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BFI Bullion
January 16, 2022

The strange new world of the Metaverse

Although the term was coined back in 1992 by science fiction writer Neal Stephenson in his novel “Snow Crash”, it only recently gained mainstream recognition after Mark Zuckerberg used it for the rebranding and renaming of Facebook to “Meta”. This triggered countless analyses, debates and most of all, all kinds of predictions and speculation about what the “Metaverse” even is, or what it will one day be.

Nevertheless, an accurate definition still remains elusive and a lot of these visions of the future are founded upon extremely optimistic, even naive, assumptions about the underlying technology, to the extent that they are more akin to daydreaming rather than actual forecasts. Therein lies the problem for so many rational and responsible investors: is there a real opportunity in this space, or if this is just a case of jumping on a bandwagon that isn’t even built yet...and perhaps may never be.

“Nothing new under the sun”?

Based on all the analyses, presentations, and arguments we’ve seen so far, the Metaverse doesn’t really refer to any single technological innovation or any one new milestone or invention. It’s mostly used to describe a much larger shift in the way in which we access and interact with current and future technology. For instance, it can include virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) applications, as well as entire virtual worlds, be it game worlds or much simpler and purpose-built work environments.

Until now, most of the tech leaders and visionaries that are passionately promoting the Metaverse concept seem to be focused on a version of it that is inextricably linked to AR and VR hardware. These are devices such as the so-called “smart glasses”, like Google Glass and Snap’s “Spectacles”, or headsets like Meta’s Oculus or Microsoft’s HoloLens, that appear to have jumped directly out of a 70’s sci-fi novel. They allow the user to immerse themselves in a digital world and they provide a relatively realistic experience by tracking head and eye movements, while additional gadgets like haptic gloves also help further untether them for the physical reality. Of course, while the underlying technology and the capabilities of these devices keeps improving, the basic idea behind them is far from new.

Their applications, or their actual use cases, are also quite limited in scope. VR headsets are basically just another gadget for gamers, despite Microsoft’s efforts to sell its tech as a “work tool”. As many industry experts described the experience of wearing a VR headset for attending an online meeting, “it’s like a Zoom call, only worse”. It’s awkward, uncomfortable, mostly unnecessary, and thanks to the cumbersome hardware you have to wear on your head, you can’t even sip your coffee during the call.

The same goes for the attempts we saw to take AR glasses mainstream. Snap’s and Google’s efforts failed, because what their devices offered was simply not worth the hassle: it’s simply easier to record a video, check the weather forecast or read an email on your phone than to walk around all day being distracted by push notifications that keep popping up literally in front of your very eyes.

Also, as far as communication implications go, most Metaverse predictions appear to be overly obsessed with avatars that the user can design, clothe, and customize to represent their “digital selves”. According to Meta’s vision, presented in a video by Mark Zuckerberg during the new company’s launch, in the future, a user will be able to be transported a million miles away and experience events in real time through their avatar, virtually joining their friends around the world, and fully immersing themselves in activities taking place entirely on the digital plane. Even if we suspend our disbelief and we ignore the fact that the technology required to achieve any of this doesn’t actually exist, the whole idea of an avatar-centered Metaverse appears to be more of a gimmick rather than a real shift in how we communicate with each other. We already have live steaming, video calls and instant messaging, and it's hard to see how throwing an avatar in this mix will add any sort of real value to anyone who has left their teenage years behind them.

The Metaverse economy

While all the tech and the gadgets and their potential uses can provide fuel for endless speculation and fascinating conversations about what might lie ahead, there is another element of the Metaverse that is a lot more practical to examine and arguably, it’s already here: the digital economy. The core idea is to have an entirely virtual economic system where users can create, buy, and sell goods that only exist in that realm, using digital currencies or tokens as mediums of exchange. Of course, as gamers will know very well, this is far from a futuristic daydream. Digital economies like these have already been the backbone of many of the most popular online games for years: Fortnite, World of Warcraft, and many other games have given birth to vibrant native economies and marketplaces, with millions of players around the world buying and selling all kinds of “goods” and virtual objects that are useful within the context of the game.

