Next sees online jump but store sales still down

Retailer Next says its sales were higher in the past three months than they were for the same period last year, after a 23% jump in online trade.

Full-price sales were up nearly 3%, while total sales were up 1.4% compared with the same three months last year.

The company has raised its profit forecast for the year to £365m.

But sales in Next stores have been badly affected by the pandemic and are about half of what they were by this time in 2019.

There are fears that the coronavirus pandemic is worsening in the UK, just as firms gear up for the traditionally busy Christmas period.

Next has warned that a two-week lockdown in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland in November would cause a drop in full-price retail sales of nearly £60m.

Last month, the boss of Next, Lord Wolfson, said there was a clear threat to thousands of jobs in retail, because the lockdown had triggered a permanent shift to online shopping.

Retailers have been hit hard by coronavirus lockdowns and the drop in footfall in major towns and cities, as more people work from home.

Earlier this week, US clothing brand Gap said it was considering shutting all its own stores in the UK and moving to a franchise-only model, which could cost thousands of jobs.

Next says out-of-town retail parks continue to perform better than its stores on High Streets and in shopping centres.

The company says homewares and children’s wear sales remain strong, while formal wear sales for both men and women continue to be weak.

Richard Hunter, head of markets at Interactive Investor, said: “Christmas has not quite come early for Next, but the signs are promising ahead of the important retail season.”

He said the retailer continued to make progress, with a big reduction in net debt and an upgraded profit forecast which was “a further sign of recovery”.

“Given the fact that the pandemic has taken the ultimate toll on some of its competitors, for Next to be booking a profit of this size is testament to its enduring appeal,” he added.

Next sees online lift but store sales drop by half

Retailer Next says its sales were higher in the past three months than they were for the same period last year, thanks to strong sales online.

Full-price sales were up nearly 3%, while total sales were up 1.4% compared with the same three months last year.

The company has raised its profit forecast for the year to £365m.

But sales in Next stores have been badly affected by the pandemic and are about half of what they were by this time in 2019.

There are fears that the coronavirus pandemic is worsening in the UK, just as firms gear up for the traditionally busy Christmas period.

Next has warned that a two-week lockdown in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland in November would cause a drop in full-price retail sales of nearly £60m.

Last month, the boss of Next, Lord Wolfson, said there was a clear threat to thousands of jobs in retail, because the lockdown had triggered a permanent shift to online shopping.

Retailers have been hit hard by coronavirus lockdowns and the drop in footfall in major towns and cities, as more people work from home.

Earlier this week, US clothing brand Gap said it was considering shutting all its own stores in the UK and moving to a franchise-only model, which could cost thousands of jobs.

Next says out-of-town retail parks continue to perform better than its stores on High Streets and in shopping centres.

The company says homewares and children’s wear sales remain strong, while formal wear sales for both men and women continue to be weak.

Heathrow overtaken as Europes busiest airport amid pandemic

Heathrow says it has been overtaken as Europe’s busiest airport for the first time by Paris Charles de Gaulle because of a slump in demand for air travel.

Heathrow said its passenger numbers were 84% down in the three months to September as the pandemic continued to ravage its business.

It expects just 22.6 million passengers next year, a quarter of 2019 levels.

Boss John Holland Kaye said Britain had been too slow to embrace passenger testing and was “falling behind”.

He said Paris Charles De Gaulle and other rivals such as Amsterdam Schiphol had reopened faster because they had implemented testing regimes.

“Already in France and Germany, even Canada and Ireland have moved to testing and this is the way to make sure we can protect jobs in the UK as well as protecting people from coronavirus,” Mr Holland Kaye told the BBC.

“The government really need to get on and make this happen before the beginning of December if we are going to save people’s jobs.”

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has said he wants to have post-arrivals testing up and running in the UK by 1 December.

This would reduce the amount of time arrivals from higher risk destinations had to spend in quarantine from 14 days – seen as a big deterrent to air travel – to a week.

But Mr Holland Kaye told the BBC the industry still needed a “commitment” it would happen.

He added that the only way to really revive air travel was to bring in widespread pre-departure testing that met internationally agreed standards.

The airport has already begun offering such testing, but only for passengers travelling to destinations that require it.

