Tuesday, March 17, 2020

4th Update from Scholar Financial: Examining the Relationship Between Decreased Portfolio Values, Expected Returns, and the Retirement Rate of Withdrawal

The Coronovirus, the Economy, and the Markets
From Dr. Ron Rhoades
EMAIL: ron@scholarfinancial.com (clients)
EMAIL: ron.rhoades@wku.edu (students, family, friends)
Text #; Cell Phone #: 352.228.1672

Tuesday, March 17th
Dear Clients, Students, Family and Friends:
This communication is designed to update you on the Coronavirus(COVID-19) and its potential impacts upon you. In this 4th “Special Report” since the outbreak of the Coronavirus, I first seek to relay additional information on the importance of self-isolation (for those who can).
I then provide some perspective on valuations of equities (stocks, in particular stock asset classes) and the expected returns of various asset classes. As you will read, when market valuations go down, then the future long-term estimated returns of investments go up.
Don’t panic. The world is not ending … But do – have a plan.

The World is Different … for a Year or Longer.
The world is different – at least for a while. For many Americans the next few months will be difficult, as huge changes have and will occur within our society as to how we work and play.
And, most likely, many of those changes will need to be maintained for the next year. Health experts are reaching a consensus that the Coronavirus infections will peak sometime around early May, but infections will continue thereafter. After a reduction of the number of infections during the Summer, new infections of the Coronavirus will accelerate in the Fall. Hopefully a vaccine will be available, but predictions remain that such a vaccine is highly unlikely until about a year from now.
I’m reminded of a quote from William Crawford Gorgas, a U.S. Army surgeon who contributed greatly to the building of the Panama Canal by introducing mosquito control to prevent yellow fever and malaria. He wrote, “In times of stress and danger such as come about as the result of an epidemic, many tragic and cruel phases of human nature are brought out, as well as many brave and unselfish ones.”
I am already amazed at the courage of so many health care professionals, who have committed themselves to working long hours in the months ahead to care for others.
And the bravery extends further. To those who work to deliver necessary goods and services to us all. For example, our food distribution system cannot shut down; it can only somewhat adapt. So, kudos to those who work transporting and selling groceries and other necessaries, despite the risks of working around others.
Let us hope that, with this pandemic, the best of human nature will be brought out, and that – despite our fears – we can avoid the selfishness seen in past pandemics.

Why Is Social Distancing and
Self-Isolation Important?

