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Consumer Sentiment in U.S. Declined to Seven-Month Low in April

Consumer confidence fell to a seven-month low in April as Americans’ expectations about economic growth dropped to the lowest point since September 2014. The University of Michigan final index of sentiment declined to 89 from 91 in March. The median projection in a Bloomberg survey of economists was 90. The preliminary reading for this month was 89.7.

Worker pay that’s advanced slowly during the expansion and the ongoing negativity in the presidential election campaign have left Americans guarded. While households viewed their finances as currently favorable, they’re saving more in the event that employment softens along with wage growth.

“The top concerns of consumers involve whether the slowdown in economic growth will result in a slower pace of income and job gains, and growing uncertainty about future economic policies depending on the outcome of the presidential election,” Richard Curtin, director of the University of Michigan consumer survey, said in a statement. “On both counts, consumers have already adopted a more defensive stance.”

Estimates in the Bloomberg survey of economists ranged from 88 to 92. The gauge averaged 92.9 last year, the best annual performance since 2004. The sentiment report’s measure of expectations six months from now decreased to 77.6 from 81.5. For the year ahead, respondents anticipated income gains of 1.2 percent, the smallest in the past year. More also expected the unemployment rate to increase.

America’s Pension System Is Collapsing

So, there are these two ants… One works in the private sector as a secretary for the company that builds anthills. The other works for the state, the Council of Ants, that oversees the anthills. These two ants are friends. They earn similar salaries and live next door to one another. Their kids play together and go to the same school. Their families gather for barbeques (grasshoppers, of course) on the weekend.

The only significant difference is one neither see, but which promises to tear their friendship apart one day — and to destroy the anthill in the process. You see, the private-sector ant contributes 10% of her pay to the company retirement plan for which her company has no contractual obligation to assure a decent standard-of-living in her golden years. She must invest her savings herself, though she has no skill in this area and, thus, has no guarantee her money will even exist when she retires. She’s also required to donate (under force of law) a quarter of her salary to the Council of Ants to help it pay all the costs of running (though not very well) the anthill.

Meanwhile, the bureaucratic ant contributes a minimal amount of salary to her retirement plan. But she’s part of an organized group of bureaucratic-worker ants who banded together and negotiated (often through blackmail tactics) fabulous, contractually-obligated retirement packages that the Council must pay — with money it collects largely from private-sector ants.

Better yet for this bureaucratic ant: She has professionals managing her savings; she knows she can retire from work well before her neighbor (with full benefits), and she can load her last three years of work with an abundance of overtime, goosing higher the average annual salary on which her retirement payments are based (the private-sector ant has no ability to do anything similar). No doubt, you see the problem: The two ants will live two entirely different retirements — the one who saved will struggle; the one who didn’t save will live comfortably — and it’s the private-sector ant who essentially funds both. That unfair, bizzaro world is enough to cause a rift in the friendship when the private-sector ant realizes it’s her donations that allow her neighbor to live so richly. But there’s a lurking and massive problem that goes far beyond the friendship of two ants.

Yellen, Trump... and Hillary

Janet Yellen left interest rates unchanged yesterday. She sees a patient on the mend… but too weak to stand on its own… Labor markets have tightened, but economic growth proceeds at a trickle. Real household income has increased, but household spending is off. Inflation flickers, sometimes here, sometimes there. But it can’t crack 2%. Exports are soft. The Fed draws a sketch of neither bust nor boom, but an extended visit from a nagging mother-in-law — not ideal — but generally bearable.

So it did nothing. And suggested only gradual rate increases going forward: “The committee expects that economic conditions will evolve in a manner that will warrant only gradual increases in the federal funds rate; the federal funds rate is likely to remain, for some time, below levels that are expected to prevail in the longer run.” (Expected by whom? And when does the “longer run” arrive, if we may be so bold?)

How’d the markets take the news? In stride, one could say. Both the Dow and S&P edged higher on the news. Nothing dramatic, though. Markets had already baked the nonhike into the cake. Oil topped $45 a barrel on news that U.S. production has dropped to its lowest level since October 2014. And expectations of a steady, if not falling, dollar.

