San Francisco

Massive Rent Declines in America's Most Expensive Cities Prove, Once Again, That Supply and Demand Is Real

San Francisco, New York City, Boston, and other large metro areas have posted double-digit drops in rent.

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The country's priciest cities are seeing massive declines in rents as people who are now free to work remotely and unable to enjoy the typical amenities of urban living decamp for less expensive metros.

Tucked away in this trend is a lesson for cities: Building more housing is the key to solving affordability problems.

San Francisco has also seen the largest price declines. Rents for studio apartments there have declined by 31 percent year over year there, according to a new report from Realtor.com. Rents for one- and two-bedroom units declined by 24 percent and 20 percent respectively.

"What we're seeing is really the move away from high cost, particularly in urban downtowns, toward the suburbs and toward affordability," said Realtor.com senior economist George Ratiu to the San Francisco Chronicle. The embrace of remote work among tech employers concentrated in the Bay Area and Silicon Valley is why those areas have seen the largest price drops, he told the Chronicle.

Nearby San Mateo and Santa Clara counties have seen price declines of 12 percent for one-bedroom units, and around 10 percent for two-bedroom ones.

It's not just California, either. Other dense urban areas have seen steep price declines as well. King County, Washington (which contains Seattle) has seen rents fall 12 percent for studios and 10 percent for one-bedroom units.

In Manhattan, rents have declined by 15 percent for studios and 10 percent for one-bedroom apartments. Washington, D.C., and Boston both also report double-digit rent drops.

The trend, if not the individual figures, matches reports from other listing websites. A recent report from Apartment List found median rents had declined 20 percent year over year in San Francisco, 12 percent in New York City, and 9 percent in Seattle.

Emily Hamilton, a researcher at George Mason University's Mercatus Center, notes that data for short-term changes in rent prices are notoriously hard to come by, and much of what is available is skewed toward the higher end of the market. Lower-priced units, she says, have likely seen much less significant price declines.

Nevertheless, she says that the massive rent declines in the country's most expensive cities vindicate those who rightly say that supply and demand set housing prices.

"As vacancy rates are rising as a result, landlords are responding by lowering prices or offering incentives like a free month of rent or free parking," Hamilton tells Reason.

Just prior to the spread of the coronavirus and associated lockdowns, projects that would have added tens of thousands of units on vacant land in New York and Boston attracted opposition from housing advocates who worried that new higher-end units would only drive up prices. This summer, one San Francisco supervisor derided activists supporting a small market-rate project in his district as embracing a "twisted 'all housing matters' theory."

One of the chief complaints of opponents of a failed California state bill that would have legalized mid-rise apartments near transit stops and job centers was that it would mostly produce market-rate or "luxury" housing, thus making affordability issues worse.

These same places are now seeing massive price declines as the number of available units grows, and the number of prospective renters shrinks.

That's not necessarily a good thing for cities, since their newfound affordability comes at the expense of jobs. "It would be better from a city government point of view if the population was growing but prices were falling because so many more apartments were being built," says Hamilton.

It should serve as evidence that growing the number of available units, even if they are market-rate units, is crucial to making cities more affordable. That's an important lesson for cities as they prepare to bounce back from the pandemic.

Absent a rash of new construction, the price declines that we've seen over the past year will prove fleeting as people and firms return to cities, and empty units fill up.

That new construction isn't going to happen unless these same cities—and the politicians who govern them—repeal regulations that limit how much new housing can be built, and where it can go.

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  1. Rent goes down due to people fleeing liberal shit holes. Film at 11.

    1. Yes, I am told that these cities, many of them, are liberally populated by homeless people, who in turn, being uninhibited, liberally populate the streets and sidewalks with their turds! These cities are, then, literally uninhabitable due to the uninhibited, liberal spreading of turds! Thus, “liberal shit holes”!

      There’s ALWAYS a bright side, though! Tulpa mostly keeps to these liberal shit-holes, always on the prowl for Tulpa’s next feast, slurping up those turds and munching them down, keeping Tulpa OUT of the suburbs and rural spaces where many of us live!

