Berkshire Hathaway 2013: Takeaways from the Annual Meeting using the Bamboo Innovator mental model (Go to, where value investing lives)

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Berkshire Hathaway 2013: Takeaways and Impressions from the Annual Meeting, May 7, 2013 (Weblink: – Scroll down till the end of the article.


For Buffett, the Past Isn’t Always Prologue

MAY 6, 2013, 9:23 PM

For Buffett, the Past Isn’t Always Prologue


OMAHA — A little under an hour into the question-and-answer session at Berkshire Hathaway’s annual meeting here on Saturday, a name searing with history but now largely forgotten was mentioned: Henry E. Singleton. Mr. Singleton was, arguably, the Warren E. Buffett of the 1960s and ’70s, though hardly famous. His company, Teledyne, became a remarkably successful and huge conglomerate, with an assortment of related — and unrelated — businesses. Like Mr. Buffett, Mr. Singleton was a modest man with a rare sense of rationality. He didn’t pay his shareholders dividends; he was convinced he could allocate the money more profitably. And he was right more often than not. But after spending decades creating one of the world’s largest conglomerates, Mr. Singleton, who stepped down as chief executive in 1986 but remained as chairman, decided to break it into three companies in the early 1990s before he died at age 82 in 1999. He decided that Teledyne had become too big and unwieldy for a single manager to effectively oversee and expand. It’s a narrative that has been speculated about for years when it comes to Mr. Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, the fifth largest company in the world, judged by market value. Mr. Singleton’s name was invoked by Douglas A. Kass, an investor who is betting against Berkshire’s stock and was invited to the meeting to pepper Mr. Buffett with questions along with a panel of analysts and journalists, including this one. After explaining the story of Mr. Singleton, whom Mr. Buffett long admired, Mr. Kass then asked: “What is the advisability of restructuring Berkshire into separately traded companies organized along business lines?”

Mr. Buffett, who has described Berkshire as his “painting,” paused briefly. With a slight smirk that turned briefly into a scowl, he rejected the notion that the path Mr. Singleton chose was the right one for Berkshire. “Breaking them up into several companies I’m convinced would create a poorer result,” Mr. Buffett insisted, while praising Mr. Singleton as an investor. Charles Munger, Berkshire’s vice chairman, had this to say about Mr. Singleton: “I don’t think you should get into your head, just because he is a genius, he did it better than us.” (Mr. Munger knew Mr. Singleton personally.) But Mr. Munger quickly also acknowledged a truism of business: “You look at companies that got really big in the world, the record is not very good. We think we’ll do a little better than the giants in the past. Maybe we have a better system.” Read more of this post

Jeff Matthews on The Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting, 2013 Edition

Monday, May 06, 2013

“We Want to Win”: The Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting, 2013 Edition

Well props to ‘CD 105.9’ is all I can think, driving east on Dodge Street in a cold rain to the Berkshire Hathaway shareholder meeting early on a dark Saturday morning.  The reason for my good mood?  The Omaha “classic rock” station I’ve had my rental car radio set to the last three days is playing “Back in the USSR,” making this the first time I’ll have been to a Berkshire meeting with Paul McCartney’s Beatles-era send-up of communist Russia ringing in my ears.  “Let me hear your balalaikas ringing out/come and keep your Comrade warm/I’m back in the USSR/You don’t know how lucky you are, boy/Back in the USSR.”  What better way to get ready for Warren Buffett’s “Woodstock for Capitalists” than that?  Unfortunately, while CD 105.9 manages to mix more Beatles into its playlist than most “classic rock” formats do (they played “With a Little Help From My Friends” twice in two days)—something I’ve never quite understood, since The Beatles’ catalogue is about as “classic” as it gets—the good vibes never last long because the station also plays an inexplicably heavy rotation of Bob Seger. Enough about him. Pondering this strange play list as the final A chord on “USSR” fades out, I focus on my driving, because there’s still snow on the ground here in Omaha—unusual at this time of year, when the fields should be springing to life—and the roads are slick with rain, which is why they’ve already opened up the CenturyLink arena to Berkshire shareholders and Buffett groupies instead of forcing them to wait outside until the normal 7 a.m. doors-open time, according to a text message from a waiting acquaintance who’s already nabbed a seat inside and is saving one for me.