Well worth noting: This morning, the Bank of Japan (BOJ) shocked the world by keeping its own rates steady. Experts all believed it would cut rates to stimulate the comatose Japanese economy. All experts but Jim Rickards, that is. He said the world’s leading central banks reached a secret agreement when they met in Shanghai recently. The plan was to weaken the dollar and the Chinese yuan at the expense of the yen and the euro. According to Jim, “The secret plan devised by the central banks has three parts: Tighten in Europe and Japan, ease in the U.S. and maintain the U.S.-China peg.” Its purpose is to avoid another Chinese devaluation that could shake the markets, as they did last August and this January. The BOJ’s inaction today makes perfect sense in that context. Now all eyes turn to the Fed in June…

Canary in the US Housing Market: Canadian Snowbirds Cash Out

And sales crash. Naples, Florida, a wealthy beach town on the Gulf of Mexico, known for its golf courses and high-end shopping, and a favorite hangout for Canadian snowbirds trying to escape their cold winters, has a problem:

Pending home sales in the first quarter plunged 23% from a year ago, according to the Naples Area Board of Realtors. Closed sales plunged 19%. Overall inventory soared 33%. In the two mid-price ranges from $300,000 to $1 million, inventory soared about 42%!

But sellers haven’t gotten the memo yet: even as sales crash and as unsold inventories pile up, the median closing price rose 8%. That’s how housing busts start out. Buyers lose interest at these prices and evaporate, while sellers go into denial. As prices still rise, volume collapses. When sellers begin accepting the new reality, or when they’re forced to sell, then prices are getting slashed until enough buyers materialize.

A similar scenario began playing out last year in the broader vacation home market. Vacation-home sales in the US plunged 19% in 2015 year-over-year, to an estimated 920,000 units, according to the National Association of Realtors. Chief Economist Lawrence Yun blamed a laundry list of things that included “economic uncertainty,” a “presidential election that might lead to restrictions in economic commerce in the future,” if Trump has his way, with potentially worrisome consequences for Canadians, such as “visa restrictions,” and this gem of a reason: “The turbulence that hit the financial markets the second half of the year likely seized some would-be buyers’ available cash.”

iPhone Ruse: FedGov Now Demands Backdoor To All Devices

U.S. Economy Expands to 0.5% Pace, Weakest in Two Years

The U.S. economy expanded in the first quarter at the slowest pace in two years as American consumers reined in spending and companies tightened their belts in response to weak global financial conditions and a plunge in oil prices.

Gross domestic product rose at a 0.5 percent annualized rate after a 1.4 percent fourth-quarter advance, Commerce Department data showed Thursday. The increase was less than the 0.7 percent median projection in a Bloomberg survey and marked the third straight disappointing start to a year.

Shaky global markets and oil’s tumble resulted in the biggest business-investment slump in almost seven years, and household purchases climbed the least since early 2015, the data showed. While Federal Reserve officials on Wednesday acknowledged the softness, they also indicated strong hiring and income gains have the potential to reignite consumer spending and propel economic growth.

“The fact that personal consumption is a bit on the soft side is a disappointment, especially in light of the low gasoline prices,” said Thomas Costerg, senior economist at Standard Chartered Bank in New York, who correctly projected first-quarter growth. “Consumption seems to be stuck in a low gear.”

50% Of Proved Oil Reserves May Have Just Vanished

An extensive new scientific analysis published in Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Energy & Environment says that proved conventional oil reserves as detailed in industry sources are likely “overstated” by half.

According to standard sources like the Oil & Gas Journal, BP’s Annual Statistical Review of World Energy, and the US Energy Information Administration, the world contains 1.7 trillion barrels of proved conventional reserves.

However, according to the new study by Professor Michael Jefferson of the ESCP Europe Business School, a former chief economist at oil major Royal Dutch/Shell Group, this official figure which has helped justify massive investments in new exploration and development, is almost double the real size of world reserves.

Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews (WIRES) is a series of high-quality peer-reviewed publications which runs authoritative reviews of the literature across relevant academic disciplines. According to Professor Michael Jefferson, who spent nearly 20 years at Shell in various senior roles from head of planning in Europe to director of oil supply and trading, “the five major Middle East oil exporters altered the basis of their definition of ‘proved’ conventional oil reserves from a 90 percent probability down to a 50 percent probability from 1984. The result has been an apparent (but not real) increase in their ‘proved’ conventional oil reserves of some 435 billion barrels.”