The U.S. health system is about to be overwhelmed.
But we can lessen the mortality rate of the Coronavirus, by lessening the demand on our health care system.
Our goal, as a society, is to avoid a huge upsurge in cases, as was seen in Philadelphia in 1918, when city officials did not undertake sufficient measures to limit the quick spread of the virus.
The Coronavirus leads to pneumonia-like symptoms. Many patients will need intensive care, and will need to be put on a respirator. But there are not enough intensive care beds … nor respirators … nor other types of medical supplies.
As a result, it is incumbent upon all of us to, by every means possible, to limit the spread of the Coronavirus. So that, when shortages occur, there will be far fewer decisions which have to be made by physicians – as to who lives and who dies.
How I Am Adapting.
“Have a plan.”
Those were my words from my last Special Update. Permit me to convey how I am adapting, as I work from home.
Adequate and consistent sleep. A set bedtime. A morning alarm. An adequate amount of sleep, and a consistent sleep schedule, is very important for one’s overall health. 
Walking, 30 minutes, twice a day. At 11:00am CT, and again at 3:30pm CT, I am taking 30-minute walks in my neighborhood. I am fortunate to live in a wonderful suburban neighborhood of single-family homes, with sidewalks and low traffic. If another person is walking and is approaching, I move into the street to maintain social distancing, and then wave and/or chat from a safe distance.
Longer trips to public parks – with trails to explore – are likely. In Kentucky, there are many areas to visit that are infrequently visited by others.
Sunshine, Meditation, and My Gratitude Journal. In addition to my walks, as the weather gets warmer, I hope to sit out in the sun, soak up some rays, and undertake some quiet meditation, for thirty minutes each day. I will continue to also record things that I am grateful for each day.
To get into the habit of being thankful for what we have, I encourage you to start a “gratitude journal.” Write down three things you are grateful for, each day. There are also gratitude “apps” available for smart phones and other devices.
Eating Healthy. Not being one who is used to being at home for days on end, I have to consciously watch my food intake. Adequate nutrition is essential for good health.
I have plenty to keep me busy!
Investment portfolios to monitor. Financial advice to provide. Economic, investment, and other research. Writings, phone calls, and other communications to clients.
Classes to re-design, and new lessons to prepare, for the balance of this semester. Including recording many videos for my students to watch. Then, quite possibly, preparing for online classes for next Fall.
Finding new ways to provide experiential learning opportunities for my students. For example, rather than taking field trips in a van with 10 students, I will be reaching out to financial advisors to schedule video conferences for my students. I hope many of them will view this as an opportunity to learn more about the profession. For many, observing how financial advisors are dealing with this economic crisis will be a powerful learning experience.
Many longer writing projects exist, which will receive my attention as time becomes available. My first major project is a textbook on Personal Finance, for first-year university students. I hope to have this completed by July, for use in my instruction next year. My second major writing project is a book on How to Choose Your Financial Advisor, which I hope to complete by year-end. Along the way, some other writing projects (a fiction book, public advocacy briefs, and chapters on investment due diligence) will attract my attention.
What I will miss.
Seeing my clients, this year. Phone calls and video chats (via Skype) will take the place of in-person visits during 2020. Because I don’t won’t to take any risk that I might capture the Coronavirus and spread it to any others.
Seeing my students, in-person, during classes and in mentoring. I love the interaction that can exist in the classroom environment. Because some students lack fast internet access, or are not used to taking online classes, many of my remaining lessons this semester will be recorded, rather than using video conferencing. That may change, by Fall. While I can and will use video conferencing (and emails, texts, and phone calls) to communicate with students one-on-one, I will miss being in the classroom and being available to students in my office.
Travel. I love to explore, and especially to view natural wonders and to visit historic places. That will be put on hold for the remainder of 2020.
Business plans. I plan to retire in 15 years or so. In anticipation of my eventual retirement, this year I had begun to visit firms and interview advisors. I have the goal of  either joining a like-minded firm (with shared values – especially as to taking care of my clients, and shared investment philosophy, and where I might bring value to a firm), or alternatively taking on a partner. My goal of achieving this by year-end will be pushed back by a year, and a new goal of either identifying a firm to join, or identifying a partner (and a few of my former students are candidates, in this regard), by the end of 2021 (instead of this year) has been adopted.
Live Life as Large as Possible.
While each of our lives will be disrupted this year, often in major ways, I encourage each of you to “have a plan” for the months ahead.
Adopt S.M.A.R.T. Goals.
Plan out each day, and/or week.
Find new ways to reach out to others (Facetime, Skype, or other video communications – or by writing those good, old-fashioned handwritten letters).
Be available to others … to listen, to mentor, and if the need arises, to empathize and console.
Live life to the fullest, under the circumstances in which we find ourselves.

“My Nest Egg is Endangered!”
Don’t panic ... Permit me to explain.
No one likes to see a 32% drop in U.S. stock market prices, as we have seen from the peak values seen earlier this year. And the effects of negative economic growth will hurt, for years to come, both in the U.S. and globally.
But, the reality is that your retirement income stream – i.e., the cash flows derived from your accumulated investment portfolio – are not substantially changed as a result of a large stock market drop.
In the pages that follow I’ll re-explore what works, and what does not work, when market declines occur. And, along the way, I’ll provide some insights into valuation levels of U.S. stocks, currently.

