deepen next year, with the German and Italian economies slightly contracting, the IMF projects.

China's economy is expected to grow at only 3.2 percent this year -- its lowest rate in decades, apart from the initial coronavirus outbreak.

The fund cautioned that a worsening of China's property sector slump could spill over to the domestic banking sector and weigh heavily on growth.

Global Forex Reserves Shrink By $1 Trillion In Record Decline

NEW YORK, Oct 8: Global foreign-currency reserves are falling at the fastest pace on record, as central banks from India to the Czech Republic intervene to support their currencies.

Reserves have declined by about $1 trillion, or 7.8 per cent, this year to $12 trillion, the biggest drop since Bloomberg started to compile the data in 2003.

Part of the slump is simply due to valuation changes. As the dollar jumped to two-decade highs against other reserve currencies, like the euro and yen, it reduced the dollar value of the holdings of these currencies.

But the dwindling reserves also reflect the stress in the currency market that is forcing a growing number of central banks to dip into their war chests to fend off the depreciation.

India's stockpile, for example, has tumbled $96 billion this year to $538 billion. The country's central bank said asset valuation changes account for 67 per cent of the decline in reserves during the fiscal year from April, implying the rest came from intervention to prop up the currency.

The rupee has lost about 9 per cent against the dollar this year and hit a record low last month.

Japan spent about $20 billion in September to slow the yen's slide in its first intervention to support the currency since 1998. That would account for about 19 per cent of the loss of reserves this year. A currency intervention in the Czech Republic helped drive down reserves there by 19 per cent since February.

“This is all part of the catalog of symptoms of the canary in the coal mine,” said Axel Merk, chief investment officer at Merk Investments, of the declining reserves. “Cracks are showing up. And those red flags will come at an increasing pace.”

While the magnitude of the decline is extraordinary, the practice of using reserves to defend currencies isn't anything new. Central banks buy dollars and build up their stockpiles to slow currency appreciation when foreign capital floods in. In bad times, they draw on the reserves to soften the blow from capital flight.

“Some countries, notably in Asia, can go both ways, smoothing weakness, and pockets of strength,” said Alan Ruskin, chief international strategist at Deutsche Bank AG.

Most central banks still have enough fire power to keep interventions going, if they chose to.

Foreign reserves in India are still 49 per cent higher than 2017 levels, and enough to pay for nine months of imports.

Central banks including those from Indonesia, Malaysia, China and Thailand will be releasing their latest foreign reserves data on Friday.

But for others, they are quickly depleting. After declining 42 per cent this year, Pakistan's $14 billion of reserves aren't enough to cover three months of imports, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

India's Growth Forecast Downgraded To 6.5% This Year By World Bank

WASHINGTON, Oct 6: The World Bank today projected a growth rate of 6.5 per cent for the Indian economy for the fiscal year 2022-23, a drop of one per cent from its previous June 2022 projections, citing deteriorating international environment.

In its latest South Asia Economic Focus released ahead of the annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, the Bank, however, noted that India is recovering stronger than the rest of the world.

The Indian economy grew by 8.7 per cent in the previous year.

"The Indian economy has done well compared to the other countries in South Asia, with relatively strong growth performance... bounced back from the sharp contraction during the first phase of COVID," Hans Timmer, World Bank Chief Economist for South Asia, told Press Trust of India in an interview.

India, he said, has done relatively well with the advantage that it doesn't have a large external debt, there are no problems coming from that side, and that there is prudent monetary policy, he observed.

The Indian economy has done especially well in the services sector and especially service exports.

"But we have downgraded the forecast for the fiscal year that just started and that is largely because the international environment is deteriorating for India and for all countries. We see kind of an inflection point in the middle of this year, and first signs of slowing across the world," he said.

The second half of the calendar year is weak in many countries and will be relatively weak also in India, he said.

Timmer said that's mainly because of two factors. One is the slowing of growth in the real economy of high-income countries.

The other one is the global tightening of monetary policy that tightens financial markets and not just that it leads to capital outflows in many developing countries, but it also increases interest rates and uncertainty in developing countries which has a negative impact on investment.

"So, it (India) has done relatively well. It is not as vulnerable as some of the other countries. But it's still in tough weather. It (India) has to navigate the higher commodity prices and there are more headwinds at the moment," he said in response to a question.