The rise of the middle-aged intern

When Erin Gibson Allen decided to return to the legal profession after a 10-year absence to raise her children, she knew she would have to get creative. She took unpaid work experience in the chambers of a federal judge in the US city of Pittsburgh. "Part of me thought 'what have I done?'," says Ms Allen, 46, who worked for the judge for nine months. "But the other part of me believed very strongly in experience and networking." Though Ms Allen says some people were sceptical about her choice, she believed she needed to make an "investment in her future".

The contacts she made during her internship eventually led to full-time, paid opportunities with a Pittsburgh law firm. She now works as a lawyer specialising in competition law. "It is a tough jobs market right now, and you have to do whatever you can do to give yourself an edge," she says. "Taking an internship shows how serious you are about getting back to work."

Internships, or work experience placements, are often regarded as entry-level employment programmes for young people, fresh out of school and new to the working world. But for Keryn Reynolds, of Melbourne, Australia, and a growing number of similar middle-aged professionals, internships are an appealing way to re-market themselves, and start a new phase of their working lives.

Ms Reynolds, 49, spent decades working for the Australian Federal Police, and then for the Office of Police Integrity in Victoria. After leaving the force, she decided on a complete change, and pursued a new career as a journalist. She enrolled in a journalism course, and undertook a "challenging" unpaid five-week reporting internship at an English-language news website in Thailand. Ms Reynolds says her age and experience were a boon to her employers, because they felt that she could handle herself in a way that younger interns might not. "I think there is a different approach as a mature intern. I'm more than happy to make coffee, or photocopy. or do the basic stuff.

What's next for Obamacare: Higher premiums

Insurers will seek significant premium hikes under President Barack Obama's health care law this summer -- stiff medicine for consumers and voters ahead of the national political conventions.

Expect the state-by-state premium requests to reflect what insurers see as the bottom line: The health law has been a financial drain for many companies. They're setting the stage for 2017 hikes that could reach well into the double digits, in some cases. For example, in Virginia, a state that reports early, nine insurers returning to the HealthCare.gov marketplace are seeking average premium increases that range from 9.4 percent to 37.1 percent. Those initial estimates filed with the state may change.

More than 12 million people nationwide get coverage though the health law's markets, which offer subsidized private insurance. But the increases could also affect several million who purchase individual policies outside the government system.

Going into their fourth year, the health law's markets are still searching for stability. That's in contrast to more-established government programs like Medicaid and Medicare Advantage, in which private insurers profitably cover tens of millions of people. The health law's nagging problems center on lower-than-hoped-for enrollment, sicker-than-expected customers, and a balky internal stabilization system that didn't deliver as advertised and was already scheduled to be pared back next year

The Millennial Rant That Has Everyone Talking

The only thing millennials can seem to generate at a steady pace these days is confusion and animosity — which has resulted in yet another person stepping up and apologizing on behalf of Generation Y in its entirety.

In this particular case, however, Alexis Bloomer is a millennial herself. In a video rant that has been viewed more than 41 million times on Facebook (yes, 41 million), she has struck a chord with members of the nation’s older generations — though she didn’t say anything that hasn’t already been said. Bloomer essentially blasted her generation en masse for a lack of manners and a lack of respect toward their elders.

“Like, why are we so entitled? Because we don’t deserve to be, and we were raised better than this,” she says in part in her video. “I think that our generation — I always wonder what we’re going to be remembered by, and I, for one, want to break that stereotype and to prove that my parents raised me better. Don’t you?” She’s brave for saying what many people think. “We don’t respect our elders — we don’t even respect our country,” she said. “We’re stepping on our flag instead of stepping up to volunteer. And we mock the men and women that are fighting for us, but we praise the people that are fighting each other, guys.”

However, those who do most of the complaining about millennials are generally the ones who have raised the millennials they are complaining about. In essence, they're slamming themselves in some way. Members of previous generations were also raised very differently than most millennials were raised. One could argue millennials are being compared to past generations on an uneven plane.