Disoriented in Downtown Omaha

But it’s not just the early morning darkness and wet roads causing me to pay more attention than usual. Omaha’s had a growth spurt since last year’s meeting, a fact I’d discovered last night trying to find the Hilton, which is right next door to the CenturyLink Center (where the meeting takes place), and both the hotel and the arena used to stand out like the Empire State Building (in its heyday) above an otherwise barren strip of vacant lots and highway exit ramps just a few blocks from downtown Omaha.  But most of those lots have given way to multi-story parking garages, hi-tech warehouses, bustling industrial buildings and a baseball stadium (Omaha hosts the college world series every summer), causing me to lose my bearings more than once last night and prompting me to pay attention this morning.  (It’s not just the business district that’s growing: the Old Market area—Omaha’s Soho, if you will—is changing, too. What used to be not much more than a square city block of jarring cobblestone streets and red bricked restaurants, bars and the occasional shop has spread into neighboring streets, with new restaurants everywhere and even a near-high-rise condo building going up along its fringe.)  I park on a side street in a metered spot a few blocks from the CenturyLink—the parking meters aren’t used on Saturdays (a little trick to save the $8 they now charge for event parking…I could swear it was $5 last year)—and head to the show while admiring the new buildings, which seem to be everywhere. It’s almost Miami-esque, at least in terms of quantity if not in bling.  After all, the Midwest doesn’t do bling.

Not Exactly ‘Hard Time Mississippi’

It does do volatile weather, of course, and the cold rain has eliminated the usual long lines of eager shareholders waiting for the doors to open, pushing everyone inside to find a seat and then get coffee before the movie starts.  I find my seat and settle down while absorbing the scene inside the arena, where 19,000 other people are finding their seats while Stevie Wonder’s gritty “Living For the City” plays on the sound system—painting quite a verbal contrast with the very rich, urbane crowd gathering here: “A boy is born/in hard time Mississippi/surrounded by four walls that ain’t so pretty/his parents give him love and affection/to keep him strong, moving in the right direction/Living just enough, just enough for the city…”  Paul Simon’s “The Boy In the Bubble” comes on next, its terrific beat marred by reference to “the bomb in the baby carriage,” which is a little to close to the recent events in Boston for comfort, so I head out to try to find Mario Gabelli, who usually works the floor for investment ideas from locals he has been grilling for decades, as only Mario can, and immediately bump into Doug Kass and his son Noah.  Doug is the short-seller Buffett has chosen to be on the panel of three analysts asking questions (in conjunction with another panel of three reporters asking questions, with shareholders making up the rest), and we hug despite him carrying a bulging briefcase and a clutch of papers.  Dougie is prepared, as well he should be, but that’s no surprise to me. We go way back to the early days of, where the strictures of a for-profit enterprise eventually led me to start this not-for-profit blog, and I’ve always admired his willingness to say what he means and mean what he says without the need for crowd approval—a trait that will come in handy today. Read more of this post

Charles Ellis: What It Takes: Seven Secrets of Success from the World’s Greatest Professional Firms

What It Takes: Seven Secrets of Success from the World’s Greatest Professional Firms [Hardcover]

Charles D. Ellis (Author)

Book Description

Publication Date: February 11, 2013

Expert insights on what sets the great professional firms apart from all the rest

Having devoted a career that spans fifty years to consulting with and studying professional firms in the Americas, Asia, and Europe, author Charles Ellis learned firsthand how difficult it is for an organization to go beyond very good and attain, as well as sustain, excellence. Now, he shares his hard-won insights with you and reveals “what it takes” to be best-in-class in any industry. Enlightening and entertaining, What It Takes explores firms that are leaders in their particular field and the superior people who create and maintain them. Along the way, it identifies the secrets of their long-term success and reveals exactly how they can put your organization in a better position to excel when properly executed.

Read more of this post

The elite boast of little sleep, but it’s those at the bottom who really suffer

The elite boast of little sleep, but it’s those at the bottom who really suffer

Sleep proves how inequality touches even our most intimate lives – just ask those who toil for low pay with inadequate rest

Studies show that people at the bottom of society have among the least amount of sleep. 