India is doing better than the rest of the world, he said, adding that there are more buffers in India, especially large reserves at the central bank. That's very helpful. "Then the government has very actively reacted to the COVID crisis," he said.

The Indian government has set an example for the rest of the world, like expanding social safety nets, using digital ideas. "I think it's almost up to a million people that they are reaching at the moment. It's a good response also," he said.

At the same time, he said that he does not agree with all the policies of the Indian government.

"Especially their reaction to the high commodity prices might seem logical in the short run, but might backfire in the long run. For example, the export ban on wheat and the export ban or the very high tariffs on rice exports," he said.

They seem logical to create food security domestically, but ultimately that creates more problems in the rest of the region and the rest of the world.

"So not all policies are optimal, but a strong reaction to the crisis in terms of relief efforts, strong monetary policies, and in general a trend towards a more business friendly environment," Timmer said.

Responding to a question, he said since India needs to address some of the key concerning issues.

"Although we look at a relatively favorable growth rate, it is growth that is supported by only a small part of the economy. It sounds good, but if it is not coming from a much broader base, then that growth rate of a relatively small part of the economy doesn't translate into significant growth of income for all the households," he said.

Timmer pointed out that only 20 per cent of the women are participating in the labor market.

"That is a problem that has to be addressed. You don't solve that just by extending your social security system. That's important. Ultimately, the people should be given the tools to generate income themselves," he said.

"What we have seen in the region and to some extent in India also is that the government was not really prepared to absorb all those shocks that we are seeing in the region. The COVID shock, the war in Ukraine and the commodity prices are once in a lifetime shocks and they come one after the other and then the environmental disasters also," he said.

Both the government and the people are not prepared to cope with that. And that is because just too few people are fully participating in the economy, he argued, adding that that's a high priority for India to make progress there.

"In India, the focus is on the existing big firms. Focus is on FDI. And that's all very good. The focus is on social safety nets. That's also very good. But it's not enough. You need to integrate more people in the economy," Timmer said.

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman's Defence As Rupee At Record Low

PUNE, Sept 24: Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Saturday said the rupee has "held back very well" when compared to other currencies against the US Dollar.

The Reserve Bank and the Finance Ministry are keeping a very close watch over the developments, the finance minister told reporters after the domestic currency sunk to a lifetime low against the greenback.

"If any one currency which has held its own and did not get into fluctuation or volatility as much as other currencies it is the Indian rupee. We have held back very well," she told reporters here on the final day of her three-day visit to Pune district which is a stronghold of NCP chief Sharad Pawar.

She also asked a reporter to do a study on how the other currencies are behaving against the US dollar in the latest round of depreciation.

According to experts, the latest round of depreciation is triggered by adverse global developments starting with the geopolitical tensions triggered by the Russian invasion of Ukraine earlier this year.

The war pushed up commodity prices, leading to a record surge in inflation in the developed world, which have resulted in steep rate hikes by the US Fed. This has resulted in a flight of capital back to the US, hence resulting in currency depreciation episodes.

The rupee slumped 30 paise to close at a fresh lifetime low of 81.09 against the US dollar on Friday, weighed down by the strong American currency overseas and risk-off sentiment among investors.

On Thursday, the rupee plunged by 83 paise -- its biggest single-day loss in nearly seven months -- to close at 80.79, its previous record low.

The RBI has been deploying the dollar reserves to defend the currency and has exhausted billions of dollars of currency assets in the fight.

There have also been policy moves to attract more deposits from the diaspora through further incentives and other such attempts to stem the fall.

India's First Chip Factory, $20 Billion, In Gujarat

NEW DELHI, Sept 13: Mining conglomerate Vedanta and Taiwanese electronics manufacturing giant Foxconn will invest ₹ 1.54 lakh crore to set up India's first semiconductor production plant in Gujarat.

The ₹ 1.54 lakh crore investment by Vedanta and Foxconn will be used to set up India's first semiconductor production plant, a display fab unit, and a semiconductor assembling and testing unit.

The plants will be set up on a 1000-acre land in Ahmedabad.

"The plant will start production in two years," Vedanta chairman Anil Agarwal told PTI after signing the memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Gujarat government.
Foxconn is acting as the technical partner, while oil-to-metals conglomerate Vedanta is financing the project.