Why Brexit could give the Fed pause

Forget the debate between the "leave" and "remain" camps: It's the timing of the Brexit referendum that worries some Fed watchers. British voters are set to decide on June 23 whether or not to leave the European Union, just one week after the Federal Reserve's June 14-15 policy meeting. Some economists say that for a Fed that has become increasingly attuned to global and financial developments, the uncertainty around the U.K. vote will force the Federal Open Market Committee to remain on hold.

"With the Brexit referendum just eight days before the meeting, the bar for the domestic data is pretty high," wrote Pantheon Macroeconomics chief economist Ian Shepherdson in a note. "We think the decision will be closer than markets believe, but ultimately we think Dr. Yellen will prefer to wait until after the vote, and move in September."

Shepherdson said delaying a rate hike until September would grant the Fed more time to assess economic and financial implications from a possible Brexit. He added Fed officials would also have a clearer picture of the domestic U.S. economy in the fall.

"By then, we think the data will be unambiguous, and Fed officials can prepare the markets at Jackson Hole in August," Shepherdson said. Others suggested the Fed's July meeting, which has no scheduled news conference, might be a better alternative than June given the timing of the Brexit vote and the volatility it might create in financial markets. "We reiterate our expectation that conditions will warrant another 25 basis point (bp) rate hike this summer," wrote economists at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. "June remains our base case. But if financial conditions tighten appreciably ahead of the UK referendum, the FOMC may tactically delay to July."

20,000 Criminal Illegals Flood U.S. Streets

Under President Obama’s lax enforcement, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) released almost 20,000 criminal illegal aliens back onto American streets in 2015, figures released by the agency show.

The figures were released to Congress ahead of Thursday morning’s House Oversight Committee hearing on illegal alien crime. They revealed that 19,723 criminal illegal aliens who committed a total of 64,197 crimes between them — including over 200 homicides — were released back into society by ICE to wreak havoc on law-abiding Americans.

Thursday’s hearing was meant to provide the House Oversight Committee the opportunity explore the origins of such shocking statistics, but was quickly hijacked by Democrats seeking to score political points by insinuating Republicans’ main interest in the issue is driven by anti-Hispanic racism. “It’s crucial we listen” to victim testimony and experts, claimed committee member Rep. Elijah Cummings in his opening statement, but “what I absolutely do not support is the [Republicans’] hateful rhetoric.”

Cummings then launched into a minutes long monologue full of hateful rhetoric about Donald Trump. "I will not sit silently as some try" to create "racial division to divide our country," said Cummings — who also happened to author an article titled "Enacting ‘Black Lives Matter’ into Law" for a website called Afro.com in 2015. House delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, not wishing to be outdone by Cummings, launched her own anti-Trump diatribe and seemed to suggest that ICE should prioritize not hurting Hispanics’ feelings over ensuring criminal illegal aliens are deported. "How you do law enforcement when the rhetoric is steeped in racial overtones?" she asked ICE director Sarah Saldaña.

Obama's Economic Disappointment

President Barack Obama thinks Americans don’t properly appreciate the benefits of his economic policies -- a view he most recently expressed in an interview with the New York Times. Isolating the effects of any president’s policies is close to impossible. That said, it’s not hard to see why many people are disappointed with the performance of the economy during Obama’s time in office.

In January 2009, at the beginning of Obama’s first term, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office issued a 10-year forecast for the U.S. economy, including such indicators as unemployment, gross domestic product, the budget deficit, government debt and interest rates. Here’s a table comparing the CBO’s expectations for the year 2015 to what has actually happened:

The unemployment rate has come closest to expectations. Although it remained very high through much of the Obama presidency, it had fallen to near historical averages by 2015.

Elsewhere, the story is less positive. Total income growth in the U.S. has fallen well short of expectations, in both nominal and inflation-adjusted terms. And although Obama expressed pride in the recent decline in the federal budget deficit, it’s still much larger than the CBO forecast in 2009 -- as is the ratio of government debt to GDP. No number expresses the economy’s weakness better than the yield on the three-month Treasury bill, which captures market expectations of what the Federal Reserve will do with interest rates over the next three months. Instead of recovering to near 5 percent as the CBO predicted, the yield was close to zero.

US Spends $600 Billion/Year on Education, But Large Majority of H.S. Seniors Not College-Ready

Despite the fact that the U.S. spends more than $600 billion per year on public education, a large majority of high school seniors are not ready for college-level work in math and reading, according to the latest results of the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as “the nation’s report card”.