      1. You talk about shit eating as if experienced.

        1. You talk about talking about shit eating as if experienced.

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    3. LOL as opposed to those Red bastions of Mississippi or Alabama?

    4. Pay high rents in NYC only to have nothing open around you. What a great place.

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  2. Weird that rent prices are dropping in DC, but home sale prices are holding steady and are rising in the suburbs mainly because interest rates are so low that the monthly payments are lower. Even with that I was seeing so many houses go for over asking, sometimes well over. There has been a buying frenzy throughout this whole virus thing.

    1. I just checked 10 apartments in Silver Spring and Takoma Park and the prices haven’t changed much since I checked a few months ago.

      Home sale prices are definitely soaring from what I can tell. I’ve kept track of a few houses and some other neighbor’s homes and they all went above asking price. Anecdotal I know, but I would like to see the DC apartments with double digit drops. I’ll go there.

      1. Ex-apartment dwellers move to the `burbs and buy a house. What’s strange about that? Same pattern is going on in Connecticut. A house with a decent sized yard, in a town with “good schools” or within easy distance of a private school, especially if not far from a train station for the occasional mandatory meeting in NYC is like gold. Even house rentals were in short supply in the Spring, once folks figured it would take a while to get the pandemic under control. Of course, the people selling may be moving to Vermont. One man’s bolthole is another man’s hellhole.

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    2. In a single-family house in the suburbs, you’re unlikely to catch your neighbor’s virus. In an apartment building, it is often different. IIRC, the worldwide SARS outbreak was traced to one apartment building in Hong Kong; it didn’t begin there, but one visitor from the mainland brought it, nearly everyone living there got it, a few of them made international flights before they began showing symptoms, and pretty soon people were dying even in Canada.

      And if you’re working from home, you no longer have to worry about the horrendous commuting into DC.

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  5. “One of the chief complaints of opponents of a failed California state bill that would have legalized mid-rise apartments near transit stops and job centers was that it would mostly produce market-rate or “luxury” housing, thus making affordability issues worse.”

    What a stupid argument. Do these people believe that when people move out of their old residences, they torch them? Of course not. When you build higher cost “luxury” housing, that just opens up more units “downstream.” Increasing supply in and of itself never causes prices to rise so long as all previously existing stock remains in place.

    1. In fairness, housing construction in cities almost never leaves existing stock entirely in place. There’s only so much land and something has to be torn down before the new thing can be built.

      That said, my understanding in this case is that the things near transit stops and job centers are mostly single-family dwellings. So even if they are all really, really cheap homes, there are few of them compared to the volume of apartments.

      1. Fair enough. My point is that the people who make this never consider the probable vacancies in downstream housing stock.

      2. things like the guy in San Francisco who has owned a fair sized commercial building for a few decades, wants to retire.. convert the rock solid large structure to miltu-family medium density houaing. City says pay us millions for the priviledge, locals say NO WAY, the building is an historical structure (hah, poured in place concrete. no class, industrial? ComeONNNN.. and have sued to force owner to “preserve” it as an historical building. (joke’s on tham, its nowhere near as histprical as an early McDonald’s). They just don’t want to see the guy invest and make his retirement fund on the buildout and sale. Jealous. And/or, those locals don’t want to see any new units built, as it would then dilute the market THEY now have a lock on, perhaps giving them some real competitioin, and depressing rents THEY can get for their hovels.
        They fear the results of an open suppy and demand situation.

        1. It’s a laundromat. Which they want to preserve as “historic”.

    2. Even more stupid: So called Transit Oriented Development – TOD. It’s a proven wrong of the new urbanists who continue to peddle the idea that dense housing around transit centers will mean reduced use of personal autos and thus traffic.

      We already have such developments around BART stations in the Bay Area and guess what? The majority of residents in these Nirvana homesteads still own and use a car to get to work.

      Just don’t tell the utopian dreamers because they’ll deny it!

      1. Everything progressives do is tainted by moralism. Someone must be wrong. Something must be corrected. There are no utilitarian, pragmatic choices. There are no choices based on random preferences. Everything is the Great Evil or the Glorious Solution.

  6. “Tucked away in this trend is a lesson for cities: Building more housing is the key to solving affordability problems.”