Aditya Chakrabortty

The Guardian, Monday 6 May 2013 21.25 BST

For Bob Iger, boss of Disney, the day begins at 4.30am. “I exercise … I look at email. I surf the web. I watch a little TV, all at the same time. I call it my quiet time, but I’m already multi-tasking.” Attaboy, Bob! Mind you, no early bird gets near a worm if Brett Yormark, chief executive of the Brooklyn Nets basketball team, has his way. Brett’s up by 3.30am and in the office within an hour, from where he bombards flunkies with apparently “motivational emails”. Weekends are down time, so he only clocks in at 7am.

Some executives seize the day so firmly they might as well not bother with a kip at all. Take Dan Akerson, head of General Motors: he’s up before dawn to phone subordinates in Asia, but has confessed to Associated Press that even sleeptime is plagued by the question, “Why is the stock not doing better?” Still, his schedule means such dark nights of the soul are at least ultra-short. Read more of this post

Policy battle rages in China as slowdown feeds ‘sense of crisis’

Policy battle rages in China as slowdown feeds ‘sense of crisis’

Anti-reform hardliners in China’s Communist Party have become seriously alarmed by the sharp slow-down in economic growth, creating a “task-force” to crank up production.

China’s Caixin Magazine reports that there is a growing “sense of crisis” not felt since the depths of the global banking crash in 2008-2009. Photo: Quirky China News / Rex Features

By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard

4:17PM BST 06 May 2013

China’s Caixin Magazine reports that there is a growing “sense of crisis” not felt since the depths of the global banking crash in 2008-2009. The State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC) has assembled a team to “protect economic growth” and pressure state companies to boost jobs at all costs. Read more of this post

Chinese president Xi Jinping emperor photo lands The Economist in hot water

Xi Jinping emperor photo lands The Economist in hot water

Staff Reporter, 2013-05-07


Xi Jinping as Qianlong, left, and a previous cover from The Economist likening Xi to an emperor in waiting in October 2010. (Photos courtesy of The Economist)

A doctored photo featuring China’s new president, Xi Jinping, wearing a traditional emperor’s robe is said to have deeply offended the Communist Party leadership. Xi, who is also the party’s general secretary and commander of the People’s Liberation Army, was featured on the front page of the May issue of The Economist magazine wearing a yellow robe with an illustrated dragon on the chest, and a glass of champagne in hand. “Let’s party like it’s 1793,” reads the magazine’s headline, a reference to the year the Qing emperor Qianlong rejected British envoy Lord Macartney’s request to open an embassy because China does not have “the slightest need for your country’s manufactures.” The title of the feature article is “Xi Jinping and the China dream,” and questions exactly what Xi means by his new doctrine, noting that it seems to “include some American-style aspiration, which is welcome, but also a troubling whiff of nationalism and of repackaged authoritarianism.” The article, which outlines the difficulties Xi faces in realizing his dream of unifying a diverse and growing China, seems to have hit a nerve with the Communist Party, as The Economist’s website was blocked in the country shortly after its publication. Detractors of Xi’s regime have said online that his “China dream” and emperor’s robe are both figments of the imagination. Despite calls for more freedom and fairness, the Chinese government continues to target free speech and rights activists and remains plagued by official excess and corruption, netizens said.

Listed companies under fire over reception costs; China Railway Construction topped the list with a total spend of 837 million yuan, or 10% of the company’s profits

Listed companies under fire over reception costs


08:36, May 07, 2013 Read more of this post

Guangzhou store front grins with 300kg of gold teeth; The building’s initiative was widely criticized as a grand waste

Guangzhou store front grins with 300kg of gold teeth

Staff Reporter



Nearly 300 kilograms in gold bars caught the glare of the sun — and the eyes of shoppers — as the yellow brick road leading the way to a jewelry store in Guangzhou in southern China. The store was laying its intentions bare for the Labor Day holiday, Chinese media reported. The building authorities used 252 gold bars, each weighing 1 kilogram, to pave the front of the building for almost five meters. Dozens of gold ingots, each weighing 10kg, were also displayed on the fourth floor of the building. The building’s initiative was widely criticized as a grand waste. The Guangzhou jewelry was apparently not alone in its decadent decor. A jewelry store in Shandong also went with the gold standard, going with 1,000 bricks of gold, each of 1 kg, for its store front display. Both buildings assured critics of adequate security when asked about the safety of broadcasting their bling. The stores were apparently bringing attention to the all-time low price of gold on the world market.

