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April 18, 2014

Defend ‘Obamacare’ unabashedly, some Democrats say

Filed under: economics, management — Tags: , , , — Snowman @ 8:36 am

WASHINGTON • With enrollments higher than expected, and costs lower, some Democrats say it’s time to stop hiding from the president’s health care overhaul, even in this year’s toughest Senate elections.

Republicans practically dare Democrats to embrace “Obamacare,” the GOP’s favorite target in most congressional campaigns. Yet pro-Democratic activists in Alaska are doing just that, and a number of strategists elsewhere hope it will spread.

President Barack Obama recently announced that first-year sign-ups for subsidized private health insurance topped 7 million, exceeding expectations. And the Congressional Budget Office — the government’s fiscal scorekeeper — said it expects only a minimal increase in customers’ costs for 2015. Over the next decade, the CBO said the new law will cost taxpayers $100 billion less than previously estimated.

Republicans already were pushing their luck by vowing to “repeal and replace” the health care law without having a viable replacement in mind, said Thomas Mills, a Democratic consultant and blogger in North Carolina. Now, he said, Democrats have even more reasons to rise from their defensive crouch on this topic.

“Democrats need to start making the case for Obamacare,” Mills said. “They all voted for it, they all own it, so they can’t get away from it. So they’d better start defending it.”

Even some professionals who have criticized the health care law say the political climate has changed.

“I think Democrats have the ability to steal the health care issue back from Republicans,” health care industry consultant said Bob Laszewski said. “The Democratic Party can become the party of fixing Obamacare.”

In truth, some Democratic lawmakers often talk of “fixing” the 2010 health care law arrest records. But it’s usually in response to critics or in a manner meant to show their willingness to challenge Obama.

For instance, Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., who faces a tough re-election bid, used her first TV ad of the campaign to highlight her demand that Obama let people keep insurance policies they like.

But Landrieu and other hard-pressed Democrats have not gone as far as a pro-Democratic group in Alaska that is unabashedly highlighting the health law’s strongest points.

The independent group Put Alaska First is airing a TV ad that praises Democratic Sen. Mark Begich for helping people obtain insurance even if they have “pre-existing conditions,” such as cancer. The ad doesn’t mention Obama or his health care law by name, but it focuses on one of the law’s most popular features.

Other Democrats should consider such tactics, political consultant David DiMartino said.

“There is still time to tell the story of Obamacare to voters,” he said. Democratic candidates don’t want to be defined entirely by the health law, he said, “but now they can point to its successes to fend off the inevitable distortions.”

GOP strategists don’t agree. The recent upbeat reports might help Democrats temporarily, but “the negative opinion of Americans toward Obamacare is baked in,” Texas-based Republican consultant Matt Mackowiak said. “If Obamacare was truly trending positively,” he said, “Sebelius would have stayed, and Democrats in tough races would be picking a fight on Obamacare, instead of mostly hiding from it.”

Kathleen Sebelius, the health and human services secretary closely associated with the health care law, is stepping down. Democrats say it’s a sign that the biggest problems are past, but Senate Republicans vow to use her successor’s confirmation hearings as another forum for criticizing the law.

Democrats hardest hit by anti-Obamacare ads — including Sens. Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Mark Pryor of Arkansas — continue to defend the health law when asked, but they generally focus on other topics, campaign aides say.

Polls don’t suggest public sentiment is shifting toward Democrats, said Robert Blendon, a professor of health policy and political analysis at the Harvard School of Public Health. But with at least 7.5 million people enrolled despite last fall’s disastrous rollout of insurance markets, Blendon said, Democrats have some strong new material to use.

“Each of the Democratic candidates is going to have to make a calculation on whether or not they can motivate Democrats,” Blendon said. “For Democrats to get an advantage out of the law, they have to convince people they have something to lose if the Senate changes hands.”

Republicans need to gain six seats to control the 100-member Senate.

New political problems might arise for the health care law before the Nov. 4 election. For instance, the individual requirement to carry health insurance remains generally unpopular, and now penalties may apply to millions of people who remain uninsured.

