Don't miss podcasts by The Myth Buster. Bookmark the podcast site http://www.hlquist.libsyn.com/.
Below is a preview of the CMV (Contrarian Market View) Newsletter for February 2012. See the end of this post for a free book offer with the purchase of a subscription to the full monthly newsletter. (Note: due to the limitations of a blog post the appearance of this preview is not as it will appear in the actual subscriber copy.)
CMV Recommended List Market Results
YTD 52 Weeks
The CMV Portfolio* 18.2% 14.0%(since 1/1/10)
The headline in the weekend edition of the Wall St. Journal expresses the consensus of most market observers and economists:
“U.S. Economy Picks Up Steam”
Fourth Quarter Growth Rate of 2.8% Is Fastest
In 18 Months, But Doesn’t Appear Sustainable
It’s like being dammed by faint praise. Or, like, there’s good news and bad news – which do you want to hear first. A 2.8% GDP growth rate (which is the first estimate that traditionally is the highest) is a considerable improvement over the 1.2% average for the first 3 quarters of 2011, but well below a 4% to 5% rate that would normally occur after a deep recession. The Wall St. Journal made a tell-tale observation.
The private economy was actually stronger than the GDP number above indicates because government “pulled” nearly one percent from the GDP. How could that happen? The massive $877 billion American Recovery & Investment Act (AARA) of 2009 and 2010 and other stimuli made growth in these two years appear larger than it actually was due to the combination of transfer payments and temporary tax cuts. Now, in response to the deficit spending of almost $4 trillion in the past 3 years, government spending is (at last) declining which, of course, reduces GDP.
There’s another distortion in the 2011 numbers that are cited by economists and analysts. There was a surge in inventory investment and companies rebuilding inventories after whittling them down when the economy began to weaken in late spring 2011. Stephanie Pomboy, who runs Macro Mavens and is a CMV favorite, indicates that a full 1.94% of the 2.8% GDP growth came from inventory build and that will not be sustained in 2012. Additionally, business capital investment on factories, machinery and computer equipment advanced only 1.7% last quarter vs. 15% in the third quarter. The simple reality is that business is afraid to overspend and is holding on to large cash reserves because of the uncertainty that lies ahead. No one wants to admit it publicly but business fears an Obama re-election and how negatively business will be impacted by more government. A BO defeat in November would set-off an explosive relief rally in the stock market.
The “January effect” in the stock market, has been positive with the S&P 500 up 4.7% despite weakness at the end of the month. With about 180 of the S&P 500 Index companies reporting, there have been 1:8 fourth quarter positive earnings surprises for each disappointing report. A more normal ratio would be 3:1 so corporate growth is slowing which is contrary to what most of the talking heads on CNBC and analysts have forecast. You may recall that CMV had forecast nine months ago that higher raw material costs would negatively impact earnings which was largely ignored by the experts.
The rare exception, of course, is Apple (AAPL) whose earnings were spectacular. The company had record revenues of $46 billion and net earnings of $13 billion for the fiscal quarter ending December 31, 2011. Net earnings were up over 100% YOY (the greatest ever for a US corporation!), and the company is sitting on $97 billion in CASH. CMV ponders: Why isn’t AAPL the target of the liberal left claiming that their profits are “unconscionable?” When Exxon and Goldman Sachs reported outrageous profits in the past, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid were calling for a corporate surtax on excess profits. Investigations ensued. Hearings were held. It’s easy to hate big oil. It’s equally justified to distrust Wall St. Greed. Goldman is no friend of CMV but the question persists. Could it be that Silicon Valley enjoys a warm spot in the hearts of the political left and curries their cash?
In its’ stated quest to achieve transparency relative to interest rates, the Federal Reserve declared its’ intent to maintain the current near zero Fed-funds rate “exceptionally low at least through 2014.” The Fed also indicated that it would retain the rate near zero as long as unemployment remains above the 5.2% to 6% level which is currently at 8.5%. What the Fed is telling us is that they don’t expect the US economy to improve much from its’ performance of the past two years and there will be NO inflation. CMV does not agree.