The “Fight-or-Flight” Response … and How to Counter Same.
During times when our financial security blanket – i.e., our “retirement nest egg,” is under threat, our hard-wired brain lets loose with emotions. In the 1930s, Walter Bradford Cannon identified the fight-or-flight response that occurs in reaction to perceived harmful events. It is an actual physical response triggered by a change in brain chemicals that drives us to act without any thought. It is our instinct and happens automatically.
While the fight-or-flight mechanism may have served us well during the hunter-gatherer times of human history, when large predatory animals existed, this same mechanism can be counter-productive when it comes to your investment portfolio. Why?
            When the stock market goes down, you have an urge to “flee” – i.e., to sell.
            Either that, or you desire to fight – i.e., to kill your financial advisor. (Let’s not go there!)
The legendary value investor Benjamin Graham, whose principles of investing are still taught 70 years after they were first developed, often liked to point out that when the market goes on sale, no one likes to buy. And when the market is exuberant (i.e., has gone up significantly in value), and is expensive, everyone likes to buy. Warren Buffet, a disciple of Ben Graham, often repeats this observation.
What should you do, rather than adhere to the “fight-or-flee mechanism”?
            Repeat after me …
                        Buy low. Sell high.
            Now, repeat after me again.
                        BUY LOW. SELL HIGH.
Of course, you might inquire why, if the market is going down, you should not just “get out” until later. But that involves two really big decisions … when to sell, and when to buy.
The historical evidence demonstrates that, due to behavioral biases and other limitations all humans possess, the track record of “getting out and getting back in” is fairly dreadful.
To overcome the benefits of investing in stocks, for the long-term, you must make really great decisions. You must get out at the right time. You must get back in at the right time. Few investors (and investment advisers) have this ability.
The fact of the matter is … no one has a crystal ball.
The sounder strategy – one that has consistently worked through the ages – is strategic asset allocationfollowed with targeted (or periodic) rebalancing of the portfolio.
This involves, when the stock market is going down in value, buying more stocks (via low-cost, highly diversified stock mutual funds and exchange-traded funds) – not knowing if the market will go down further. If the market does go down further, it involves purchasing stocks again. And again, if need be.
Then, when the stock market goes up in value, it involves a disciplined process of taking gains off the table.
The result is a “rebalancing bonus” that is secured for your investment portfolio, which boosts (moderately, but significantly) your portfolio’s returns over the long term.
But only if you adhere to the discipline.
Only if you … BUY LOW, SELL HIGH.
I’m watching my clients’ portfolios carefully at present. And contacting clients when rebalancing or other portfolio actions is needed.
Let us adhere to the discipline. Why? Because it works.
Let’s follow the plan. Your strategic asset allocation, and rebalancing strategies, set forth in your Investment Policy Statement. Why? Because this investment philosophy has withstood the test of time.

Exploring U.S. Stock Market Valuations … and Their Impact Upon Future Returns.
Now, let’s get into some details. For the purpose of providing you with insights into how stock market valuation levels change, and how they affect your portfolio’s future expected returns. And, in turn, how your portfolio’s expected future returns relate to how much you can withdraw from your portfolio.
For nearly twenty years I’ve monitored stock market valuation levels closely, using a variety of techniques. Through the bursting of the “dot-com bubble” (2000-2002) and the “Great Financial Crisis” (2007-2009). And through the upsurge in the stock market, in other periods.
There are many ways to “measure” whether the market – or “asset classes” (such as “U.S. large company stocks” or “U.S. small capitalization value stocks”) – are fairly valued. I have long settled on using price-to-book ratios as my key valuation metric.
But I look at other metrics, also, and survey the views of many other investment researchers. Let’s explore one of these other valuation metrics, that I believe has real utility.
Measuring the “Fair Value” of the U.S. Stock Market Using the Shiller Total Return PE10 Ratio.
One of the most interesting ratios, from the standpoint of predicting future average annualized returns, is known as the Shiller PE Ratio (also known as the Shiller Cyclically Adjusted PE Ratio (CAPE Ratio). This price-earnings ratio methodology smooths out earning over the past 5-year, 10-year, or 15-year periods, with inflation adjustments undertaken.
While the Shiller PE Ratio can be computed for any index, it is most commonly associated with the S&P 500® Index – an index consisting of the 500 largest (more or less) publicly traded companies that are headquartered in the United States. While there are several thousand publicly traded companies that make up the entire publicly traded market (excluding “penny stocks”), the S&P 500 Index covers about 80% of the total value of U.S. publicly traded stocks.
What is interesting about the Shiller PE Ratio is its predictive power. Not as to where stocks might be tomorrow, or a week from now, or a year from now, or even several years from now. But, rather, what the future average annualized returns will be, over a 10-year, 15-year or longer period. 
More recently, a “Shiller Total Return PE 10” ratio has been published by Professor Shiller, which undertakes adjustments due to changes in corporate payout policies. For purposes of this newsletter, I will refer to this adjusted measure as the “Shiller PE10 Ratio.”
The low point of the Shiller PE10 Ratio, over the past 100 years, occurred in December 1920, when the ratio hit a low 6.58. The high-water mark for the ratio was Dec. 1999, when it reached 48.01. 