    Gentrification.

    Building more housing, in progressive speak, is gentrification. Gentrification is bad. Therefore, no new housing.

    1. cities, as entitis, should NOT be building housing. What they SHOULD be doing is getting OUT of the way of those intelligent investors who would build if the city would LET them. Too many NIMBY idiots. Mostly greedy and selfish rotters hollering about this stuff to divert the attentioni due them for their manipulation and greed. THEY want rents to remain high so they get more money. A fresh supply of availble units is likely to depress the rents in whole areas, thus taking capital out of THEIR pocketbooks. They’re not so sublte as they have convinced themselves they are.

  7. Empty em out. Send the youtes to the desert and the fields to work. We can call it a cultural revolution.

  8. Not sure about a huge migration back to the cities after COVID. There’s not really any point to live in a city if you can work from anywhere, and with so many hipster bar and restaurants gone, I don’t see a lot off younger folks moving back either. Cities have lost a ton of tax revenue too, so we could soon see a return to 1970s urban decay and crime.

    1. If we beat COVID, the young and hep will want to congregate and be entertained. It may take a while to get whatever the “boho” neighborhoods will be up and running again, but it’ll happen, barring regulations preventing such assemblages. If colleges and universities can’t go back to their model of residential and commuter students congregating, businesses that cater to students, the faculty and staff will shrink tremendously. One can only make so much money off the townies. I do hope we don’t all wind up living like the Spacers of Solaria in Asimov’s The Naked Sun. Even before the pandemic, it has been a long time since I crammed myself, shoulder to sweaty shoulder, into a small space to hear live music, drink beer and try to dance with some girl. I don’t support the modern college-age kids doing the equivalent of that now, but I empathize with their desire to party.

      1. “If colleges and universities can’t go back to their model of residential and commuter students congregating”

        In some places, they can’t prevent it. Even though most classes are online, most students came back here to Ann Arbor in the fall anyway. They already had apartment leases and were tired of six months of living with their parents.

        “I crammed myself, shoulder to sweaty shoulder, into a small space to hear live music, drink beer and try to dance with some girl. I don’t support the modern college-age kids doing the equivalent of that now…”

        I’m OK with it. Sure, they’ll spread the virus amongst themselves, but most will hardly know they had it. Meanwhile, it’s not difficult to give them a wide berth even living in the same college town as I do.

        But just yesterday the county health dept and the university have agreed on a two-week lockdown for undergrads. Is this legal? Will it be enforced? How? What are the penalties? What about the majority of undergrads who don’t live in university housing?

        Football is starting up again this weekend, which is why the local authorities are freaking out, I think. No fans in the stadium of course, but are the police (which police?) going to be running around searching for dorm residents who’ve gone AWOL for non-approved activities and breaking up tailgate parties like prohibition speak-easies?

  9. So let’s say a 2-bedroom apartment was renting for $4000 a month.
    Rent’s declined 20% that puts it at $3200. “The rent’s (still) too damn high!”
    In comparison I live in a nice 3 bedroom 3bath suburban home. I’m have a big yard, near a lake, and 10 minutes from a vibrant downtown, close to mass transit, parks, and shops, and I’m in an award winning school district. My taxes in comparison are factional. And my mortgage is about half of the $3200 rent.

    But alas, I don’t have vagrants shitting in my drive or at my door. I don’t have to check the city (tax funded) poop map to take a walk. And I don’t need to navigate the homeless and discarded needles.

    In sum, I don’t have the “charm” of San Fran.

    1. My situation is common in the rest of the country.

    2. Pretty much. Rents on the top will decrease, not rents on the bottom.

    3. @whats that smell?
      I hear you. I live in a similar situation as you. It’s a far better place than living in the city. Hell, I can even pour myself a drink, roll up a fatty, walk out to my deck, sit down and stare at the city all I want. The city looks amazing from 20 miles away on my deck. It’s just not that nice of you live in the city.

    4. But alas, I don’t have vagrants shitting in my drive or at my door.
      For a small fee you can have the charm of San Francisco delivered to your door.