So far, Republicans have had an edge in public opinion, particularly when those with strong sentiments about the law are considered. A recent AP-GfK poll found that strong opponents outnumber strong supporters, 31 percent to 13 percent. And motivated voters often make the difference in low-turnout nonpresidential elections criminal search. But the poll also found that most Americans expect the health law to be changed, not repealed.

That puts Republicans in a tricky situation: GOP primary voters demand repeal, but general election voters in November are looking for fixes.

“It’s not a cheap and easy political target anymore,” Laszewski said. “Republicans are going to have to tell us what they would do different.”

Democrats deride GOP proposals to “replace” the 2010 health care law, saying they collapse under close scrutiny. Since they generally contemplate a smaller federal government role, many of the GOP ideas are likely to leave more people uninsured. Some approaches do not completely prohibit insurers from turning away people with pre-existing medical conditions.

Economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin, who advises many top Republicans, said the emerging GOP plans aren’t tied to the ups and downs of Obama’s law but look ahead to the 2016 presidential election, when the party will need alternatives.

Ultimately, he said, “there can’t be a Republican ‘replace.’ … There needs to be a bipartisan reform.” That doesn’t seem likely, but Holtz-Eakin said it was the only kind of change that will prove durable.

Democrats can cheer the latest statistics, “but they are not out of the woods yet,” he said. “They have waived and deferred a million things they knew were unpopular, and those are still out there.”

AP Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report.


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April 17, 2014

BNSF outlines fertilizer shipment plan to feds

Filed under: economics, news — Tags: , , , — Snowman @ 6:40 pm

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — BNSF Railway Co. will add trains in the Dakotas, Minnesota and Montana solely for transporting fertilizer for spring crop planting, the railroad has told a federal oversight board.

“Simply put, we are working to deliver high volumes of fertilizer into the marketplace as quickly as we can,” the railroad said in a mandated response to the Surface Transportation Board that was released Thursday.

The federal board this week ordered BNSF and Canadian Pacific Railway to report their plans by Friday to ensure delivery of fertilizer shipments this spring.

BNSF beat the deadline. Calgary-based Canadian Pacific had not filed a response by midday Thursday.

The federal board ordered the railroads to submit the plans in response to a hearing it held last week on recent service problems in the nation’s rail network. Farmers and representatives of agriculture producers told the board that delays in fertilizer delivery could disrupt planting.

The board also ordered the railroads to provide weekly status reports on fertilizer delivery for the next six weeks, beginning April 25.

Increased crude oil and freight shipments have largely been blamed for causing the rail delays. BNSF, which is the biggest shipper in the Upper Midwest, has also said that rail service has been backlogged because of bad winter weather quick guaranteed personal loans.

BNSF is based in Fort Worth, Texas, but is part of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc., based in Omaha, Neb.

In its reply, BNSF said it expects to move 52 fertilizer-dedicated trainloads over the next six weeks. The railroad said each train would pull 65 to 85 cars.

“This trainload goal is built on our forecasting discussions with our trainload customers,” BNSF said in its response.

The railroad said 21 trainloads are destined for South Dakota, 10 for North Dakota, six for Minnesota and two for Montana.

Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union in Washington, D.C., said rail service disruptions have hit those states hardest.

Johnson, a former North Dakota agriculture commissioner, said adequate fertilizer supplies are crucial for U.S. crop production.

“The demand for fertilizer is great, and it cannot be late by a week or two,” Johnson said. “There will be enormous logistical and economic impacts if fertilizer is not available.”


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April 14, 2014

Appeal granted in Lev Tahor case, children do not have to go to Quebec

Filed under: legal, marketing — Tags: , , , — Snowman @ 4:32 pm

A Superior Court judge has ruled 14 Lev Tahor children subject to a Quebec court order no longer have to return to that province, where they would be placed in foster care.

Judge Lynda Templeton ruled Ontario Court of Justice Judge Stephen Fuerth erred in his original Feb. 3, 2014 decision that upheld the Quebec order. Her ruling means the children may stay in Ontario, but she directed the Ontario Court of Justice to address the question of what will happen with the seven children who are currently in foster care.

They are there because of an impromptu flight that saw some of the 14 children removed from the country ahead of the first appeal hearing. Eight of those children were apprehended and seven were placed in foster care with Jewish families in Toronto.