The median of the Shiller PE10 Ratio varies, depending upon the period measured.
For 1871-2018, the median is:                                   15.77
For 1960-2018, the median is:                                   23.39
For 1990-2018, the median is:                                   27.66

Where does the Shiller PE10 Ratio stand today?                 23.50 (as of close of trading,
                                                                                                            Monday, 3/15/2020).
This suggests that the U.S. stock market is, after the 32% decline seen from its highs, overall reasonably valued.
One of my favorite charts was published seven years ago by Butler|Philbrick & Associates. It shows the predictive power of the Shiller PE10 Ratio (the original version) combined with another ratio known as the Q Ratio, as to future U.S. stock market returns (after adjusting for inflation). This chart demonstrates that, when the Shiller PE10 Ratio (the original version) and Q Ratio are low, expected returns are predicted to be high. And, when comparing those predicted returns against the actual returns seen, there is a close correlation between the two.

Past performance is not a guarantee of future returns. Source: Shiller (2011), DShort.com (2011), Chris Turner (2011), World Exchange Forum (2011), Federal Reserve (2011), Butler|Philbrick & Associates (2011). Data as of February 28, 2013. 

What can we conclude from the Shiller PE10 (TR) Ratio, today? Overall, the U.S. stock market is reasonably valued. We can expect, over the next 15-years, that the estimated average annualized return for U.S. stocks, overall, will be close to their long-term 9% to 10%, using historical long-term data. However, I would personally lower this estimate by 1.5% to adjust for factors such as lower population growth in the United States in the future, and higher personal and government debt levels – that will likely lower future U.S. economic growth somewhat.
There is no guarantee that future returns for U.S. stocks, on an average annualized basis, will be in the range of the 7.5% to 8.5%, however. But this assumes “reversion to the mean” of valuation levels occurs at the end of the 15-year period, and assumes that inflation stays around 2% to 2.5%. The potential range of future 15-year average annualized returns likely falls somewhere between -1% and +13% … a very wide range, indeed! But there is a high probability that future U.S. stocks, overall, will return somewhere in the range of 6% to 10% per year (as average annualized returns over the next 15 years).
Warren Buffett’s Measure.
Warren Buffett states that the percentage of total market cap (TMC) of the U.S. stock market, relative to the U.S. Gross National Product (GNP) is “probably the best single measure of where valuations stand at any given moment.” 
The raw data for the "Buffett indicator" only goes back as far as the middle of the 20th century. When this ratio is at 100%, it is said that the market is “fairly valued.” When the ratio is above 100%, the U.S. stock market is overvalued, and a ratio of less than 100% indicates an undervaluation.
Jill Mislinski put together a recent chart, showing the fluctuations in the Buffet Indicator. The last number shown is for the end of February 2020.