Trying to extrapolate from the progress made in the gaming world and to imagine how a concept like this might be applied to other fields becomes interesting once we introduce one other key promise of the Metaverse: Interoperability. With this essential piece of the puzzle in place, we could realistically imagine an integrated, seamless experience of the virtual economy, where scalable concepts would make sense beyond just gaming applications. So far, virtual worlds are “silos”, meaning that the user has a unique account linked to a specific game or other platform, along with their digital “assets”. They have to log in and out to jump from platform to platform and they cannot take their assets with them, nor can they spend or trade them in other worlds or digital environments.

Tearing down these digital walls and allowing users, or even investors, to use a single identity and one account for all their digital activities could be the one solid and practical benefit of the Metaverse, at least from what we can surmise at this point. NFTs, cryptos, other digital assets, and blockchain applications can all provide useful tools to move the entire concept away from the narrow gaming focus it has today and bring it closer to nascent, but extremely promising, fields like Decentralized Finance.

Investing in the Metaverse

At this point, encouraging investors to invest in the Metaverse is akin to encouraging them to invest in the Internet in the 90s: it’s an investment case just as vague and, just like nobody back then really knew what the Internet would actually look like, there’s no such oracle today either. Too many assumptions are being made and the only “guidance” that is available are the visions of tech CEOs. And even if an investor believes in those visions, the only realistic play at the moment is to simply invest in those companies directly. However, that would require them to have their own crystal ball, since picking winners and losers so early in the game is known to be a losing strategy.

Furthermore, one must keep in mind that there is a difference between an optimistic forecast and pure fantasy. So far, most tech companies involved in this space are showcasing their vision with sleek videos using entirely made-up and fabricated tech. None of it exists. Even worse, a lot of it can’t and won’t be: not tomorrow, not in a year, not ever. These kinds of “pitches” are therefore much closer to the “concept cars” that the automotive industry has used to show the world what their ideal car would look like if they could build it. In other words, they’re closer to an artistic, idealized rendering of what the future looks like, than they are to an investment prospectus.

Understanding this distinction is especially important for the average investor who is not familiar with the technical aspects and intricacies of this space. Just as with the crypto boom and bust of 2017, here, the failure to read or understand the “fine print”, combined with rampant greed, is the surest way for investors to fall for the hype and soon be parted from their money. Simply because something is popular or widely talked about doesn’t mean it’s a good investment and we’re already seeing the early stages of a bubble play out in the Metaverse case too.

There is, for example, a “real estate boom” in various digital games and platforms that has spiraled out of control ever since Facebook announced its name change and sparked the whole Metaverse mania. According to data from MetaMetrics Solutions, virtual real estate sales topped $500 million in 2021 and are set to at least double this year. The “assets” these figures are referring to are mostly plots of virtual land in the “Big Four” games and metaverse real estate platforms, namely Sandbox, Decentraland, Cryptovoxels and Somnium. The hype has even spawned a new class of metaverse real estate investors, developers, and advisory firms.

One of the largest ones so far, Republic Realm, recently paid a record $4.3 million for land in Sandbox, and as CNBC reported, the company is “developing 100 islands, called Fantasy Islands, with their own villas and a related market of boats and jet skis. Ninety of the islands sold on the first day for $15,000 each and some are now listed for resale for more than $100,000.” Another firm in Toronto, Tokens. com, spent $2.4 million for land parcels in Decentraland’s “fashion district”, with plans to build virtual luxury retail shops and host fashion shows.

Even traditional, “down to earth” and long-established companies like Walmart seem to be entering the space. In late December, the company filed seven new trademark applications that indicate its intent to create and sell virtual goods, as well as its plans to launch its own virtual currency and NFTs. Nike, Ralph Lauren, Urban Outfitters, and a host of other fashion brands have also filed their own trademark applications that would allow them to open virtual stores and sell digital versions of their products.

Separating the wheat from the chaff

As is always the case with new ideas and emerging technologies, the risk/reward ratio at these early stages is not for the faint of heart. Having hopefully learned some valuable lessons from the crypto bubble and the ICO mania that cost investors billions, it should now be clear that a lot of the Metaverse hype is just hot air. It’s not entirely impossible that these virtual plots of land will appreciate in value in a few years (maybe a virtual highway will be built nearby, or maybe they’ll offer excellent virtual schools for the virtual homeowners’ virtual children), but it does seem improbable.