The Ontario Court of Justice is the court with the jurisdiction to decide whether they should remain in foster care. The court has already ordered eight hours of weekly visits by the parents of the children and directed Chatham-Kent Children’s Services to pay a portion of the travel costs.

Quebec child protection authorities have documented allegations of abuse, underage marriage and a substandard education regime within Lev Tahor. Leaders of the ultraorthodox Jewish sect have denied all allegations of abuse and say they are the victims of a smear campaign targeting the group for its religious beliefs.

The group originally fled Quebec ahead of a November ruling for the removal of 14 children, which kicked off a long legal saga that sought to determine whether the Quebec order could be enforced in Ontario. Fuerth ruled that it could, but allowed a stay of 30 days on his decision to permit time for the families to appeal.

On the day that appeal was scheduled to be heard, it was found that some of the children had fled the country. Templeton held a secret hearing and issued an emergency order for the apprehension of 14 children. Eight of the children were found, while six of the children subject to the original order remain in Guatemala with their parents.

A few families not subject to any court orders that they knew of attempted to get passports for their Canadian-born children to leave the country, but found that Quebec had issued apprehension orders for their children as well.

Guidy Mamann, lawyer for the group, says the orders apply to all children in the sect. It’s unclear if, or when, they will be brought before an Ontario court.


November 8, 2012

Fiscal cliff: Boehner’s opening gambit

Filed under: loans, marketing — Tags: , , , — Snowman @ 6:28 pm

There’s a big difference between raising tax rates and raising tax revenue. And the distinction may prove key in fiscal cliff negotiations between House Speaker John Boehner and President Obama over the next two months.

Boehner on Wednesday laid out in public his opening gambit for that deal-making.

House Republicans, Boehner said, are open to raising more tax revenue to reduce deficits — a key Democratic requirement — but only if it’s done through tax reform that lowers income tax rates and in conjunction with entitlement reform.

Done right, Boehner said in public remarks in Washington, a reformed tax code can raise more revenue by curbing special interest loopholes and deductions and by generating economic growth.

That’s very different than raising tax rates — something that has been off the table for Republicans.

Obama, by contrast, has proposed making a down payment on debt reduction by letting the portion of the Bush tax cuts that apply to high-income households expire. That would mean the top two income tax rates would increase to 36% and 39.6% next year from 33% and 35% today.

Boehner’s remarks left several questions unanswered.

For one, how much of the new revenue would Republicans want raised through economic growth versus through curbing tax breaks?

Many tax experts believe smart tax reform can boost economic growth and thereby generate more revenue over time. But how much growth and when is unpredictable. And there’s no guarantee that other factors that hurt economic growth won’t undercut the revenue raised by tax reform.

In any case, the conventional way Congress assesses how much revenue a proposal would raise does not include potential economic growth effects of the kind Boehner expects, noted Jim Kessler, senior vice president for policy at the centrist think tank Third Way.

So an official “score” of revenue raised from such a tax reform plan would be most heavily reliant on the tax breaks that are curtailed.

And curbing tax breaks is not always an easy sell politically to either party, because it could mean many taxpayers end up paying more in taxes even when income tax rates are lowered, said Pete Davis, a former Capitol Hill staffer who now runs Davis Capital Investment Ideas.

In 1986, the last time the tax code was overhauled, lawmakers reduced rates and curbed tax rates for individuals. Most people got a net tax cut because lawmakers raised corporate tax rates a lot, Davis said.

This time, both Democrats and Republicans want to lower corporate tax rates, too. And if reform is to raise more revenue than the current system in great part by closing loopholes, more than half of taxpayers would likely see a net tax increase, according to Davis.

Given the country’s long-term fiscal shortfalls, that may be necessary. But it will be a tough sell on Capitol Hill.

Nevertheless, Boehner’s comments are a “promising start” to fiscal cliff negotiations, said Steve Bell, the economic policy director of the Bipartisan Policy Center.


November 7, 2012

Amazon testing $8 per month price for Prime streaming

Filed under: loans, online ads — Tags: , , , — Snowman @ 5:20 pm

It’s no secret that Amazon’s main streaming video competitors are Netflix and Hulu Plus. A new pricing setup pits the retailer even more squarely against its rivals.