Demonstrating proficiency in a core subject is considered proof of being academically prepared for college-level courses.

However, just 25 percent of 12th graders tested “Proficient” or above in math on the 2015 NAEP, down slightly from the 26 percent reported in 2013. That means that three-quarters of the nation’s soon-to-be-graduating high school seniors are not prepared to succeed in college math courses. Although more 12th graders (37 percent) tested “Proficient” or above in reading, that figure was also down one percent from the 2013 results.

According to NAEP, nearly two-thirds of high seniors do not have the written language skills they will need in college. The average score of the 31,900 12th graders who took the 2015 NAEP math test was 152, which was down in all four content areas and one point lower than the average score (153) in 2013, Peggy Carr, acting commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), told reporters during a webinar on Wednesday announcing the latest NAEP results. Only three percent of those taking the math assessment tested “Advanced.” Another 22 percent tested “Proficient”, with 37 percent of test-takers demonstrating a “Basic” mastery of mathematics.

The poor and middle class are fleeing America’s booming cities

Many of America’s cities are flourishing. But a closer look reveals a migration is underway. As the price of living in America’ most expensive urban areas has soared—rents and home values rose about 12.5% between 2010 and 2014—the solution for many poorer families has been to move out.

Trulia, a residential real estate site, found that between 2009 and 2014 the share of households making more than $100,000 rose by 3.6% in America’s 10 most expensive metro areas, while the number earning $30,000 or below fell by 2.2%.

Cheaper living and job opportunities are the main reasons for the departures, said Trulia, which crunched the numbers from US Census’ American Community Survey of about 130,000 people. Poor and middle-class residents have left cities far faster than the rich. The poor are moving away from expensive cities at nearly eight times the rate of the well-off. The table below shows how income groups have moved away from metro areas compared to their share of the population.

Where are they all going? Most stick to the same coast and region, but head for lower cost areas. Trulia says the top three destinations for emigres from San Francisco were Oakland (35.1%), San Jose (13.3%), and Los Angeles (8.2%). Washingtonians left for the suburbs or nearby Baltimore (12.8%) and New York (5.6%). Only New Yorkers were willing to pack up and head across the continent for Los Angeles (4.9%), but Newark (13.6%) and Long Island (7.1%) remained the two most popular destinations.

Wealthy millennials still lean on their parents for financial support

A new survey from UBS Group AG found that 74% of affluent millennials rely on their parents for financial support. The group surveyed 1,131 millennials aged 21-29 who have at least $100,000 in household income or the same amount of assets to invest, or aged 30-36 with at least $250,000.

29% of those surveyed said their received help with health insurance; 28% with home purchases, 26% with auto insurance, and 23% with utilities, reports Christine Idzelis. “They came into adulthood during a very uncertain economic time,” said Sameer Aurora, the head of client strategy for UBS Wealth Management Americas. “The financial crisis has cast a long shadow.”

After Wednesday's snooze Fed meeting, analysts are gearing up for a Fed hike in June. Brian Wesbury and Robert Stein of First Trust Advisors noted three reasons why the Fed is likely to hike then: 1) the Fed touted the labor market, 2) the Fed noted "solid" growth in household income and "high" consumer sentiment, 3) the Fed removed the language about global risks.

"In our view, [the lone dissenter Esther] George was right and everyone else wrong. Economic fundamentals warrant a rate hike. The economy can handle higher short-term rates. The unemployment rate is already very close to the Fed’s long-term projection of 4.8% and nominal GDP growth – real GDP growth plus inflation – is up at a 3.5% annual rate in the past two years," wrote Wesbury and Stein. US President Barack Obama told the New York Times' Andrew Ross Sorkin that although he liked "The Big Short," the movie based on Michael Lewis' 2010 book on the financial crisis, he wasn't too keen on the ending because it suggested that nothing has changed on Wall Street.