He urged the UK government to speed up talks with the US over creating a “pilot air bridge” for such as scheme.

“That is the best way to make sure we are no longer importing Covid and also that people can travel with confidence.”

Heathrow, which is already cutting 500 jobs, said its losses had widened to £1.5bn in the first nine months of the year.

But it said its finances were solid and it had enough reserves to tide it over until 2023.

The air travel industry has been hit hard by coronavirus, with airlines such as British Airways and Easyjet slashing thousands of jobs.

The International Air Transport Association, which represents 290 airlines, estimates that air traffic will not return to pre-pandemic levels until at least 2024.

TikTok shrugs off Trump attack with expansion plans

TikTok is continuing to expand despite coming under attack from the Trump administration in the US.

The Chinese-owned firm has announced a tie-up with online retailer Shopify to help businesses create video ads to promote their products.

TikTok also plans to take on around 3,000 engineers over the next three years, it told Reuters.

The popular short-form video app is being forced to sell its US operations to an American company or face a ban.

TikTok’s Chinese parent company ByteDance will hire the engineers mostly in Europe, Canada and Singapore, it said.

It currently employs about 1,000 engineers outside of China, with nearly half of them based in California.

Last month, it emerged that ByteDance plans to invest billions of dollars and recruit hundreds of employees in Singapore, which has been selected as its South East Asia headquarters.

The Trump administration says Chinese-owned social media platforms such as TikTok and Tencent’s WeChat pose a national security threat, claiming users’ data can be accessed by the Chinese government.

Both companies have repeatedly denied these allegations.

Despite the US uncertainty, TikTok continues to push ahead with its hiring expansion plan and moves into e-commerce.

On Tuesday, Canada-based Shopify said it was tying up with TikTok in the US to allow businesses to create and track video ads.

Shopify said the partnership allows its one million merchants to sell products in the form of “shoppable video ads”.

TikTok users can click on the ad to buy the product via Shopify. The tie-up will be available first in the US, where the Chinese app has around 100 million users.

There are plans to roll out the Shopify-TikTok partnership across Europe and South East Asia early next year.

In August, Donald Trump signed executive orders against TikTok’s parent company, but these have been challenged in US courts.

One of these orders forces ByteDance to sell its US operations by 12 November, one week after the presidential election, or face a ban.

A last-minute deal to sell TikTok’s US business to Oracle and Walmart is currently being reviewed with question marks over what stakes the different firms will take.

In June, Walmart also partnered with Shopify to expand its online marketplace business and tap into the huge surge in online shopping during the virus pandemic.

A judge will consider on 4 November if the US government will be allowed to ban downloads of TikTok from US app stores.

Fluffy animals gambling ad was irresponsible, says watchdog

A gambling advert which featured fluffy animals has been banned after being branded “irresponsible” by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

The video ad for Gala Spins – part of the FTSE 100-listed gambling giant GVC Holdings – featured five toy animals.

The ASA ruled the ad “was likely to be of particular appeal to under-18s” and therefore “the ad was irresponsible”.

The owner of Gala Spins said it had removed the advert from all its channels.

The paid-for Facebook post in August featured a video caption reading “it’s a rollercoaster of cuteness” and a video showing “fluffy favourite” toy animals.

It prompted a complaint to the advertising watchdog that the content of the advert was likely to appeal to children.

The ASA agreed and said: “Gambling ads must not be likely to be of particular appeal to children or young persons, especially by reflecting or being associated with youth culture.

“We considered that the ad was likely to be of particular appeal to under-18s and therefore concluded that the ad was irresponsible and breached the [advertising] Code.”

Gala Spins said it posted the video featuring stuffed animals in error and that it was an out-of-date video.

It said its intended target audience was women aged between 18 and 65 interested in gambling.

Gala Spins was censured by the watchdog two years ago for linking gambling and skill in an advert.

One of its TV ads featured a man playing on his tablet with a voiceover suggesting: “Try it now and see if you’ve got the talent.”

The ASA ruled that the line “see if you’ve got the talent” was effectively an invitation to gamble online in the context of the ad, and therefore implied that viewers could use skill to improve their chances of winning.

Gala Spins is part of Gibraltar-based LC International which in turn is owned by GVC Holdings, which bought Ladbrokes Coral in 2018.