Amazon is testing a $7.99 per month pricing scheme for its Prime program, the same exact cost as the monthly streaming services from ) and Hulu.

That’s a pricier option than Amazon Prime’s traditional $79 annual fee. The blog Hacking Netflix first reported on the pricing trial after a reader spotted the offer.

Amazon appears to be offering the monthly option only to some customers. CNNMoney didn’t receive the message when accessing Amazon’s Prime signup page from multiple browsers on several different computers. Amazon representatives didn’t reply to a request for comment on the program guaranteed online payday loans.

The Prime program is unique in that it covers both the Amazon’s retail and video content businesses. Prime customers receive free two-day shipping on certain tangible goods from, as well as streaming video access. Prime subscribers who have Kindle devices can also borrow some e-books for free.

As of September, Amazon said Prime Instant Video offered members streaming access to about 25,000 movies and TV episodes. Netflix doesn’t specify how many titles it offers, simply saying that its streaming catalog has “thousands” of selections. Hulu is similarly vague, advertising that its library features “a large selection of videos from more than 410 content companies.”


November 1, 2012

Eurozone unemployment hits record high

Filed under: legal, online — Tags: , , , — Snowman @ 8:28 am

Unemployment in the eurozone rose in September to a record high of 11.6%, the European Commission’s Eurostat statistics agency reported Wednesday..

The figure was a slight increase from 11.5% in August. The increase is more significant compared to September 2011, when the unemployment rate was 10.3%. The number of unemployed people in the 17 nations of the area, which share the euro currency, rose by 146,000 to 18.49 million.

Unemployment rates within the euro area vary dramatically from one country to the next. Spain, with its sluggish economy, has the highest unemployment rate of 25.8%, followed by Greece at 25.1% and Portugal at 15 business cards.7%.

On the other side of the spectrum, Austria has the lowest rate at 4.4%, followed by Luxembourg at 5.2%, and Germany and the Netherlands at 5.4%.

The U.S. unemployment rate stood at 7.8% for September.

For all of the full 27 member-states of the European Union, including countries that do not use the euro, the unemployment rate was unchanged at 10.6%. The rate was up from 9.8% a year earlier. The number of unemployed people in the 27 nations rose by 169,000 to 25.75 million.eur


October 29, 2012

GDP Report: U.S. economy grew 2% in third quarter

Filed under: marketing, online ads — Tags: , , , — Snowman @ 12:28 pm

U.S. economic growth picked up in the third quarter, boosted by stronger consumer spending, an improving housing sector and increased defense spending.

Gross domestic product, the broadest measure of the nation’s economic health, grew at an annual rate of 2% from July to September, the Commerce Department said Friday, faster than the 1.3% rate in the second quarter.

Economists surveyed by CNNMoney had predicted a 1.7% growth rate for the third quarter, but were still reluctant to celebrate. Growth around 2% a year is in line with the pace of the sluggish recovery, and is hardly enough to lead to robust hiring.

“It’s a ho-hum number given the environment we’re in,” said Sam Bullard, senior economist at Wells Fargo. “We’re looking ahead to fiscal cliff, and holiday sales forecasts this year are lower than last year. We’re limping into the final quarter this year.”

Related: Check the unemployment rate in your state

One major economic theory suggests that the economy needs to grow around 3% a year to bring unemployment down by one percentage point. The unemployment rate was 7.8% as of September.

“Growth rates this low will not reliably lower joblessness in the years to come,” said Josh Bivens, research and policy director for the Economic Policy Institute.

Residential construction accelerated at a 14% pace in the third quarter, signaling the housing sector may have finally started recovering. But because housing makes up less than 3% of the entire U.S. economy, the impact was minor.

Consumer spending, which makes up more than two-thirds of the economy, grew at an annual pace of 2% in the third quarter. This was the single biggest contributor to stronger economic growth, and was supported mainly by stronger auto sales.

Surprisingly, higher federal defense spending also boosted the economy, growing at a 13% annual rate after shrinking in the three prior quarters.

“We can’t figure out where that came from,” Bullard said. “That category is highly susceptible to being revised, and we expect it’s going to get watered down.”

State and local governments contracted for the 12th consecutive quarter. Meanwhile, businesses cut back on their spending.