At the announcement the US dollar (USD) declined sharply and gold rallied smartly. Treasury Inflation Protected Securities (TIPS) sold at a negative yield. Mr. Market doesn’t agree with Mr. Bernanke. The Smart Money is betting on monetary as well as price inflation. CMV holds the position that current US leadership has taken a deliberate and calculated strategy to devalue the USD in order to attempt to pay off the $16 trillion of Federal Debt and another $100 trillion plus in entitlements with cheaper dollars. The event that will disrupt this flawed strategy will be the termination of the USD as the world’s reserve currency. Recent events foretell the dollar’s demise.
The OPEC countries in agreement with their oil import countries: China, Japan, India et al, have agreed to not price oil in USDs and not accept the once almighty dollar in payment for the oil (see Page 6). You’ll recall that CMV reported to you almost a year ago that China, Russia, India and a host of other countries had formed the Shanghai Co-Operation Organization (SCO) in order to conduct trade in currencies other than the USD. Once the global financial community acknowledges the demise of the dollar, devaluation will begin en-masse. The US will no longer be able to peddle its’ debt at a negative yield, and the Fed will open the dollar spigot and the flood of monetization will begin. It’s difficult to believe but Hyperinflation is our biggest concern and greatest threat. The Fed wants us to believe that it couldn’t possibly happen here.
“The Impending Undeclared Default Of 5 Major US Banks”
In an interview on January 30, 2012 (http://www.ellismartinreport.com/node/181) with Ellis Martin, Jim Sinclair reveals that the International Swaps and Derivatives Association could make a determination this week on its review for default of European Sovereign Debt. Sinclair reports that 5 US banks own 97% of the Credit Default Swaps (CDS). CMV urges our readers to listen to this interview, and conduct your own further due diligence.
Robert Campbell, who publishes “The Campbell Real Estate Timing Letter” (Barron’s Up & Down Wall St. January, 30, 2012), believes that inflation adjusted home prices have to fall another 10% to 15% before they stabilize. He also warns that even after they stop declining, prices will bounce along a bottom for years before we see a bull market in housing. CMV emphatically disagrees. If that were to occur, the US would be a candidate for a full blown depression and Ben Bernanke has stated that won’t happen on his watch. Be sure to focus on our Real Estate Section (below) to get our Contrarian Market View.
In January CMV featured The Great American Refi – Part II, aka The Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP 2), which proposed to offer refinancing to all Fannie and Freddie borrowers ($5 trillion in mortgages) regardless of how far underwater the loan may be. CMV has learned of more details of the program that is to be launched in March.
● There will be no loan to value restriction.
● Interest rates for 30 year fixed loans could be under 4% but subject to market conditions. The Federal Reserve announced on January 25th that they intend to keep the Fed Funds Rate and the Discount Rate at present historic lows until the end of 2014 which could influence rates favorably.
● Eligible homeowners can only have missed one payment during the past year.
● Closing costs will be minimal. There has been no indication that an appraisal will be required.
● There is a differing opinion on verification of income which should be known soon.
● Investor-owned properties will also be eligible. Discussions have ranged from 4 properties to 25.
● There will be payment incentives to second trust deed holders to release their lien.
In early January, the Federal Reserve, in an extraordinary and unprecedented bold political move (dispelling the myth of the Fed’s independence) sent a 26 page “white paper” to Congress in what Chairman Ben Bernanke called a “frame work” to address the housing problem. On top of that, New York Fed President William Dudley called for Congress to provide bridge loans for jobless borrowers, more government-assisted financing, a new program for principal reductions for underwater borrowers and even suggested that Fannie and Freddie get into the rental housing business. What’s going on here?
Just as Congress used John Maynard Keynes as “intellectual cover” to justify the massive stimulus plans beginning with Barack Obama’s $877 billion American Recovery & Reinvestment Act (ARRA) in 2009, the Fed and Mr. Dudley are now providing the same cover for Congress to draft legislation to spend more taxpayer money to simulate the housing market. As the Wall St. Journal said in its’ Review & Outlook Column on January 10, 2012, “It’s impossible to defend the Fed’s rank electioneering as it lobbies for more political and taxpayer intervention in the housing market – just in time for the election campaign.”