Last year, GVC processed £11.2bn-worth of sports wagers through its various brands, including Bwin, Coral, Crystalbet, Eurobet, Ladbrokes, Neds International and Sportingbet.

It also owns a range of games companies including CasinoClub, Foxy Bingo, Gala, Gioco Digitale, Partypoker and PartyCasino.

The inventor inspired by wanting to keep his daughter safe

When Kim Kyeong Yeon’s 13-year-old daughter fell and injured herself on an escalator, she set in train events that years later might prevent millions of people around the world from contracting Covid-19.

The accident happened because the teenager didn’t want to hold the handrail due to hygiene concerns.

Kyeong Yeon, a South Korean interior designer, realised that many other people did likewise for the same reason. So he decided he would have a go at inventing a sterilising system.

This was in 2014, and a year later he unveiled his product. Called the Clear Win, it is a small unit that is attached to both sides of an escalator at the end where people get on, so that the handrails pass through them.

Powered by a dynamo, which generates electricity from the constant movement of the escalator, the product beams sterilising ultraviolet light (specifically the UV-C wavelengths) on to the handrail as it moves through it, destroying all viruses and bacteria.

As Kyeong Yeon had no experience of running a company, he brought on board his cousin, Kim Yoo Cheol, who was a businessman. Both were sure that they were sitting on a gold mine.

“We were 100% convinced that it was going to be very successful, because when it was released in July 2015, South Korea had just come out of the Mers (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) outbreak,” says Kyeong Yeon, who is 50.

Mers is a coronavirus similar to Covid-19 and, like the current pandemic, South Koreans had been required to wear face masks. However, the outbreak was much smaller than today’s, and passed more quickly.

“No-one was interested in our product [at the time],” says Kyeong Yeon.

For the next four years the Clear Win continued to fail to gain traction. “We wanted to demonstrate their usage [to potential customers], but we were met with cold rejections. People thought they were unnecessary and pointless.”

Realising that time was running out, Yoo Cheol, who was in charge of the finances, even cancelled his health insurance to invest in the venture, without telling his wife.

“Yoo Cheol would always say to me, ‘Let’s try for one more year.’ And a year later he would again say, ‘Just one more year,'” says Kyeong Yeon.

Then 2020 and Covid-19 arrived. The two cousins have been inundated with orders from around the world ever since.

They have now sold 43,000 units across 51 countries, including the UK, US, China, Japan and Saudi Arabia, with revenues this year of more than $14m (£11m).

Their sterilisers have been installed at airports including London’s Heathrow and Stansted, shopping malls, hospitals, cinemas, football grounds including Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium, and even at Masjid al-Haram, the Great Mosque of Mecca.

On Monday, Transport for London announced that it would be installing sanitising devices on 110 escalators in its underground stations, following a six-week trial using Clear Win devices at Heathrow T123 Tube station.

Utilising UV-C light to disinfect things may sound futuristic, but it has in fact been used for that purpose since it was discovered in the late 19th Century.

The light, a form of electromagnetic radiation, kills viruses and bacteria by damaging their DNA so that they cannot multiply. UV-C is also damaging to human skin and eyes, so it should not be pointed at them. No UV-C light is released outside of the Clear Win unit.

UV-C is produced by the Sun, but is absorbed by the Earth’s ozone layer. The two other main ultraviolet light wavelengths – UV-A and UV-B – pass through. They are the types of ultraviolet light that people use sunscreen to protect themselves from.

At the start of this year there had been some speculation about whether UV-C did indeed destroy SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19 the disease, but several studies have concluded that it does. These include a report this month from the American Journal of Infection Control.

New Tech Economy is a series exploring how technological innovation is set to shape the new emerging economic landscape.

As the continuing pandemic has increased interest in using UV-C light as a sterilisation tool, the Clear Win device is just one of many such pieces of technology now on sale.

At the start of October, Turkish home appliance brand Beko launched a new range of products that incorporated the use of UV-C light. These include a fridge, tumble dryer and a “UV cleaning cabinet”. The latter looks like a microwave, but users can put everything from mobile phones to keys, wallets, baby bottles and toys inside to be cleaned in 20 to 40-minute cycles.