The U.S. Economy Officially Joins The Global Economic Slowdown – 1st Quarter GDP Comes In At 0.5%

Even the government is admitting that the U.S. economy is slowing down. On Thursday, we learned that U.S. GDP grew at just a 0.5 percent annual rate during the first quarter of 2016. This was lower than analysts were anticipating, and it marks the third time in a row that the GDP number has declined compared to the previous quarter. In other words, GDP growth has been declining for close to a year now, and this lines up perfectly with what I have been saying about how the second half of last year was a turning point that plunged us into the early chapters of a brand new economic crisis. And as you will see below, the official GDP number is highly manipulated, and the way that it is calculated has been changed numerous times over the years. So the bad number that is being reported by the government is actually the best case scenario.

Of course many of the “experts” being quoted by the mainstream media are saying that this is just a temporary blip and that good times for the U.S. economy are right around the corner. For instance, check out this quote from Reuters…

“The economy essentially stalled in the first quarter, but that doesn’t mean it is faltering,” said Joel Naroff, chief economist at Naroff Economic Advisors in Holland, Pennsylvania. “Some of the restraints to growth are dissipating. Growth is likely to accelerate going forward.”

We have been told this same story for years, but the “acceleration” has never materialized. In fact, Barack Obama is poised to become the only president in U.S. history to never have a single year when the economy grew by more than 3 percent during his presidency. That is a statistic that is hard to believe, but it is true.

Keiser Report: Sinkholes of Big-Oil Debt

Mortgage Rates: Houses And Cheap Loans To The Economy's Rescue

Mortgage rates posted their biggest weekly jump since November, pushing the average cost of a 30-year loan to 3.66 percent as the Federal Reserve wrapped up its April meeting.

While rates are at their highest since March, home loans are cheaper than they were at this time last year (3.68 percent) and have held at less than 4 percent all year, according to Freddie Mac’s weekly survey. And there’s more unhappy news. Today we got a first look at the economy’s 2016 performance and it wasn’t good. U.S. gross domestic product, the broadest measure of the country’s output, barely budged, growing at a paltry 0.5 percent pace. It was the worst showing in two years. We were growing almost three times this fast at the end of last year.

On the plus side, housing held strong as the rest of the economy stalled . Spending on residential construction, remodeling and transactions rose an impressive 14.8 percent and helped hold us back from the brink of recession.

Still, residential real estate has yet to return to its old starring role in the economy, thanks to the slow pace of construction and declining homeownership, among other things. The economy tends to take a breather at the beginning of the year and things should pick up. Employers are hiring, incomes are rising and homebuilders are picking up the pace. But business and consumer spending is weak, which had Fed policymakers worried enough to keep their own benchmark rate steady.

Sallie Mae rolls out parent loans to pay for college

As parents face the prospect of paying for college this fall, Sallie Mae is offering a new option for those considering borrowing to cover costs. The private lender said Tuesday that it is now providing parent loans at a lower cost than the government. Sallie Mae joins an expanding market of companies promoting alternatives to the federal Parent Plus loan, one of the government’s most profitable student aid programs. The federal program has come under fire for high fees, minimal protections and saddling parents with debt they cannot afford. Consumer groups, nevertheless, remain wary of private education loans.

Compared with other products on the market, Sallie Mae’s parent loan has some of the most flexible terms. Parents can borrow up to the full cost of college attendance, whereas Citizens Bank caps its lending at $90,000 for an undergraduate degree and $110,000 for a graduate degree. The new loan is also available to any creditworthy adult wanting to help with the cost of college, not just parents.

“Families don’t all think about how to pay for college the same way,” said Charles P. Rocha, executive vice president and chief marketing officer of Sallie Mae. “We wanted to have a broad enough product suite that allows you to put together your financing plan in a way that works for you.”

Sallie Mae, like other private lenders, is not charging any fees for originating or dispensing the loan. In contrast, the government slaps on a 4.2 percent fee for making loans to parents. The new private loan also comes with fixed interest rates as low as 5.74 percent, a full percentage point lower than the federal parent loans for the 2015-2016 academic year. But government loans are only offered at fixed rates, and parents don’t have to have impeccable credit to qualify for the lowest rate. Interest rates on Sallie Mae parent loans can climb as high as 12.87 percent on a fixed loan or 10.37 percent on a variable rate loan based on the borrower’s credit.

Friday 04.29.2016

NEWS to Disturb the Comfortable...

We don't tell you what to think,

but we give you something to think about.

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