That doesn’t mean that the whole idea of the Metaverse is an uninvestable theme or that it is a trend that cannot be ridden in a smart and relatively safe way. Instead of focusing on futurism, mature and rational investors can focus on the future and on the existing technologies that pave the way for it. Instead of buying imaginary cars, virtual mansions and NFTs for digital art, they can invest in the underlying technology and the companies that are seriously developing realistic solutions.

Blockchain and crypto applications, as well as numerous Decentralized Finance projects, will be essential to the development of the Metaverse, whatever it might turn out to look like in the end, and they are more than likely to provide the foundations of its digital economy. But even if none of these visions come to pass, they will still be essential to our own, familiar universe, linking the physical world to the digital realm in ways that are actually useful, practical, and sensible.

The real cost of higher prices

Much has been said and written over the last year about the state of the global economy and the post-covid recovery, with the focus being increasingly fixed upon inflation. Although this risk was roundly dismissed by policymakers and by political leaders at the beginning of the covid crisis, when countless rational voices warned against the consequences of reckless printing and spending, it is by nowobviousthatclimbingpricesarenot“transitory”.

Still, when discussing inflation and its impact, most economists, market analysts, investment experts and the financial press at large tend to examine the matter from an academic or technical perspective. Most analyses we see these days are preoccupied with monetary policy implications and whether another higher-than-expected CPI reading will force earlier rate hikes, while others are trying to predict the effect on different asset classes.

While these are all important considerations for investors trying to anticipate how inflation will impact their own portfolios, they must not pull their focus away from the bigger picture.

The working poor

While it is striking to read headlines about CPI in the US hitting a 40-year high, or about wholesale natural gas prices in Europe climbing over 400%, the true impact of these price increases cannot be easily communicated through charts and economic metrics, nor can it be truly fathomed by anyone who is not directly affected by them. Of course, we’ve all been paying more at the gas pump, and we’ve been spending more at the grocery store for months already. But the financial reality for millions of Western households, until recently considered “middle class”, is much more dire.

For example, in the UK, where inflation rose to a 30-year high in January and is expected to keep climbing, there’s a cost-of-living crisis the likes of which most young adults have never encountered before in their lifetimes. Food and heating costs have exploded over the last few months and the squeeze has brought countless households close to breaking point. The nation is set to experience a 30% rise in destitution this year, according to the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, while data from the Food Foundation paints an even bleaker picture: In the world's fifth-largest economy, 4.7 million adults experienced food insecurity in January and 1 million had to go without food for an entire day.

German households are facing similar challenges, with non-profit operations, like Tafel, that are distributing discarded food to those in need, seeing an unprecedented explosion in the number of people who seek their assistance. In France, climbing prices have become a hot-button election issue, while in Lithuania, where inflation hit an incredible 12.2% in January, driving to Poland for basic groceries has become the norm for many.

Across the Atlantic, climbing prices in the US, combined with the expiration of covid-relief measures like the expanded child tax credit, translated to a 41% increase in the nation’s child poverty rate in January, according to the Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University. Meanwhile, according to data recently released by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, US household debt increased by $1 trillion last year, the biggest annual jump since 2007. And in Canada, where inflation hit its highest level since 1991, food banks in Montreal reported a surge in demand, while they are also seeing an increasing number of people who used to donate not too long ago now standing in line themselves. Quebec Food Bank, which supplies food to 32 food banks and more than 1,200 community organizations, reported an increase in demand of up to 60% compared to pre-pandemic levels.

Action and reaction

As the headlines about skyrocketing food prices and record-breaking gas bills keep piling up, we’re also seeing at the same time an unprecedented number of reports about social unrest, demonstrations, and protests from all over the world. And while most mainstream media outlets attempt to explain the latter phenomenon away as isolated manifestations of anti-vaxx sentiment, extreme right-wing propaganda or even foreign interference in national politics, the principle of Occam’s razor remains the best way for any rational observer to understand why millions of people are taking to the streets. The simplest explanation, or the one that requires the fewest assumptions, is usually the right one. And it’s no different in this case.For instance, let’s look at the trucker protest in Canada, that lasted for nearly a month and made international headlines almost every day. It is true that the “Freedom convoy” was initially triggered by the introduction of a vaccine mandate that many Canadians were opposed to for a variety of reasons. However, what the truckers specifically protested with their original “march” was the financial impact of the new law, a sentiment that became much clearer as the protests spread. Having already suffered during the lockdowns and after seeing their incomes now once again shrink thanks to inflationary pressures, the demonstrators and the millions who supported them around the world refused to live with yet another threat to their livelihoods.