Ponder for a moment the absurdity and consequences of HARP 2 given the Fed’s prior track record from 2002. Allen Greenspan’s Federal Reserve with present Chair Ben Bernanke (then the Vice Chair), conceived the first Great American Refi Program to stimulate consumer spending by driving down interest rates to (then) historic lows, fostered the manic real estate and refi boom by maintaining interest rates too low for too long, failed to rein in unscrupulous mortgage brokers like CountryWide Financial, New Century Financial and others that fraudulently created and sold toxic debt to the banks and then refused to intercede when the banks became over-leveraged in sub-prime debt. In the short-term (past the November election) HARP 2, in CMV’s opinion, will succeed and create another boom that will inevitably lead to another crash and another opportunity for even more government. We’re in total disagreement with Robert Campbell’s Bearish view over the near-term.
We are all now witness to a Federal Reserve whose Board of Governors is dominated by Obama appointees that share his interventionist policies. In all probability by late summer, home builders, mortgage brokers, real estate agents and the entire real property food chain will be semi-euphoric. The apparent success of HARP 2 could be responsible for the President’s re-election particularly with real estate industry support. The question is, how durable will the boom be? It’s an issue that CMV will monitor on a daily basis. Stay tuned, but Profit Now!
There are other events taking place that are impacting the real estate market.
For the better part of a year CMV has been reporting to you about the prospects of a potential settlement between the Federal government, the states and the banks over deceptive foreclosure practices (robo-signing). A draft settlement with five of the country’s largest mortgage lenders in the amount of $25 billion has been sent to each of the states for signature. This settlement applies to privately held mortgages funded between 2008 and 2011 and not those held by Fannie or Freddie. Under the proposed deal:
● $17 billion would go toward reducing the principal on homeowners’ mortgages.
● $5 billion would be placed in a reserve account for various state and federal programs. Affected homeowners should get checks up to $1800.
● $3 billion would go to help homeowners to refinance at 5.25%
● Undisclosed is the amount the Federal government will take off the top for “administration.”
By itself this settlement probably wouldn’t have much of an impact on the market in 2012 but, in concert with HARP 2 and a multitude of other government programs, it will create a favorable buzz in the industry and stimulate sales of residential real estate.
The “Smart Money”, i.e. private-equity, hedge funds, institutional and wealthy investors also sense that a recovery is at hand and are piling on or in. A private equity fund, GI Partners of Menlo Park, California, is investing $250 million into Waypoint Real Estate Group with the intent to buy foreclosed homes at deep discounts and then rent them out to tenants. GI said they could increase their investment to one billion dollars if they’re successful and they can “scale it up to 5,000 to 10,000 homes.”
Proving that there’s always opportunity when there’s a disaster, a sub-sector of the real estate market has thrived. As people lost their homes and moved to smaller quarters, they have had to store their household goods. The big winners? REITS that are in the self-storage business. In fact, the Wall St. Journal reports that these specialized REITS had a total return last year of 35.4%. Extra Space Storage, Inc., which has 882 facilities in 34 states had a 2011 total return of 43%. As the economy recovers and renters become home buyers again, the trend should reverse.
The self-storage phenomenon was hatched in part by a reality TV show “Storage Wars” which follows investors as they bid on repossessed storage lockers in search of hidden treasure. Who would ever have “thunk it?”
There’s one aspect of the residential mortgage market and it’s implications that has escaped even seasoned real estate players – Mortgage Insurers. These companies provide protection to lenders such as Fannie and Freddie where the home buyer can’t provide a 20% down payment. In order to close a loan that would be purchased by Fannie or Freddie, the insurer guarantees, to the ultimate lender, the difference between the total loan amount and 80%. The problem simply is that virtually all the mortgage insurers are broke and can’t pay the claims.
For example: PMI, which the State of Arizona has prohibited from writing any new insurance, is currently paying off claims at $.50 on the dollar and covering the balance in “script” that Barron’s (January 16, 2012) says will likely be worthless. The stock in PMI has plunged 98%. Old Republic International (ORI) is in a similar fix. Other well-known names in the industry are MGIC Investment (MTG) and Radian Group (RDN) who are scrambling to raise equity to meet reserve requirements and pay claims.
Now, let’s connect the dots. In all probability most of the mortgage insurers will fail and lenders – say Fannie and Freddie – will have to report additional losses above the $150 billion now already accrued . The US Treasury is the Conservator and guarantor for Fannie and Freddie. The Treasury has no funds to feed the “evil twins.” So, how do the insurers and the lenders get bailed out? HARP 2! The Great American Refi. And, for all this to have any chance of working real property values must increase. This is another short term fix that will inevitably lead to longer term consequences. The “Last Rodeo” will also play out in the real estate market, but ride the bucking bull before the bell rings and the clown appears.