    5. No, there is no “too damned high” general case. It all depends on the individual case.

      A voluntary trade is fair for both, by definition of being voluntary. Stop spouting lefty anti-market propaganda.

      1. I do not think there was any reference in his post to a “general case” of rent being “too high.”

        He seems to have been saying that, at least for him, a mortgage in the suburbs is far cheaper than rent in a crumbling city.

      2. “A voluntary trade”

        Because the huge amount of govt involvement makes this voluntary lolol

        God you’re fucking stupid SQRLSY

    6. “the city (tax funded) poop map.”

      Please tell me this is a real thing… might bring me to peak schadenfreude.

      1. It IS one of the “things” now instituted by the city government of San Francisco. Yes. Pop it up on your phone almost like Gas Buddy. Except it smells alot worse.
        Other “featurs” provided by SF Gummit are instant get out of jail free cards, a new greatly increased threshhold for a theft to rise to the level of a felony (from Ithink it was $300 to now anything below $1000 is not even prosecutable. Then they’ve sudeeny decided that the laws prohibiting camping in public places are archaic and passée…. and the MOST insane I’ve ever heard of anywhere, they’ve been buying whole floors in top rated hotels, and desigiating them for “unhoused” housing. Yup, paying two, three thousand bicks a month for homeless derelicts to live in luxuty.

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  11. Supply and demand sounds like some of that crazy free market bullshit that’s been thoroughly debunked from both the left and the right. Everybody knows that central planning of a managed economy beats the pants off a free market every day of the week. As long as the right Top Men are in charge, of course. When central planning fails it simply proves that you don’t have the right Top Men in charge.

  12. “repeal regulations that limit how much new housing can be built, and where it can go.”

    Never happen. The developers and investors who own the existing buildings will be the same ones who would be building the new housing, and they don’t want to do that, because it dilutes the value and the income of their current properties.

    1. ^lol… I assume building makers are some sort of gods thus only they can build buildings… Hmm… Which laws made that happen?

  13. Building more does not necessarily decrease cost of housing.

    Not every house can occupy the same piece of land. And there are such considerations as proximity to work and amenities. While amenities is easily solved, work frequently is not.

    Building more around Silicon Valley for people employed by silicon valley does not lower the cost of homes with 30 minute or less commutes.

    Silicon valley expanding and building offices in other cities or towns DOES lower cost of housing for their employees.

    There is a scarcity concept here that it seems some people are deliberately obtuse to understand. The desert and Montana have loads of land, but there’s still only a 10 mile radius around Google that people want to buy in.

    1. That was true before COVID, but a lot of places are thinking about having remote work become permanent. My company definitely is.

      Rural Montana still might not have adequate internet for that (give Elon time), but a lot of places previously determined to be undesirable do have adequate internet for fulltime remote work.

      Some people might choose to keep living in cities because they like it, but I suspect there are a lot of people who are realizing a few acres of land out in the sticks for 1/3rd the price is pretty appealing.

      1. Yes. I used to complain that businesses located in a few select cities were tethering their employees to the physical location when technology has moved beyond that. But also that tech companies have tethered themselves to port cities when they rely on a completely different route of trade. Having warehouses strategically located is not the same as stationing your base of operations there.

        It’s good to see the untethering.

      2. Sure. But wildfires have a way of trashing such dreams quickly.

    2. Yes, building more housing does lower the cost of housing. Increasing supply always lowers prices. Your examples are cost of living, not cost of housing.

      1. Building more houses 50 miles away does not lower the cost of houses 10 miles away. And no one wants to commute 50 miles to work.

        I’m exaggerating to make a point. It is not solely a supply problem that is corrected by adding to some nebulous concept of supply. You have to increase the supply in the desired location.

        Now I get that Reason is totally on board with forcing communities to have mass housing against their will, but even there, eventually you run out of space or reach a critical mass that the infrastructure simply can’t support.

        1. I grew up 60 miles from Times Square. Plenty of folks rode the Long Island Railroad or drove the Expressway into work in The City. They traded the convenience of a short commute for much larger living space in the post-WWII developments and for better educations for their children. The same house 30 miles from Times Square was more expensive, though, all other things being equal.