The link between deteriorating living standards and the simultaneous spike in protests and social unrest is even more apparent when we look at other large demonstrations elsewhere in the world. In Spain, for example, another convoy of trailer trucks made its way through Madrid in late December. The protesters’ demands in this case were not open to interpretation: They clearly called for the government to act against surging fuel prices that made it impossible for them to earn a living. In mid-February, demonstrators in the UK were similarly explicit and direct. Thousands of people participated in marches in over 25 towns and cities across the country to express their anger at the cost-of-living crisis. A week later, the same clear message was sent by Greek farmers, who blocked a national highway with hundreds of tractors. Their production costs have risen by over 50% and the pressures keep mounting, pushing many family farms to the brink.

In the developing world, the situation is infinitely worse. In Morocco, Nigeria, Kenya, India, Cuba, and elsewhere, desperate citizens have been demonstrating for months, demanding meaningful action and support from their governments and the international community. In those less privileged parts of the world, inflationary pressures have already triggered full blown humanitarian crises and exacerbated pre-existing ones.

“The way democracies die”

This is how legendary investor Charlie Munger described in a recent interview what might lie ahead should we continue to go down this inflationary path. The vice-chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, now 98-years old, cited historical examples of the sociopolitical implications of runaway inflation, from the Roman Republic to Latin America, and warned that this “is the biggest long-range danger we have, apart from nuclear war”.To some, this might sound hyperbolic. Indeed, at first glance, it is hard to see how a 7% increase in consumer prices can turn out to be a threat to democracy or social order. And yet, upon closer inspection, it quickly becomes clear that there’s a lot more to fear than paying 20 cents more for a carton of milk. For one thing, all those official inflation readings that everyone is basing their projections on are arguably dangerously inaccurate.

The way that CPI is calculated today all but guarantees that the results will be divorced from reality, as any western citizen buying their own groceries and paying their bills can testify on at this point. A much more realistic measure of inflation, calculated by Shadowstats using the same formula the US government used before 1980, puts the rate at 15%, a much more worrying figure, not to mention the highest since 1947.In any case, it really doesn't matter all that much whether it was a 7% or a 15% CPI rise that sent a working mother to the food bank for the first time in her life. What matters is that this is where we are now. And what matters even more, is that there is no easy way out. This is exactly why Charlie Munger’s warning should be headed: at this point, it’s not inflation itself, at the current levels, that has the potential to wreak havoc in our societies, but the real danger comes from what governments and central banks choose to do about it.

"No politician will allow breadlines to form under their watch,

even if they know for sure that those lines will inevitably get

longer if they do nothing. By that time, it will be some

body else’s problem."

The original plan of most central banks, to “tighten and unwind” once they deemed their economies sufficiently recovered, might seem like a sensible idea, as mopping up all that excess liquidity would be the obvious thing to do to put the brakes on inflation. On the fiscal side, it would also make sense to put an end to all the “relief” programs and all the extra spending, maybe even roll back some of the preexisting benefits and welfare schemes. But as much sense as these moves might make theoretically, at this stage, they are tantamount to political suicide.

The last thing that roadblocking truckers, protesting farmers and striking factory workers want to hear is that they must “tighten their belts”. The same goes for the already-swelling ranks of the “working poor”, seeking assistance from non-profits and community organizations. As most of them are employed and do not qualify for government welfare programs, they’re not showing up in official statistics, but this is not a trend that can be hidden behind the “full employment” data for much longer. No politician will allow breadlines to form under their watch, even if they know for sure that those lines will inevitably get longer if they do nothing. By that time, it will be somebody else’s problem.

Investment implications

As we mentioned in the beginning, investors should reassess the way they think about inflation. Of course, its short-term effects are still important, as is its impact on different asset classes. However, it is the big picture we should be focusing on.