The critical issue to this whole scenario is, where will the Refi money come from? We’re talking trillions! The Fed inferred on January 25 that they may resume “bond buying” if the situation warrants it. Don’t be surprised if the Fed soon reveals that it will purchase bonds of the bankrupt “evil twins” – Fannie and Freddie. You might even call it QE 3. Who else will buy the junk?
The following pieces are current updates to articles featured in past issues of CMV.
Chaostan – is Richard Mayberry’s (Early Warning Report) appropriate term for the Mid-East – the land of Chaos, principally Iran.
According to Edward Cody, who writes for the Washington Post, the European Union’s 27 members have formally banned the importation of Iranian oil on January 23rd and froze Europe based assets of the Central Bank of Iran. Sounds ominous in its’ potential impact on the Iranian economy already crippled by US sanctions. Typical of the waffling of the Socialist mind-set, the sanctions have “broad loopholes” including a six month delay before they go into effect and existing contracts for oil will be honored until July and come under review prior to May 1st to determine if more flexibility is needed.
Greece has been buying Iranian oil on credit and refines crude for the Balkan countries. Italy has been accepting oil as payment on loans it has made to Iran. More importantly, 2.2 million barrels/day of Iran’s oil exports are committed to China, Japan and South Korea. In defiance Iran again has threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz where 20% of Persian Gulf oil exports must pass. And, at present, the Iranian economy is in “desperate straits.” Their currency has plunged in value, inflation is rampant and the Iranians are attempting to convert their rials to euros, dollars or gold. (10 million rials for one ounce of gold!) If that weren’t enough, unknown sources are murdering nuclear scientists (as previously reported by CMV) and hacking into computer systems at the nuclear facilities in Iran. A perfect recipe for war. What will the “Allies” do if China and/or Russia enter the fray? Chaostan could truly become the land of chaos.
NOTE” As CMV goes to press high level meetings are taking place with the OPEC countries, plus Japan, China, India, and other oil importers. Their plan soon to be initiated is to no longer price oil in US dollars and not accept USD for payment. India will pay for Iranian oil in gold. China has entered into a currency swap deal with the United Arab Emirates. The USD as the world’s reserve currency is in its’ death throes.
Euroland Is Sinking
The metaphor is inescapable and by now almost redundant. The sinking of the cruise ship Costa Concordia off the coast of Italy depicts a continent that is also going under. The Concordia incident conjures up the tragedy of the Titanic nearly 100 years prior but with meaningful contrasts. But first, the similarities.
The passengers on both the Titanic and the Concordia were advised that “nothing’s wrong.” The Titanic, after all, was unsinkable and the Concordia was only 50' off-shore. As Bret Stephens in his Global View Column in the January 17, 2012 Wall St. Journal recalled, this ill-advised assurance was like the pronouncement made by European Council President Herman Van Rompuy in New York last fall who said that “Greece would never default, the eurozone’s financial position was not a serious cause for alarm, and that the main thing was to prevent further outbursts of market irrationalism.” In other words, the EU ship of state wasn’t sinking and all cries for help should be muted. When political leaders say we have no problem it means we definitely have a problem.
Contrasts in the two events are far more telling.
The pre-World War I era was all about Honor and Duty. A century ago in April, as the Titanic was in its’s “death throes” and all its’ lifeboats had been launched, Captain Edward Smith told his crew: “Men, you have done your full duty. You can do no more. Now, its’ every man for himself.” (Rick Lowry, King Syndicate). True to their Edwardian ideals, it was women and children first and a large majority of them survived and the men went down with the ship including Captain Smith and his crew.
In contrast, the Captain of the Concordia apparently abandoned his post and his ship very early after the accident occurred and hysteria ensued with men running over women to reach the life boats. We truly live in a different era. It has become “every man (person) for himself.” We’ve lost our sense of community and devotion to a common good, not to mention Honor and Duty. The US ship of state is also sinking. As Walt Whitman so poetically wrote, “O Captain! My Captain! Our fearful trip is done...”