Past performance is not a guarantee of future returns. Source: Jill Mislinski, “Market Cap to GDP: An Updated Look at the Buffet Valuation Indicator.” Advisor Perspectives, March 3, 2020. 
Where does the Buffet Indicator stand, as of now. It stands at 114% (as of 3.17.2020, 10:35 a.m. CT), which indicates a modest overvaluation for U.S. stocks.
Looking Deeper … One Segment of the U.S. Stock Market Remains Overvalued, While Another is Undervalued (Somewhat).
The Value and Size Factors, ExplainedA concise statement of the value factor might be … “Over any given 20-year period of time, a highly diversified basket of value stocks possesses an 80% or greater probability of outperforming a highly diversified basket of growth stocks.” 
Over the past decade (or a bit longer), “growth stocks” (i.e., stocks with higher price-book ratios) became significantly overvalued, while “value stocks’ (i.e., stocks with lower price-book ratios) became only modestly overvalued. While a few pundits have opined that the “price factor” (also known as the “value risk premium” or “value factor”) is no longer meaningful, I disagree. There exists a strong risk-based explanation behind this factor, making it difficult to “arbitrage” away. Those whose research and writings I respect (including Rob Arnott, the researchers at Dimensional Funds, Professors Fama and French, and Larry Swedroe) all agree that the price (value) factor still possesses meaning.
There is also a size (small cap) factor. A concise statement of the size factor might be … “Over any given 20-year period of time, a highly diversified basket of small company stocks possesses an 80% or greater probability of outperforming a highly diversified basket of large company stocks.”
The academic research supporting the size factor is strong, but the size factor is not as robust as the value factor. Interestingly, however, historically the value factor is stronger in small cap universe of publicly traded stocks (i.e., U.S. stocks with market capitalizations – the total value of outstanding stock – of $50 million to about $3 billion) than in the large cap universe of publicly traded stocks (i.e., U.S. stocks with market capitalizations over about $12 billion or greater). 
Let’s return to looking at the valuation of U.S. stocks. But this time we compare “U.S. Large Cap Growth stocks” with “U.S. Small Cap Value stocks.”
The Methodology, Explained. I utilize price-to-book ratio data for six different U.S. stock asset classes that can be discerned from various FTSE Russell U.S. indexes. This data goes back to early 1978. I have gathered this data, over the years, from various sources. The most recent data on price-book ratios is discerned from the iShares exchange-traded funds web site, for each asset class.
I then utilize the Fama-French research indexes, for my historical returns data. I then make several adjustments to expected future returns: (1) for a lower projected future rate of inflation (2.0% vs. 3.76% long-term historical average); (2) lower U.S. economic growth, due to reduced growth rate of the U.S. population and high personal and government debt burdens; and (3) for certain “factors” (size factor, price factor) I make adjustments to reflect a likely less robustness of the factor, as knowledge of the factor is more widely known today. I do not undertake any adjustments, however, for the use of other factors by some of the mutual funds utilized in my clients’ portfolios (such as the profitability factor, momentum factor, and investment factor), even those might suggest a long-term modest boost to the returns of those funds.
The Results.
Using data from the close of trading on Monday, March 16, 2020 (a day when the overall U.S. stock market was down about 12% in value), I find:
            U.S. large company stocks are fairly valued, at present.
            U.S. large company growth stocks remain overvalued, by 10% to 35%.
            U.S. small company value stocks are undervalued, by 30% to 40%.
The valuation levels of these and other asset classes also lead me, with the adjustments noted in my methodology, above, to these estimates of future expected returns, over the next 15-year period:
Estimated expected average annualized returns over next 15-years, using March 16 2020 4:00pm valuation levels
U.S. large company growth stocks
U.S. large company stocks
U.S. large company value stocks
U.S. small company growth stocks
U.S. small company stocks
U.S. small company value stocks
Past performance is not a guarantee of future returns. Estimates of future returns are just that – estimates. Actual average annualized returns will be different. Returns will vary significantly from year to year. Data based on methodology, and using sources, as noted above, and using proprietary adjustments made by the author.

How Do Changes in Valuation Levels, Which Affect Future Returns, Affect the Amount I Can Withdraw from My Retirement Portfolio?