If we look at the lessons of the past, there are several ways this could unfold. Justified public anger can lead to all kinds of unjustifiable reactions, social divisions, and dangerous political shifts. And while we have no way of knowing precisely which scenario will prevail, we can already see a common denominator emerge from all the protests around the world. In different cities and in different languages, demonstrators are holding up the same sign: “Tax the rich”.

For the moment, policymakers seem to be sticking to a “wait and see” approach, with “symbolic” rate hikes and no real plan to actually fight inflation in a meaningful way. And with austerity measures and monetary tightening being politically untenable, there really is just one way forward.

As we predicted back in September of 2020, in our Special Report entitled “On the Brink of a New Era: Are you prepared?”, financial repression and wealth redistribution will be the most likely “solution” that governments will choose to appease public discontent. In this scenario, in combination with crumbing currencies and sociopolitical disruptions, physical precious metals will provide the only realistic and reliable protection for investors and ordinary savers.

What Covid Taught Us About Safe Boxes and Storage Services for Gold

I’ve been with the BFI Capital Group for over 19 years now and have seen the different variations of international investing go through different cycles, ebbs, and flows. I’ve also had the pleasure of seeing our own Group evolve, from the fixed Swiss annuity days to our own portfolio management team, to the formation of BFI Bullion (the former Global Gold), and now the launch of technology-driven solutions like aXedras and AltAlpha Digital.

I’ve been with the BFI Capital Group for over 19 years now and have seen the different variations of international investing go through different cycles, ebbs, and flows. I’ve also had the pleasure of seeing our own Group evolve, from the fixed Swiss annuity days to our own portfolio management team, to the formation of BFI Bullion (the former Global Gold), and now the launch of technology-driven solutions like aXedras and AltAlpha Digital.

Anyhow, in its early days, Global Gold was formed as a result of endless inquiries in the mid- and late-2000’s about whether we knew of the best way to store physical gold and other precious metals in Switzerland. We didn’t feel there were good options, so our founder, Frank R. Suess, decided to create our own. 13 years later, now as BFI Bullion, we have over 700 clients and current metals value of nearly $320M in storage for our clients.

Watching the history of BFI Bullion, and then being a direct part of it when I joined the team in 2017, I have seen what I feel is a “first” thanks to Covid that I had never seen before. That is, the allure of storing physical metals, and particularly gold, in safe-deposit boxes, albeit outside of banks, or direct international storage, i.e., storing directly with a facility instead of through a group like BFI Bullion.

Many prospective clients I’ve talked to over the years were only looking for ways to store their metals. They weren’t concerned about the storage facility being able to buy or sell for them, but purely the ability to store their gold outside of their home country, and outside of the banking system.

There was an allure to storing gold in a storage box, in a storage facility where then only the owner of that box could come with their key or code. In other words, you had to be physically present in order to remove or add gold to the box or storage facility. Maybe, if you used a well-known and quality company in storage and logistics, like Brinks or Loomis, you could instruct them to ship your metals to you as well. But by storing directly with them, or by storing your gold in a safe box or other high security access storage, you had the benefit of maximum asset protection. No one other than you could do anything with the metals.

Covid threw a wrench into the best laid plans

Then along came Covid, disrupting travel, barring non-citizens from getting into a country, or simply introducing so many other restrictions that made travel downright impossible.

In the past 2 years since the start of the Covid mess, we’ve had more inquiries than ever from people with physical storage outside of their home countries that were “stuck”. Their metals were stored somewhere they couldn’t get to, and they needed liquidity urgently, to cover unexpected expenses related to unemployment, retirement, supporting family members, etc.

Despite having the best intentions in mind when they initially set up their long-term strategy for storing their metals, they couldn’t access them. Brinks or a Loomis will not sell metals for their direct clients, nor can they make additional purchases on their behalf. They provide storage services. And for those with gold in lock boxes in secure facilities from Central America, across Europe, or elsewhere, neither they nor an “attorney” could get to those metals.

At BFI Bullion, we have three different storage options. We have a Collective storage, a Segregated storage, and a Key box storage. Under our Collective and Segregated storage options, our clients can still contact us and request to add to or sell their holdings. If selling, we can wire the proceeds of the sale anywhere in the world to them within 5-7 days after the sale is executed.

And what about those wanting to buy in the dips in the gold price? Sorry, when you are physically storing with other storage facilities or a safe box, there is no way to do it unless you ship metals to them, or again, if you physically have someone on the ground with a key. Again, those investors we left out to dry.