Spending on software and equipment in particular, had previously been a strong point in the recovery, but was flat in the third quarter. Economists point to uncertainty over tax policy and the fiscal cliff as key reasons why businesses are now holding back.

“The ongoing fiscal folly is a major contributing factor to the soft tone of the economy, as is evidenced by the slower pace of investment spending, especially spending on equipment and software, which was flat,” said Ward McCarthy, chief financial economist at Jefferies & Co. “The uncertainty generated by fiscal ineptitude has basically shut down investment spending.”

Weak exports also weighed on growth, a sign that global economic weakness is hitting American manufacturers. The world’s second largest economy, China has been slowing, and Europe’s economy has been shrinking.

Economists are expecting the U.S. economy to slow in the fourth quarter, as uncertainty about the fiscal cliff and weaker growth overseas intensify.

“After the election we expect economic activity to slow and both businesses and consumers to pull back in response to a contentious debate over fiscal policy,” said Ellen Zentner, senior economist at Nomura.


October 24, 2012

Spanish economy shrinks again

Filed under: canada, economics — Tags: , , , — Snowman @ 5:28 am

Spain fell deeper into recession in the third quarter, upping the pressure on Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy as he seeks more austerity measures and considers requesting a eurozone-led bailout.

Preliminary central bank figures for the quarter released Tuesday showed the Spanish economy shrank by 0.4% compared to the March-June period, with contractions occurring in both government and household spending. Year-over-year, the economy contracted by 1.7% in the three months ended Sept. 30, compared with 1.3% in the second quarter.

Spain, the eurozone’s fourth largest economy, is stuck in its second recession in three years. Both the government and the International Monetary Fund are predicting further contraction next year, although they differ on the scale.

Unemployment has risen to record levels around 25%, putting Spain on a par with Greece, and sparking angry protests at the waves of spending cuts and tax increases introduced by the government to reduce debt.

Rajoy presents his 2013 budget to parliament later Tuesday. It includes plans for further austerity measures aimed at bringing down the budget deficit. Opposition groups have promised to organize more protests in response.

Yields on Spanish government 10-year bonds soared above 7% in July on fears the government would default. But they fell to just above 5% as Madrid won a promise of eurozone help for its banks and the European Central Bank pledged to buy government bonds.

Related: Spain’s future brightens as it dodges downgrade bullet

Investors have begun to demand a higher risk premium — the 10-year bond was quoted at 5.6% Tuesday — due to a lack of clarity about when Spain will formally request help from the European Stability Mechanism, one of the conditions for ECB action small personal loans.

Rajoy’s People’s Party won an election in his home region of Galicia last weekend. Some analysts had expected a bailout request to follow, but last week’s lack of progress at an EU leaders’ summit on the mechanics of the ESM could lead to further delay.

The ESM is the eurozone’s permanent rescue mechanism, replacing the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF).

“Uncertainties remain around, for example… whether the EFSF loan to recapitalize Spanish banks will remain on Spain’s sovereign balance sheet and how soon these issues will be resolved,” ratings agency Fitch said in a note.

Related: EU leaders punt on thorny issues

Ratings agency Moody’s last week confirmed its investment grade rating on Spain, based on the assumption that Madrid will tap the ESM, and reflecting progress on fiscal and banking reform.

But it cut its rating Tuesday on five Spanish regions — Andalucia, Extremadura, Castilla-La Mancha, Catalunya, and Murcia.

Moody’s attributed the cuts to deterioration in liquidity, large debt redemptions due before the end of the year and increased reliance on central government funding that masks fundamental economic weakness.

In another reminder of southern Europe’s financial woes, Russia said Tuesday it was still discussing a €5 billion bailout loan for Cyprus.

“We are working through this question, but until now there have been no (new) developments,” Finance Minister Anton Siluanov told reporters.

The Mediterranean island state is the fifth of 17 eurozone countries seeking financial support. It is heavily exposed to losses on Greek loans.


October 18, 2012

Bank of America tops forecasts, driven by mortgages, trading and investment banking

Filed under: money, term — Tags: , , , — Snowman @ 5:28 am

Mortgages both helped and hurt Bank of America’s third-quarter results. While the bank cashed in consumer demand for new mortgages and refinancing old ones, its tarnished portfolio of pre-financial crisis mortgage loans continued to cut into profits.