Most Chinese investors don’t trust wealth management agencies

Most Chinese investors don’t trust wealth management agencies

Staff Reporter


People in China have their own system of wealth management, choosing to keep their own counsel rather than put their trust in professional organizations, valuing gains but ignoring risks, preferring to follow group sentiment and rushing to invest, and being fond of putting their eggs in one basket. These are the major findings of the newly issued Chinese Wealth Management 2013 white paper published by Golden Securities, a wealth management publication.

A survey in the white paper showed that 86.8% of the people surveyed preferred to manage their money by themselves, and only 13.2% of them would commission professional organizations to manage their assets for them. “Many wealth management professionals in financial institutions rarely put clients in an important position, and they rarely care if the products are appropriate for investments or how big the risks are,” said one woman. Even if clients are losing money, they don’t even mention it, she added. Read more of this post

What Triggers People to Reveal Too Much; Avoiding the Post-Conversation Cringe

May 6, 2013, 6:42 p.m. ET

Thank You for Not Sharing

What Triggers People to Reveal Too Much; Avoiding the Post-Conversation Cringe


Ever shared too much information—and you weren’t even tipsy? Bonds columnist Elizabeth Bernstein joins Lunch Break with a look at why we over-share, and how to control the impulse. 

PJ-BO130_BONDS_G_20130506193703 Read more of this post

Ignore Anyone Who Tells You Insurance Is An Investment

Ignore Anyone Who Tells You Insurance Is An Investment

MichaelBankers Anonymous | May 6, 2013, 8:48 AM | 2,886 | 8

Insurance has one purpose, and one purpose only. Remembering that purpose will keep you from expensive insurance ‘solutions.’ The purpose of insurance is risk transfer. For the rest of your life, insurance salespeople will try to sell you the idea that you can both increase your wealth and protect against risk at the same time. Not True. Buying insurance transfers your personal risk to an insurance company – and should be used only that way. Insurance does not increase your wealth and attempts to convince you otherwise end in expensive financial monstrosities. Read more of this post

“All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again”: Behind the hype of high-yield corporate bonds and investors’ understandable desire to make money, bad habits are creeping back in

Updated May 6, 2013, 8:51 p.m. ET

Reaping Wisdom On ‘Junk’


In 1977, a band of Los Angeles-based traders led by Michael Milken helped Texas International, an oil company, raise the first “junk” bond. The small issue—$30 million—opened a chapter in the history of finance. From then on, companies with less-than-pristine balance sheets were able to tap capital markets, while investors had the option of betting on securities with higher risks, and potentially higher returns, than traditional corporate bonds.

MI-BV784_GUERCO_G_20130506182703 Read more of this post

Fraud survey says bosses across much of the world ‘cook the books to meet tough targets’

Published: Tuesday May 7, 2013 MYT 7:58:00 AM

Fraud survey says world over bosses ‘cook the books to meet tough targets’

LONDON: Hard-pressed company bosses across much of the world are under so much pressure to deliver on growth that many have resorted to cooking the books, Ernst & Young says in its latest Fraud Survey published on Tuesday. One in five of almost 3,500 staff quizzed in 36 countries in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and India said they had seen financial manipulation in their companies in the last 12 months, the accounting and consultancy firm said. In addition 42 percent of board directors and top managers surveyed said they were aware of “some type of irregular financial reporting”. And despite scandals and regulatory failures in the wake of the credit crunch, almost a quarter of top financial services staff surveyed said they were aware of manipulation and almost 10 percent of all staff said their companies had understated costs, overstated revenues or used unprincipled sales tactics. Read more of this post

How the iPhone conquered Japan by winning over women; The original round plastic iPhone becomes a fashion item for Japanese women who enjoyed the huge variation of cases and ease of decoration

How the iPhone conquered Japan

May 6, 2013: 12:05 PM ET

Despite its more-or-less mundane technology, Apple’s device won over women.