Hey, what about your Key Box Storage?

Yes, for anyone that knows BFI Bullion, you know we have our own version of the very thing I’m talking about here. As previously mentioned, we have our own “Key box storage” solution, which has our clients buying their own box, lock, and two keys. Once metals are placed in the box, only the client (or a person with “power of attorney”) has access to that box.

It’s a great option for an investor who understands the aforementioned risks and can weigh them against the benefits of this type of storage solution. This is why when we have a prospective, or even existing, client interested in the option, we thoroughly and clearly go through the whole process and advise each investor according to their specific circumstances and needs. Where they live, how often they travel, what their mid- and longterm goals are for storing their gold this way, these are all factors to be considered and we make it clear that they have to be present in order for metals to be taken out of the box.

What is the right storage for you?

In summary, for the many clients we have talked to over the past two years, and for those, in particular, that have been able to transfer their metals in storage with a company like Brinks or Loomis to us at BFI Bullion so that we could sell or transact for them, the aphorism of “all that glitters is not gold” comes to mind.Many investors with the best intentions jumped into storing their gold thousands of miles away from home for all the right reasons, they did their due diligence, and they chose storage companies that are highly reputable. There’s nothing wrong with what they did.

However, the unprecedented disruptions we witnessed since the Covid crisis started serve as a great reminder to look at the all the details, always read the small print and make sure what you are doing with your gold storage is right for you.

Applying to BFI Bullion just got easier

There seems to be a never-ending search for ways to make life easier on people, and we aren’t any different at BFI Bullion. Along with our rebranding and name change in November 2021, we also revised our website, our Client Login Portal, and we have now made it possible for new clients to do their onboarding, or application, process online.

Armed with internet access, a valid passport or national identity card, a current utility bill, a cell phone with picture-taking capability, and about 10 minutes time, a new client can now go through our application process completely online.

The process starts by visiting our website,, and clicking on the “Register” icon. Note: this process is only for prospects wanting to become a client of BFI Bullion, and not for existing clientsthat have already gone through the application process and have purchased with us.

After entering some basic information like their name, address, and contact information, the applicant will be provided access to their very own Client Login Portal and will be requested to set up a Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) for their cell phone, an extra level of security in gaining access to the site.

With the MFA established, the next step has the applicant answering the usual questions we are required to ask in order to meet our anti-money laundering and Know Your Client regulations in Switzerland, and they are prompted to prepare their phone for the visual identification part of the process.

Using the technology of Swiss company fidentity AG, and after linking their phone via QR code provided onscreen, the process first has the applicant scanning their valid passport or national Identity card before then taking a couple of selfies of themselves. That’s visit to a notary needed! Back on screen, the applicant is asked to attach their current utility bill connecting them to the address in the onboarding process, and “voila”, the process is completed!

For us, the identification technology also runs a check on the applicant regarding their PEP (politically exposed person) status and is able to warn us along the process if something isn’t right or if the applicant stopped the process and at what point. This allows us to get back to them quicker if they run into any problems.

The online onboarding process allows our new clients to skip the hassle of completing an application by hand, having to go to a notary to get their ID copy notarized, and mailing all of the documents to us here in Switzerland. And note, joint purchase and storage account holders, as well as legal entities, can also apply using the online system!

The only caveat to the online onboarding is that it isn’t possible to combine the onboarding application process with the physical application process. As an example, you can’t submit a physical application and submit the identification document online. Unfortunately, the regulations in Switzerland, at least at this time, don’t allow us to combine the two processes.

The technology has already allowed us to onboard more than 20 new clients in a short time, and many purchased within a day or two of a successful onboarding.

As for our existing clients, they can now update their passport or Identity card with us by using the same technology. Also, this process will also allow us to take steps in the direction of being able to submit orders to us using the Client Portal. Stay tuned for that feature coming later this year.

While technology is great, we can assure our long- term clients that BFI Bullion will continue to offer the same services as always, and we will always still accept physical paperwork in the onboarding, trading, and other processes. Even our fax machine is still connected and working for those that prefer it.

But for those looking to get onboard and get to purchasing their first metals with us quicker, we are now proud to offer our online onboarding feature!

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