Hakan Bulgurlu, chief executive of Arcelik, Beko’s owner, says: “It has been a very difficult year [for everyone]. The products have been tailored to help consumers achieve professional levels of hygiene at home, and protect them from infections and diseases.”

US business Healthe also makes a small box that uses UV light to clean mobile phones and wallets, and it is now producing a “UV wand” for plane maker Boeing.

The wand, a 2ft-long (60cm) strip of lights, which comes attached to a base unit that resembles a carry-on suitcase, is said to be able to sanitise a flight deck in less than 15 minutes.

It projects a different type of ultraviolent light called “far-UV” which can kill viruses, but unlike UV-C cannot damage human eyes or skin. “Far-UVC light kills microbes, but is harmless to humans,” says Dr Alex Berezow, a microbiologist at the American Council on Science and Health.

Back in South Korea, Kyeong Yeon and Yoo Cheol are looking to take on more staff to keep up with demand at their factory 20km (12 miles) south of the capital Seoul.

“When things were especially difficult, we would drink beer by the Han River in Seoul to console each other. We still do that nowadays but instead to celebrate,” says Kyeong Yeon.

“Even after the coronavirus pandemic has ended and our normal lives are resumed, I think many people around the world have been traumatised by this experience and might have fears for future viruses.

“So we think there will be a sustained interest in public health conditions and hygiene, giving our products further room to grow. We will continue to cater to people’s demands for a safer world.”

Additional reporting by BBC International Business Correspondent Theo Leggett.

Shops refusing cash left me unable to buy basics

Stores refusing to accept cash have left consumers unable to buy basics such as groceries and medicine, according to Which?

The consumer group warned the cash system is being threatened as shops have declined payments using banknotes and coins during the coronavirus crisis.

Thousands of people have been prevented from paying with cash in recent months.

This risks excluding vulnerable people, the campaign group said.

Some shops have refused payments with banknotes and coins during the coronavirus crisis due to social distancing concerns, but this has threatened the viability of the cash system, it warned.

Thomas Scobie of Stirling, who lives on universal credit, said: “When shops started to accept only card payment it meant I couldn’t buy the essentials I needed to feed myself.”

He has a chronic health condition and a mental health disorder, so found the process of finding places to shop that would accept his cash “a real struggle and depressing”.

“The reason I don’t use a card is because I worry about the people that are able to clone cards and scam people and being on a fixed income, I simply couldn’t survive if I lost any of that money,” he said.

Which? is asking businesses to show greater understanding and flexibility to customers who may only be able to pay in cash.

“The rapid move towards a cashless society risks excluding the most vulnerable from being able to pay for vital products and services,” said Richard Piggin, head of external affairs and campaigns at Which?.

“We’re alarmed at the reports of people leaving food and medicine behind because they can’t pay with cash and it underlines how important it is to have a co-ordinated approach to protecting the fragile cash system.”

Natalie Ceeney, chairwoman of the Access to Cash Review, said: “Businesses who don’t accept cash are saying to the most vulnerable in society: ‘You’re not welcome here’.

“Right now, as so many people are going through hardship and isolation, it’s critical that no one gets excluded.”

The government has plans to make rules to protect cash and, as part of this, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) could oversee that.

Which? said it supports the proposal regarding the FCA and wants to see the regulator track levels of cash acceptance.

“The government has already proposed giving the FCA responsibility for cash,” said My Piggin.

“It’s vital that acceptance is also treated as a priority as part of this, as commitments to safeguarding cash access will be severely undermined if people are left with nowhere to spend it.”

The Access to Cash Review revealed eight million people were at risk in the UK from the demise of cash.

Nearly 2,500 people responded to Which?’s call for people to report their payment problems last month.

Two fifths of those who reported being unable to pay with cash said that they did not have access to another payment method.

Some people were able to go to another shop to buy what they wanted but almost a third were unable to buy items or services at all.

Which? said two out of five people were left empty handed when they had problems paying for groceries, while nearly a fifth had problems trying to buy medicine.

Andy Fisher in Beverley said: “I was told by one shop assistant that cash was ‘a thing of the past’ when I tried to buy some stationery, which made me feel uncomfortable and patronised.

“I feel that coronavirus is being used as an excuse to get rid of cash but lots of people locally still need it, such as the elderly or vulnerable.”