Revenue from the refinancing and origination of home mortgages increased 12% from the second quarter and 18% from a year earlier. Amid a broader plan to cut 30,000 employees over the next several years, Bank of America actually added 3,000 to 4,000 new workers to handle the rising mortgage volume.

On the flip side, Bank of America is still dogged by its Countrywide baggage and other pre-financial crisis loans. The mortgage lending unit failed to turn a profit during the quarter, as the cost of managing the bank’s delinquent and defaulted loans dragged down the unit’s earnings.

But Bank of America still managed to report earnings that topped expectations. The bank earned $340 million, which translated to $0.00 per share, on revenue of $22.5 billion. Analysts expected the bank to generate a net loss of 7 cents per share, on $21.9 billion of revenue.

“Our strategy is taking hold even as we work through a challenging economy and continue to clean up legacy issues,” CEO Brian Moynihan said in a statement.

Moynihan and CFO Bruce Thompson said on an analyst call that as those so-called legacy costs continue to shrink, the bank will move some of its staffers who service delinquent mortgages into divisions that work on new mortgages or refinancing no teletrack payday loans.

Related: Big bank lending remains weak

Bank of America also cashed in on the global corporate refinancing boom. Fees in the investment banking division jumped 17% from the second quarter and 44% from the third quarter of 2011.

Overall, the bank increased both its deposits and its lending from the prior quarter. Deposits grew 2.7%, and lending increased 8%.

Still, the bank remains mired in litigation from the financial crisis. A$1.6 billion litigation expense dragged down profits this quarter. Part of that stemmed from the bank’s recent $2.53 billion settlement of a class action shareholder lawsuit related to Bank of America’s acquisition of Merrill Lynch.

That settlement will help the bank put the bulk of its litigation expenses behind it, executives said on the conference call.

Shares of , Fortune 500) are up 70% this year, after dropping precipitously in 2011. The bank’s stock edged up about 0.6% early Wednesday.

Bank of America is the fifth major bank to report earnings, following , Fortune 500), , Fortune 500), , Fortune 500), and , Fortune 500). All four banks also beat expectations. , Fortune 500) reports Thursday.


September 13, 2012

European stocks rally after German ruling

Filed under: economics, mortgage — Tags: , , , — Snowman @ 7:28 am

Investors around the world cheered a German court ruling that clears the way for Europe’s latest rescue fund.

European stocks rallied, the euro climbed higher, and borrowing costs in Spain and Italy eased to their lowest levels in six months.

Early Wednesday, the German Constitutional Court ruled against a group of conservative politicians who requested an injunction that would bar Germany from ratifying the treaty governing the European Stability Mechanism.

The DAX in Frankfurt surged almost 2%, while the CAC 40 in Paris jumped 1%. London’s FTSE closed down 0.2%.

Wall Street also got a lift from Europe, with all three major U.S. indexes rising 0.2%.

“I think it’s very much a political symbol for support of these bailout policies,” said Clemens Fuest, professor of taxation at Oxford University’s Sa?d Business School. “That’s bad news for the taxpayer, but good news for people who hold government bonds. I think the uncertainly about short-term exits [from the European Union] of Greece and other countries like Spain has been reduced.”

The decision helped push down Spanish 10-year bond yields to 5.6%, while the yield on the Italian 10-year bond slid to 5.06%. Borrowing costs for both nations haven’t been this low in months as Spain and Italy have struggled to reduce their deficits.

Last week’s move by the European Central Bank to buy euro-area bonds helped ease investors’ concerns. And the latest news from Germany is adding to that optimism. The euro is at a four-month high against the U.S. dollar, just shy of $1.30.

German magazine Der Spiegel referred to the German court ruling as “a sigh of relief” for Germany and Europe, and “a historically significant signal for the euro rescue.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel echoed the sentiment, calling it “a good day for Europe.”

Asian markets, which were already closed ahead of the German ruling, ended higher. Tokyo’s Nikkei gained 1.7%, while the Hang Seng in Hong Kong was up 0.9%, and the Shanghai Composite added 0.3%.


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