Vedanta and Foxconn will work closely with the state government to establish high-tech clusters with requisite infrastructure, including land, semiconductor-grade water, and power, the companies said in a joint statement.

The companies also said the project will create more than 100,000 jobs in Gujarat.

Semiconductor chips, or microchips, are essential pieces of many digital consumer products - from cars to mobile phones and ATM cards. The Indian semiconductor market was valued at $27.2 billion in 2021 and is expected to grow at a healthy CAGR of nearly 19 per cent to reach $64 billion in 2026. But none of these chips is manufactured in India so far.

Vedanta is the third company to announce a chip plant location in India after international consortium ISMC and Singapore-based IGSS Ventures, which are setting up in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu respectively.

A massive shortage in the semiconductor supply chain last year affected many industries, including electronics and automotive.

To cut dependence on imports from nations like Taiwan and China, the government brought a fiscal incentive scheme for manufacturing semiconductors in the country. Vedanta-Foxconn is one of the successful applicants for the Production Linked Incentive (PLI) scheme for semiconductors.

Retail inflation Rises Back Up To 7% In August After Falling For 3 Months

NEW DELHI, Sept 12: Retail inflation rose to 7 per cent in August, stalling a three-month downtrend on soaring food costs, pressuring the Reserve Bank of India to hike rates more aggressively to tame surging prices even at the cost of the economy.

That shows inflation has remained above RBI's 2-6 per cent tolerance band in each month this year.

Data released by the National Statistics office showed, consumer price index-based inflation (CPI) in August was higher than a survey of economists, rising to 7.0 per cent from a year ago, compared to the 6.9 per cent forecast, and above July's 6.71 per cent.

Food inflation, which accounts for nearly half the consumer price index (CPI) basket, soared as prices of essential crops like wheat, rice and pulses were driven higher by a record heatwave, squeezing already stretched household budgets further.

According to the data, inflation in food basket was 7.62 per cent in August, up from 6.69 per cent in July and 3.11 per cent in August 2021.

Erratic monsoon patterns across the country suggest more crop damages, keeping food prices elevated in the coming months, with negative seasonality kicking in for September-November and weighing on price pressures.

The government has put restrictions on the export of wheat, sugar, and rice in an effort to keep local prices from rising as a result of the country's uneven rainfall distribution.

"Another inflation print of 7 per cent bang in line with our expectation confirms our belief that price pressure is not going to go away anytime soon, although being a year-on-year print, inflation may be off the peak," said Kunal Kundu, India Economist at Societe Generale.

"Expectedly food prices moved up sharply as well. Given the tailwind generated by high food prices as production suffers due to erratic monsoon, we do not see consumers' cup of woes emptying out soon," he added.

Although crude oil prices have dropped significantly in recent weeks, the fuel and light inflation rose 10.8 per cent, suggesting the positive impact of falling commodity prices are not yet reflected and will be muted even when it does show because that makes up a very small portion of all categories.

Household budgets have been hard-hit by the increase in food and fuel prices.

"We have cut down spending on vegetables," Puspanjali Sahu, a resident of the eastern Indian city of Bhubaneswar, said. "We are not going out to any eatery, we are not watching movies in the cinema hall."

The RBI's projections showed inflation staying above the 6 per cent top end of its target range until early 2023.

While RBI Governor earlier this month said inflation has peaked and will likely moderate to around 5 per cent by the April-June quarter of next year, the latest surge back in price pressures contradicts the central bank's broad expectations and is not good news for a country whose bane has been supply-driven inflation.

The RBI governor also said that the policy aimed to control inflation while minimising any impact on economic growth. But the latest consumer price-based inflation pressures the central bank to act more aggressively and mirror the policy path of major central banks in the West - fight inflation at any cost, including a recession.

The central bank raised its key policy repo rate by 50 basis points (bps) in August to 5.40 per cent, taking the total rise since May to 140 bps. Its next policy decision is due on September 30, with expectations before the inflation data of a rise of fewer than 50 bps.

"We expect an additional 60 bps rate hike by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) before they bring the rate hike cycle to an end as they shift the focus back to growth given the rather dismal employment situation," said Societe Generale's Mr Kundu.

Further breakdown of the data showed rural inflation above the urban price pressures for the third month in a row.

Separately, the National Statistical Office (NSO) data showed India's industrial production rose 2.4 per cent in July from a year ago, compared to an annual 3.2 per cent in July.

 

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