John Howells, chief executive of cash machine network Link, said: “We can’t afford to sleepwalk into a cashless society where people are left behind.”

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said: “Many older people rely on cash and it’s really disappointing that even after venturing out to do their shopping, which for some feels like a significant risk at the moment, they may then be unable to buy their essential items.”

Aston Martin: Mercedes to take 20% stake in luxury brand

Germany’s Mercedes-Benz is to raise its stake in Aston Martin Lagonda as part of the UK carmaker’s recovery plan.

Aston Martin, which has haemorrhaged cash since a disastrous stock market flotation, said Mercedes will increase its holding “in stages” from 5% to 20%.

The announcement, made after the London stock market closed, called the deal a “strategic technology agreement”.

It comes months after Formula One team owner Lawrence Stroll took a majority stake in the British luxury marque.

The deal will give Aston Martin, whose profitability over the decades has never matched its status as one of Britain’s premier brands, access to Mercedes’ electric car technology.

Mercedes first teamed up with Aston Martin in 2013, taking a 5% stake in a deal that saw the two companies work on engine development.

Aston Martin, popularly known as James Bond’s favourite car company, has plans to grow sales to about 10,000 by 2025, up from 5,862 vehicles sold last year.

The company also said on Tuesday that it had a long-term strategy to increase its revenues to £2bn and attain earnings of about £500m in five years’ time.

Mr Stroll, a Canadian billionaire and executive chairman of Aston Martin, said: “This is a transformational moment for Aston Martin. It is the result of six months of enormous effort to position the company for success to capture the huge and exciting opportunity ahead of us.”

Wolf-Dieter Kurz, head of product strategy at Mercedes-Benz Cars, said: “With this new expanded partnership, we will be able to provide Aston Martin with access to new cutting-edge powertrain and software technologies and components, including next generation hybrid and electric drive systems.”

The first stage of the investment deal will see Mercedes increase its stake to 11.8% as part of a £140m share issue.

Aston Martin’s shares have crashed since the company was floated on the London stock market in 2018 at £19 each. By the time chief executive Andy Palmer was eased out in May, the price was down 94% as investors bailed on fears over falling sales and rising costs.

Mr Palmer was replaced by Tobias Moers, the former head of Mercedes’ performance car division AMG.

Separately on Tuesday, Aston Martin posted a £29m pre-tax loss for the third quarter, down from a £43m profit in the same period last year.

Turkish lira sinks amid Erdogan fury with allies

The Turkish lira has hit a record low of 8.15 against the dollar amid investor anxiety about the Turkish economy, hit by coronavirus and friction with Nato allies.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has riled France and the US among others.

Analysts attribute the weakening to concern about Turkish inflation – 11.7% last month – and the central bank’s refusal to raise its key interest rate.

A rate rise could dampen inflation and encourage investors to buy lira.

President Erdogan’s regional muscle-flexing – in Libya, Syria, around Cyprus and in the Caucasus – has disconcerted investors, market analysts say.

“The rising geopolitical tensions with the USA and EU are new sources of pressure weakening the lira,” said a Turkish foreign exchange trader quoted by Reuters news agency.

Piotr Matys, an analyst at Rabobank, said there were concerns that a win for US presidential candidate Joe Biden could mean “severe sanctions on Turkey for purchasing the Russian S-400 [anti-aircraft] defence system” and “the market is also concerned about [the] rapidly deteriorating relationship between Turkey and France”.

The lira has lost 26% of its value this year and the Turkish authorities are reported to have spent about $134bn (£103bn) in the past 18 months propping up the currency.

On 23 October President Erdogan confirmed that Turkey had tested the controversial S-400 missile system. Then on Sunday he hit back at US criticism over the arms deal with Russia, saying: “You do not know who you are playing with. Go ahead with your sanctions.”

The US state department has warned of “potential serious consequences for our security relationship if Turkey activates the system”.

The EU is by far the largest of Turkey’s trading partners. But this month EU leaders issued a sharp warning to Mr Erdogan over Turkish exploration for gas off Cyprus.

A summit statement said the EU “deplores renewed unilateral and provocative actions by Turkey in the Eastern Mediterranean, including recent exploratory activities”. Greece and Cyprus remain bitterly opposed to Turkey over breakaway, Turkish-controlled northern Cyprus.