      2. “Increasing supply always lowers prices”

        No SQRLSY you stupid fuck it doesnt.

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        2. Yes it does. E.g. local folks leave this town to go to where the supply is greater/cheaper. It may be difficult to measure, even trivial, but it exists.

          1. Ceteris paribus, increased supply should result in lower prices. Ceteris doesn’t always stay paribus, though.

    3. You’re leaving out regulatory and zoning hurdles in your calculus. There are plenty of opportunities to build upward and/or denser within 30 minute commutes of employers.

  14. I’ve never understood the attraction of living in a big city. Even now with rents dropping, it’s still expensive. It’s also way too crowded for my liking. There are a lot of nice homes in the city, but those houses are for the elite wage earners. The masses live in what I consider to be substandard housing. But most that live in them love it and really don’t consider moving out of the city.

    Even with the price drop, rent is still pretty high. Much more than where I live. And the homes and apartments are bigger and nicer over here. I do have to drive 30 minutes to get to the city, but it’s worth it to make the drive, but still be able to come home to a nice quiet neighborhood when I’m done with the city.

    But the rent prices will eventually go back up and at some point they will exceede the cost of what they were before Covid. And don’t be fooled by those who say big cities will never return to normal. I already see most of the bars, restaurants, tourist spots and the like are just as crowded as ever now. I went to grab some dinner in the city just last week. It was so crowded, I decided to leave instead of eat. So, in my opinion, the house that was 4k a month is now 3500, but in a year or two, it will probably be nearing 5k. I don’t get it, but I guess city life is important to a lot of people.

    1. The only positive I can think of about a big city is that the population density supports a diversity of restaurants that couldn’t exist where I live. That and more womens.

      1. I don’t know if you’re joking about the women, but living in a big city when you’re single makes all the downsides worth it.

    2. As someone who was born and raised in nowheresville, then moved to a big city and now after 35 years would kind of would like to return to nowheresville, I think I can provide a little insight.

      I’ve never understood the attraction of living in a big city.

      Simply put, there’s lots to do. No, not all of those things (and the inconveniences that come with them) will interest everyone of course, but they do tend to interest a lot of people. There’s just a lot of ‘stuff’ going on in big cities– especially coastal ones. I’ve been in some big cities that felt as sleepy and empty as a middling town *cough*Cincinnati*cough*, but generally speaking, if you’re in a coastal big city, you’re going to have an amazing range of options to do stuff. There are a lot of inconveniences that come with that, but young people are often willing to live with those downsides to enjoy the wide range of dining/entertainment and career options.

      But…

      As one gets older, and you’ve sort of… “done” everything, and the inconveniences begin to greatly outweigh the benefits, then you start looking back to the boring small town. Then of course, depending on WHICH big city one lives in will depend on how dramatically the local single party rulers are looting and vandalizing it. As of late, that has gone up to factor eleven in many left coast big cities. And that’s another factor in my not wanting to live here anymore.

    3. Until they procreate. Raising kids in the urban jungle pretty quickly convinces the most urbanite among us to move to the burbs.

      Hell, SF was even offering incentives to families to stay as their public school student numbers declined and they were having to close them regularly.

      1. This.

        When I lived in NYC , I heard someone say “The day you go shopping for a car and a house in the burbs is the day after you take your kid to the doctor on the subway.”

  15. Meanwhile my rent just went up because I live in one of the places to which people are fleeing.

    1. “my rent just went up”

      Damn dude your grandma is ruthless.

      1. As opposed to your grandma who refuses to take out her dentures when she gives me head.

    2. Ergo supply and demand. Works every time except in the tiny minds of pols and government bureaucrats who believe that government can magically override it by fiat and proclamation.

  16. I’ve decreased rent by 2% and was able to re-tenant in Manhattan. The real crazy shit is looking at housing sales in the Hudson Valley. Houses are being listed 20-30% higher than when they sold five years ago.

  17. San Francisco, New York City, Boston, and other large metro areas have posted double-digit drops in rent.

    I’m sure that $12 a month savings will go far in San Francisco.

  18. the price declines that we’ve seen over the past year will prove fleeting as people and firms return to cities, and empty units fill up.