The January issue of CMV reiterated the warnings by NASA of the prospect for solar storms. On January 24th, the earth received a “glancing blow.” According to a Washington Post article by Brian Vastag,, “the Sun released an even more energetic blast of radiation and charged plasma over night that could disrupt GPS signals and the electrical grid.” For those in Canada and Scandinavia, residents witnessed bright aurora borealis in the sky. There have been reports of some disruptions in satellite or radio communications from this solar storm and NASA and physicists at the Space Weather Prediction Center forecast that the intensity of such storms will increase this year. Why not purchase an emergency world band radio?
The constant drumbeat from politicians, economists and market pundits over the past three years has been that there won’t be economic growth until the banks start lending again. Now, for the first time since 2008 bank loans to companies and individuals has decidedly increased. At Citigroup, Inc., retail banking loans rose 15% from a year ago to $133 billion. At Wells Fargo & Co., commercial and industrial loans rose 11% to $167 billion at December 31, 2011. All told US banks increased their lending by $41 billion year over year.
No question, companies and individuals wanting to borrow and banks willing to lend is key to growth. It is also a key component that has been lacking for price inflation to occur. Given the constant and continued devaluation of the US dollar created by the Federal Reserve, the prices of goods and services have increased but most people don’t realize what is occurring. Lending on the other hand, creates the “fiduciary medium” that not only creates growth, it provides the fuel for inflation as the velocity of money begins to increase. Americans are about to experience a politically motivated confluence of these elements that will create asset as well as price inflation. Ironically, in its’ early stages, profit opportunities will abound. You’ll find some here.
American’s Oil Independence At Last?
On the surface you will find this hard to believe. Some will say it’s absurd.
● By 2017 the US will produce more oil than Saudi Arabia.
● The US has about one trillion barrels of (unproven) oil reserves in the ground.
● By 2016 the US will become an oil exporter.
● By 2015 the rebirth of American’s oil industry will create 800,000 manufacturing jobs.
Who is the source of this astounding information and claims?
Byron King is a Harvard graduate geologist and is the author of Outstanding Investments (www.agorafinancial.com), which has been ranked the number one investment newsletter for the past 10 years averaging 22% per year return by Hulbert Digest. CMV has subscribed to Byron’s oil report outlined here and his credentials warrant your focus and study.
Peak oil production through “conventional drilling” in the US maxed out in 1970. According to Byron, the convergence of domestic demand, coupled with new technology has led to the discovery of “unconventional” or “tight” oil. Geologists have known for years that underground shale deposits have held millions of barrels of oil and a massive amounts of natural gas but the oil industry lacked the knowledge and the equipment to extract the carbons at a reasonable cost. Now with 3-D seismic mapping, horizontal or directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing, discovery and production has opened a whole new perspective on fulfilling America’s energy needs.
Conventional drilling for oil utilized a vertical hole to a depth where a pump and underground pressure extracts the oil from a pool or porous formations. In contrast shale oil is trapped between layers of non-porous rock and requires fracturing using high-pressure water along with chemicals and sand to free up the oil A vertical well piping turns horizontal when it hits the shale formation and runs laterally up to 7,000 feet creating much more surface area to withdraw the oil. As a result, millions of acres all over the US are now open to oil production. You’ve probably heard of the Bakken Formation in North Dakota and Montana where unemployment is less than 3.5% and there are more jobs available than there are applicants to fill them. And, oil field jobs pay very well. A truck driver from North Dakota interviewed recently on CNBC was ecstatic revealing his new job paid $80,000 per year.
How does an investor capitalize on this burgeoning industry? You could try to identify speculative microcap companies that just might secure a land lease, drill a number of productive wells and sell out to a major at a nice profit. Or, Byron recommends major players who are exploiting the shale play in addition to their conventional production. One such company Byron recommends is Hess Corp (HES:NYSE). The company controls 900,000 acres of shale real estate in the Bakken area. In just two years, Hess, will get 50% of its production from shale oil and gas. In addition to North Dakota, Hess has recently secured prime real estate in eastern Ohio in a new hotspot, the Utica Formation. Currently HES is about $62/share and about $20/sh off its’ April, 2011 high. It pays a dividend of about 0.73%.