French President Emmanuel Macron has been especially critical of Turkey’s activities there. On Sunday Mr Erdogan accused him of mistreating French Muslims and then he joined calls in the Arab world for a boycott of French goods. Mr Macron has launched a crackdown on Islamist extremism in France.

Coronavirus is also taking a toll on the Turkish economy – after getting over the worst of the outbreak in spring and bringing daily cases below 1,000, Turkey is seeing rising infections, like its European neighbours.

The central bank’s unexpected decision to keep interest rates on hold last week was aimed at stimulating short-term credit growth, Enis Senerdem of BBC Turkish reports.

But President Erdogan is also a vocal opponent of high interest rates and many Turkey watchers believe that his influence weighs heavily on central bank rate decisions, Senerdem says.

Selling billions of dollars to defend the lira has depleted Turkey’s foreign exchange reserves. The economy is expected to contract sharply this year.

Even Mr Erdogan’s warming towards Russia – another big trading partner – has cooled significantly because of geopolitical rivalry.

They are backing opposing sides in Libya and Syria and Mr Erdogan is backing Azerbaijan in its war to retake Armenian-controlled Nagorno-Karabakh.

Bosses need to be more open-minded about disability

Emma Dobson, 23, says it is “soul destroying” that she hasn’t got beyond a first interview yet.

She has cerebral palsy and has been job-hunting since completing her Masters degree at Aston University this summer. But despite making about 40 applications since July, she has had little success.

“Because I live by myself and like lots of people, I haven’t done much socialising recently… I’m desperate to find something,” Emma tells the BBC.

She like many disabled people are facing a potential “jobs crisis” amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Leonard Cheshire disability charity.

It says about 7 in 10 disabled people have seen a hit to their income, been furloughed or feared redundancy due to Covid-19.

It also said some employers are discouraged from hiring disabled people, fearing they won’t be able to provide the right support during the crisis.

Emma, who has been applying for jobs in everything from academia to retail, urges employers to do whatever they can to support disabled candidates – in the application process and at work.

“Covid has shown us that a lot of the things that disabled employees have been asking for, such as flexible hours, remote working, hosting meetings online – are all very doable,” she says.

“Lots of bosses managed to bring in these new measures at the drop of a hat – so there’s no excuse for not fixing any roadblocks to hiring a disabled person, or maintaining those new ways of working, as we’ve been asking for them for years.”

Leonard Cheshire surveyed 1,171 working age disabled people and 502 employers, and found two in five hiring managers saw “being able to support” disabled people properly during the coronavirus pandemic as a barrier.

A fifth of employers said they were less likely to hire a disabled candidate overall.

Of the 7.7 million disabled people of working age in the UK, 53.6% are currently in work, in comparison with 81.7% of those who are not disabled, according to the Office for National Statistics.

More than half (57%) of disabled 18-24 year olds surveyed by the charity said they felt that the pandemic had affected their ability to work. The majority also felt that it had hit their future earnings potential.

Leonard Cheshire described its findings as “stark”.

“But we should see them not as gloomy forecasts for policymakers but as motivators for immediate, wide-ranging action,” its head of policy, Gemma Hope said.

The charity is calling on the government to extend the furlough scheme for working people who are shielding, and to make statutory sick pay available from the first day of employment.

In September, charity Scope also said that disabled people had been “hardest-hit” by the pandemic.

In an open letter, addressed to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, it pointed to “a looming recession and disabled people at the sharp end of poverty”.

It called for the government to prioritise the publication of the National Disability Strategy, ensuring “it provides a clear plan to mitigate existing inequalities the pandemic has further magnified”.

The government committed to publishing the strategy – which aims to improve disabled people’s access to opportunities – in the last Queen’s Speech.

A government spokesperson said: “We understand this has been a very challenging time for many disabled people and we remain committed to supporting their safe return to work.

“We are working to support and protect disabled people with one of the most comprehensive economic responses in the world.”

The spokesperson cited the creation of the Kickstart jobs scheme offering six-month paid placements for young people and tailored support for unemployed people as the number of work coaches in job centres are doubled.

“In addition, we have boosted welfare support by £9.3 billion to help those who need it most,” the spokesperson added.

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