    Wow, that’s a pretty sharp picture from your crystal ball. Tell me, how are Covid cases going to go over the next year? Not that the two are related in any way.

  19. Can you say, “Commercial Rental Property Bubble”?

    Seriously, most of these properties probably have loans against their income producing abilities. More underwater loans & toxic assets here we come.

  20. And yet you assholes constantly deny that bringing in massive amounts of immigrants (increasing the size of the country by a third every 30 years) does anything to wages

    Oh, and since we’re on the topic, it also raises housing prices too,

    Jackasses

    1. It may not affect average wages, but it certainly affects wages in the sectors where those immigrants work. Many argue that “Americans don’t want to work in those jobs!” But I’ll bet their propensity to take those jobs would increase if the wages weren’t depressed. Note: I’m fine with legal immigration, but we shouldn’t pretend it doesn’t adversely affect some people.

  21. *ARE* real. Supply and demand *are* real.

    Jesus Hernandez Christ, Christian. Did you attend elementary school or not?

    1. If you are going to correct someone’s grammar and be snarky about it, it would be best if you were correct.

      You’re not, moron.

      1. Oh do enlighten us

        1. As a economic theory, “supply and demand” would nearly always use the singular. Latin does it with the use of the suffix “esque.”

          A simple example would be, “The Arts and Leisure section of the newspaper IS where they used to have the TV guide.”

          1. And sorry for the “moron” slight. Too many edibles mixed with national news had the opposite of the desired effect, and made me grouchy there for a bit.

          2. As an economist I can assure you that “supply and demand” are separate concepts. Yes, sometimes they are combined into concepts such as the “law of supply and demand” and that’s probably what the sub-heading was referencing. But without that, or any similar, reference the sub-heading is confusing at best. Taken at face value it says that supply is real and demand is real. In others words, they ARE real. Your example of the newspaper is not analogous. In that case there is one section, which combines the topics of arts and leisure. The verb in that example references the singular “section.”

            1. Thank you, Mr. Tibbs, for beating me to the punch.

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  24. I have lived in both SF and Manhattan. The quality of life also factors into the equation. Who wants to be greeted by bums, yes bums who are crapping on my front steps? Homelessness as they call it today is growing and the public has noticed the results. The Blue states harbor rioters, arsonists, looters and the homeless. I am loving San Antonio, Texas and the reasons are plain as day.

  25. Glad to hear the most woke cities are being hit in the tax coffers. Less property taxes, sales taxes, licenses etc. Unfortunately this woke tenants are moving into the surrounding suburbs and causing their own problems.

    1. They will not cut spending. They will raise taxes more, driving more people out. The death spiral.
      NYC failed deal for Amazon was more of an admission that their high taxes are an obstacle for business to move there. Connecticut had no income tax 30 years ago, now one of the highest and people and business are leaving. Death spiral.
      These idiots will leave and then vote for their socialist/statist candidates where they move. You can’t fix stupid.

  26. Supply and demand rarely applies to modern economics. I said rarely, not never.

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  28. This is about far more than working from home. Everyone knows this.

  29. Building more housing just results in the same dense shitholes we have now. Take all problems and multiply. Traffic, disease, energy, environment.

    Free market so if that’s how people want to live , then fine, but you know we less urban people end up paying for their lifestyle when it fails.

  30. Yes, I am told that these cities, many of them, are liberally populated by homeless people, who in turn, being uninhibited, liberally populate the streets and sidewalks with their turds! These cities are, then, literally uninhabitable due to the uninhibited, liberal spreading of turds! Thus, “liberal shit holes”!

    There’s ALWAYS a bright side, though! Tulpa mostly keeps to these liberal shit-holes, always on the prowl for Tulpa’s next feast, slurping up those turds and munching them down, keeping Tulpa OUT of the suburbs and rural spaces where many of us live! https://livetheorangelife.me/

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  32. It will continue. Technology has made working remotely far more practical. As companies figure this out they will not pay high lease rates for office space downtown except for possible a few executives and for the person that needs to show up once in a while. They will push more remote work for economic/cost reasons. This was coming, the virus accelerated the trend.

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