Most of the “unconventional” drilling also produces high quantities of natural gas (NG). Over supply of NG has resulted in the US price plummeting to historic lows as previously noted by CMV with our recommended SELL on UNG. In other parts of the world, however NG sells for 3 or 4 times the US price. The problem is, how can NG be transported without the use of a pipeline thousands of miles overseas? Again, technology provides a solution. By super cooling NG to a minus 260° it becomes a much safer and transportable liquid (Liquid Natural Gas – LNG). In a short period of time the US will become an exporter of LNG. In addition, the gas-to-liquids (GTL) technology allows NG to be converted into diesel fuel and other liquid fuels. What major oil company leads in the market of LNG? Byron recommends Royal Dutch Shell (RDS.B:NYSE). Shell is not only an exploration and production play, it’s a major refiner, chemical manufacturer and retailer. It also owns its’ own fleet of vessels to transport LNG. In addition to the prospect of capital appreciation, RDS.B currently pays about a 4% dividend.
A logical extension of the rebirth of the oil industry in the US is the well-services companies who pioneered the new drilling technology and service the wells. Byron, in his report, reveals the “trifecta” or the top three oil service companies in the world. In particular, King prefers Baker Hughes (BHI:NYSE) which at the time of this writing is about $49/sh. You should order Byron’s full report to obtain the other names in this Sector.
The final profit opportunity and integral piece to the rebirth of the oil and gas industry in the US is the pipelines that transport the fuels. These companies get paid to move the commodity not produce it and they’re not concerned with price fluctuations which can be significant. Most of these companies operate as Master Limited Partnerships (MLP) that are publicly traded like a stock on the major exchanges. The MLPs avoid corporate double taxation and distribute most of their income (90%) in the form of dividends to shareholders. The MLPs are a low-risk way to achieve a competitive return on investment plus capital appreciation. CMV has recommended Kinder Morgan Energy Partners, LP (KMP:NYSE), which has appreciated 40% since recommended January 2, 2010, and paid an average dividend of about 6%.
Byron King’s number one recommendation is Mark West Energy Partners, LP (MWE:NYSE) which has extensive NG gathering, processing and transmission operations in the Southwest, Gulf Coast and Northeastern US including he Marcellus Shale which will substantially, in time, increase the company’s revenues. At the time of the 2008 crash MWE shares sold as low as $10/sh and the stock is now around $50. The current dividend is about 5%. Byron reveals a number of other growth/income plays in his report. CMV encourages you to purchase the report for $49.
CMV is compelled to offer a rebuttal to Byron King’s claim that the US will be energy independent in about four years.
In a January 23, 2012 article in the Wall St. Journal, Tom Fowler says, “The increased domestic production isn’t enough to help the US achieve the elusive ideal of energy independence – the country is expected to consume more than 19 million barrels of oil and liquids a day by 2020.” Fowler goes on to say that production (including the shale oil) will only reach 10.5 million barrels per day by 2020. An increase from the low of 7.6 million barrels/day in 2008 prior to shale oil and far from equilibrium.
Who is right? Only time will tell but CMV believes that shale oil and gas will result in significant growth in specific acres in the US which will also feed into ancillary industries, trickle down and be a positive resource for growth and income in the US.
For young men who are amongst the 20% chronic unemployed, find a way to get to Dimmitt, Texas, DeSoto Parish, Louisiana, Dickinson, North Dakota or hundreds of other locations that desperately need workers. Accumulate cash and send a large portion of your pay home to your family. Bring your own camper. There are few places to live. Your writer worked in an oil boom town 5 decades ago. Been there and done that!
There’s an enormous political irony to this story. We have a President in this country that prefers to throw billions of taxpayer money into failed solar and alternative energy deals that will, at best, result in minimal results while at the same time obstruct proven sources of energy (Ux Mining in Arizona, and the Keystone Pipeline) playing to his ideological left. The next environmental claim will be that hydraulic fracturing causes earthquakes and shale production will be halted to begin a lengthy study.
According to Keith B. Hall in the January issue of Oil & Gas Law Brief , injection wells like the Strategic Petroleum Reserve can produce earthquakes in areas that are prone to have them. Quakes caused by Hydraulic Fracturing, however, is less conclusive and are 3.0 or less on the Richter Scale. An even greater issue, however, may be the possibility that chemicals used in the Hydraulic Fracturing threaten the underground water supply.
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