Here is an example of a retirement income projection done using data in early January 2020. Figures that will change (in the chart on the next page) are highlighted in yellow. Data is shown as of December 31, 2019.
Asset Class
Expected Average Annualized Return over Next 15 years
Target Asset Allocation
Contribution to the Portfolio’s Returns
U.S. large cap stocks
U.S. small cap value stocks 
International mid-cap/small-cap value stocks 
SWAN exchange-traded fund
Bond fund and/or CDs
Expected return, gross:
Less mutual fund (0.35% estimated)
and Scholar Financial’s financial planning 
and investment advisory fees (maximum of 1%):
Investment Portfolio Net Return:
Plus expected rebalancing bonus:
Net estimated average annualized return, over 15 years:
Estimated Inflation, over time:
Projected rate of withdrawal, with annual increases in the amount withdrawn to account for inflation, and with very high probability of not outliving the portfolio:
Expected average annualized returns are not guaranteed. SWAN ETF is an exchange-traded fund that invests 85% to 90% in U.S. Treasuries, with the remaining amount invested into call options on the S&P 500 Index. Please refer to the prospectus of the fund for further information. Expected returns of the SWAN ETF, and all other asset classes shown, are based upon a proprietary analysis undertaken by Ron A. Rhoades.
For a $1,000,000 portfolio, applying the rate of withdrawal indicated above, this suggests a reasonable rate of withdrawal, for an early retiree (ages 60 or less), is $23,400 per year initially, growing each year at a rate equal to the actual rate of inflation.
Now, here is the same portfolio, using updated data – different expected returns, reflective of changes in valuation levels and changes in value of the underlying funds through March 16, 2020. Note that in addition to higher stock asset class returns, the long-term returns for bond funds and CDs have been lowered, to reflect lower interest rates now seen in the marketplace.
Asset Class
Expected Average Annualized Return over Next 15 years
Target Asset Allocation
Contribution to the Portfolio’s Returns
U.S. large cap stocks
(25.83% decline in value, year-to-date)
U.S. small cap value stocks
(42.51% decline in value, year-to-date)
International mid-cap/small-cap value stocks (37.71% decline in value, year-to-date)
SWAN exchange-traded fund
(3.20% decline in value, year-to-date)
Bond fund and/or CDs
(no changes in valuations assumed)
Expected return, gross:
Less mutual fund (0.35% estimated)
and Scholar Financial’s financial planning 
and investment advisory fees (maximum of 1%):
Investment Portfolio Net Return:
Plus expected rebalancing bonus:
Net estimated average annualized return, over 15 years:
Estimated Inflation, over time:
Projected rate of withdrawal, with annual increases in the amount withdrawn to account for inflation, and with very high probability of not outliving the portfolio:
Expected average annualized returns are not guaranteed. SWAN ETF is an exchange-traded fund that invests 85% to 90% in U.S. Treasuries, with the remaining amount invested into call options on the S&P 500 Index. Please refer to the prospectus of the fund for further information. Expected returns of the SWAN ETF, and all other asset classes shown, are based upon a proprietary analysis undertaken by Ron A. Rhoades.

For a $680,020 portfolio (a reduced amount, reflective of the decline in the stock markets from January 1, 2020 through March 16, 2020), applying the newly computed rate of withdrawal indicated in the chart above, this suggests a reasonable rate of withdrawal, for an early retiree (ages 60 or less), is $26,657 per year initially, growing each year at a rate equal to the actual rate of inflation.
As seen, the estimated amount to be withdrawn from the portfolio is not very different – only about a 10% to 15% variance (which is within the range of estimation errors).
In other words, since expected returns of stock asset classes have substantially increased, since the first of the year, this will offset the lower value of the investment portfolio that has resulted from this sudden, and severe, stock market decline.
There are many assumptions that make this analysis work, however. Foremost is the need to rebalance the investment portfolio. Second, in the event of a “Great Depression” the cash flow needs may increase; in this instance a “layer cake” approach to pulling monies from the portfolio would be undertaken. In other words, the bond fund/CDs, and then the SWAN exchange-traded fund, would be liquidated first, in order to permit the years necessary for the stock values to recover.

“I am still working. How does this affect me?”
You are lucky, if you still are working and have a paycheck.
You are also “lucky” – at least in the sense that as long as you continue to save and contribute funds to your investment portfolio (such as by funding your 401k or 403b account, or by other means), you are now buying stocks at much more reasonable values than just a few months ago.


Writing the foregoing 16 pages, and doing the analysis, took about seven hours. I’m returning now to my investment portfolio reviews, and to formulating new assignments for my classes.
As I reflect on the changes in my life, it occurs to me that staying at home, as I am likely to do at least through the mid-summer months, is a glimpse at my “retirement” should it occur in about 15 years.
I’ll hopefully never fully “retire” – as I hope to continue my research and writings indefinitely.
But I will likely be staying home. And I’ve always wondered if, despite the profound love my wife and I have for each other, whether we can peacefully co-exist in the same house, 24 hours a day, each and every day.
I’m now two days into this “Grand Experiment” – i.e., seeing what a life at home, full-time, would look like. Things are going well! 
I wonder how Cathy and I will feel about all this – several weeks or months from now! Will we still be talking to each other? Or, will Cathy poison me, and collect all that life insurance she has on me. (Somehow, she knows the precise amount of the death benefit ... I don't even keep track of that!)
Again, at any time, if you have questions, please drop me a line.

Thank you, and be safe!

Ron A. Rhoades, JD, CFP®
Personal Financial Advisor
Scholar Financial, a fee-only investment advisory firm
Email (preferred):       Ron@ScholarFinancial.com (for clients, prospective clients)
                                    Ron.Rhoades@wku.edu (for students and everyone else)
Cell phone or text:      352.228.1672 

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