FORTUNE — The Japanese were using their cellphones to watch TV, navigate with GPS, download music, make movies, pay bills, and check their emails years before American consumers were doing the same. Japan also had touchscreen phones eight years earlier than iPhone — the Pioneer J-PE01. And yet it is no surprise that Apple’s iPhone was the best-selling phone in Japan last year. After over a decade of trouncing any foreign handset looks and talent-wise, Japan’s legendary ketai are been given the heave-ho in favor of foreign models. Take NEC, once one of the world’s biggest IT and telecoms firms. Its fortunes have been typical of the other seven Japanese handset makers. After two years of losses and a stock value that has fallen over 90% in a decade, it is selling off its mobile phone sales unit and cutting 10,000 mobile related jobs. Analysts say the firm can’t compete anymore with Apple (AAPL) and Korea’s Samsung.

What happened? Japanese mobile phone guru Nobuyuki Hayashi believes there are three main reasons Japan has fallen out of love with its own handset makers. First, he says, you have to understand what a colossal and unexpected hit the iPhone was with Japanese women. “The iPhone has been very strong among women from very early on. The original round plastic iPhone 3G series soon become a fashion item for Japanese women who also enjoyed the huge variation of cases and ease of decoration. Then there is the brand loyalty of Japanese women.” Read more of this post

Adobe Moves Software Out of the Box and Into the Cloud

Updated May 6, 2013, 7:44 p.m. ET

Adobe Moves Software Out of the Box and Into the Cloud


Adobe Systems Inc., ADBE -1.11% the maker of Photoshop, Illustrator and other design tools, is getting out of the packaged-software business and will sell its biggest products only as online services.

The decision announced Monday by one of the largest software publishers underscores how the industry is adjusting to changing consumer tastes. People are buying fewer boxes of software—just as they aren’t buying as many CDs, movies and books in stores—and turning to Internet-based cloud services.

Adobe, which began selling its software in stores in 1987, will no longer offer new versions of its creative software at retailers such as Staples or allow people to download digital copies to their computers. Read more of this post

Paid YouTube channels: Would you subscribe?

Paid YouTube channels: Would you subscribe?

By Hayley Tsukayama, Tuesday, May 7, 12:00 AM

YouTube has moved swiftly in the past year to produce more original content to keep regular viewers coming back to its site, rather than simply stopping by to see the latest viral cat video. Now, the Financial Times reports that the paid model could go into effect as soon as this week, with as many as 50 subscription channels starting as low as $1.99 a month. The New York Times reported that channels could include those for children’s programming, entertainment, music and other topic areas.

We’ve been here before. Chatter about paid channels has been circulating ever since Google, which owns YouTube, made its first push to release regular, original videos on its site by paying about $100 million to fund promising talent. AdAge and the Wall Street Journal reported in January that the new paid channels could launch as soon as this spring. Read more of this post

Fortune 500 profits near record; Wal-Mart replaces ExxonMobil as biggest revenue maker

Fortune 500 profits near record; Wal-Mart replaces ExxonMobil as biggest revenue maker

By AFP | 7 May, 2013, 03.17AM IST

NEW YORK: The 500 largest US companies scored near-record profits last year and retailer Wal-Mart replaced ExxonMobil as the biggest revenue maker on the annual list,Fortune magazine said Monday. Apple cracked into the top 10 companies for the first time, vaulting into sixth place from the prior year’s number 17 slot.  The combined earnings of the Fortune 500 came in at $820 billion in 2012, slipping from the all-time high of $824.5 billion in 2011.  Earnings amounted to 6.8 percent of sales, well above the historical average of around 5.5 percent, the magazine said. “For the future the overriding question for the 500 is whether the era of abundant profits will continue,” said Fortune senior editor-at-large Shawn Tully. Tully predicted that companies would be forced to increase their staff and pay higher salaries as the economy continues to improve. “Most likely that will hold profit growth to the low single digits in the next year or two, in line with sales, as gravitational forces pull earnings back to the mean.”

Tully characterized 2012 as a year that saw the return of “animal spirits,” or an urge to action, reflected in an increase in the number of spinoffs and mergers and acquisitions.
“For several years, players have been hoarding cash and shunning expansion,” Tully said. “In 2012 they put that cash — and their rapidly appreciating shares — to work in the best year for M&A in over a decade.”

Wal-Mart reclaimed the top spot on the list from energy titan ExxonMobil after posting $469.2 billion in revenues, or $19.3 billion more than Exxon. However, Exxon’s profits of $44.9 billion dwarfed the retailer’s $17.0 billion. Exxon and Wal-Mart have traded the top two positions repeatedly in recent years. This year marks the ninth time Wal-Mart has topped the list. Energy companies continued to play a prominent role in the group, with Chevron in third place and refiners Phillips 66 and Valero Energy placing fourth and ninth, respectively. Rounding out the rest of the top 10 were Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, ranked in fifth place, Apple (six), General Motors (seven), General Electric (eight) and Ford Motor (10).  The magazine classified financial services as the “comeback” sector of the year, leading all industry groups with $200 billion in total profits, ahead of the technology sector. JPMorgan Chase ranked 18th, Bank of America placed 21st, Wells Fargo was 25th andCitigroup finished 26th.

Is Soros shorting the Aussie dollar?

Is Soros shorting the dollar?

May 7, 2013 – 9:11AM

Mark Hawthorne

The Australian dollar fell in overnight trade on the back of rumours that billionaire US investor George Soros is betting the local currency will fall.

The Aussie dollar slipped from $US1.0284 in late local trade to as low as $US1.0222 in offshore trade as traders reacted to unconfirmed rumours that Mr Soros – who famously shorted the British pound back in 1992 – was planning a raid on the dollar ahead of today’s interest rate announcement.

The dollar has since recovered some of its overnight losses and was buying $US1.0253 this morning.

A large number trades shorting* the dollar totalling $US1 billion were placed via Hong Kong and Singapore late Monday, believed to be by Soros Fund Management.

“Someone … seems to be betting on a rate cut,” said one Sydney-based FX trader. “I’ve heard the George Soros rumour tonight. A billion dollars sounds like a lot, but it’s not enough to move the Australian dollar and it’s not a lot for George Soros, but there is a play happening  in the FX market. Read more of this post

Indian Ponzi Scheme Gets a Political Bailout

Indian Ponzi Scheme Gets a Political Bailout

As the head of the conglomerate the Saradha Group, Sudipta Sen persuaded small investors in West Bengal to entrust more than $500 million to his business between 2008 and 2013. What wasn’t to trust? After all, Sen ran a network of around 300,000 agents, owned a set of TV channels and newspapers and had influential patrons in politics, including a member of Parliament who agreed to run his media operations for him.

Last month, Sen (who so disliked being photographed that his “message” on his company’s website has a picture of an empty chair accompanying it) went AWOL after the Ponzi scheme sustained by him for five years finally went bust. He was eventually tracked down in the north Indian state of Kashmir, but not before he had embarrassed the chief minister of West Bengal, the mercurial and autocratic politician Mamata Banerjee. Sen accused two members of Parliament belonging to her party, the Trinamool Congress, of having accepted millions of dollars to buy him protection from the law.

Meanwhile, as thousands of defrauded investors thronged the offices of the Saradha Group, Banerjee’s advice to them was the austere “Ja gechchey, ta gechchey” (“What’s gone is gone”). The same might soon be said of her own political credibility. This was only the most inflammatory of a number of paranoid and perverse steps she has taken since coming to power in West Bengal two years ago, ending more than three decades of Communist rule in the state. Read more of this post

MIT: A Tale of Two Entrepreneurs: Understanding Differences in the Types of Entrepreneurship in the Economy

A Tale of Two Entrepreneurs: Understanding Differences in the Types of Entrepreneurship in the Economy

William Aulet Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Fiona Murray Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) – Entrepreneurship Center

May 1, 2013

Not all startup companies are created equal. Although both innovation-driven enterprises (IDEs) and traditional small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) can provide valuable products and services and create jobs, IDEs – startups focused on addressing global markets based on technological, process or business model innovation – can potentially create hundreds or even thousands of high-skill jobs if they succeed. This paper examines the distinctive differences between these two forms of entrepreneurial ventures, their importance for governments and policymakers wanting to support long-term economic growth; their roles in local, regional and global economies; and their differing needs in terms of financial and policy support.

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