Warren Buffett, “The Value Investing Carpenter” and the Adapting the Greatest Investing Strategies of All in Asia – Bamboo Innovator Weekly Insight

 “Bamboo Innovators bend, not break, even in the most terrifying storm that would snap the mighty resisting oak tree. It survives, therefore it conquers.”
BAMBOO LETTER UPDATE | August 10, 2015
Bamboo Innovator Insight (Issue 95)

  • The weekly insight is a teaser into the opportunities – and pitfalls! – in the Asian capital jungles.
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Dear Friends,

Warren Buffett, “The Value Investing Carpenter” and the Adapting the Greatest Investing Strategies of All in Asia

Would you use cheap wood for the back of a cabinet, since nobody is going to see it?

A great carpenter won’t. Steve Jobs and Warren Buffett won’t.

Steve Jobs shared the story of how he was inspired by his dad who taught the young Jobs that it was important to craft the back of cabinets and fences properly, even though they were hidden. “He loved doing things right. He even cared about the look of the parts you couldn’t see,” Jobs explained, a motto that has guided him to build Apple with a craftsmanship drive and “process” to make “insanely great” creations that customers love to use and that will “put a dent in the universe”.

In his inspiring book “The Carpenter: A Story About the Greatest Success Strategies of All”, Jon Gordon explained that a carpenter builds things; a great carpenter creates a work of art like a craftsman. While most people approach their work with the mindset that they just want to get it done, craftsmen are more concerned with who they are becoming and what they are creating rather than how fast they finish it. After all, it’s no use finishing something if it’s not a work of art. Craftsmen would pour their hearts and souls and Love into everything they build, knowing that all that they create is a reflection of themselves. When they create art, they feel energized, and they energize all those who experience their work. And with each creation, they become more of the person they were meant to be.

Warren Buffett’s greatest investing strategy of all is having an eye for these “great carpenters”. These great carpenters take the form of outstanding entrepreneurs who put their Love into the work they do. Love isn’t just a feeling. It is a commitment and ongoing action. Choosing to love meant you were choosing to make a commitment that you will love regardless of how you feel and you will put love into action regardless of your circumstances.

Like Nebraska Furniture Mart’s Mrs. B, whose work ethics was phenomenal: “I come home to eat and sleep, and that’s about it. I can’t wait until it gets daylight so I can get back to the business.” She was on the floor until retiring at 103, and died the following year in 1998. She was committed in serving her customers with dedication. Because we Love, we Serve. And when we serve others, we fill up their cup with love and our own as well. As Buffett explained, “One question I always ask myself in appraising a business is… [to identify the] business built upon delivering exceptional value to the customer that in turn translates into exceptional economies for its owners”. Buffett elaborated further that everyone should study Mrs. B: “They would learn the essence of business. They would learn that taking care of customers is what it is all about. Taking care of them… She did and working like crazy she was there day after day. She had a passion for it.” Buffett summed up his value investing philosophy: “When we buy businesses, we are looking for people that will not lose an ounce of passion for the business even after their business is sold.” In essence, Buffett goes beyond the numbers to identify wide-moat innovators by also sensing that an entrepreneur takes care of his or her customers in a deep way and keep delivering exceptional value to them. Even if it means pains and sacrifices. Even if it takes a long time, working crazy day-in-day-out. Even if they grow rich. All possible only because they are committed to an idea larger than themselves to serve others.

When you love and serve, you care about the work you do and show people you care about them, you stand out in a world where most don’t care. The world will flock to people who care and buy products that were made with care and support businesses that care. We can tell whether the person making the products or services cared enough to make it great. When we care, we build things that others care about. When we care, we are craftsmen and craftswomen who are always looking to get better, work harder, and care more.

Who are the businesses that understood the power of caring? Some of these include:

  • The company that provides free shipping and free returns to customers – Amazon (AMZN)
  • The airline that cares about their employees and customers so much that LUV is their stock symbol – Southwest Airlines (LUV)
  • The restaurant that go out of their way to cater to people with food allergies – Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG)
  • The auto parts and repairs shop who cares about solving the primary problem for customers in parts availability and helps the 4,000 stores keep few inventory and tie up less working capital, so that they have greater agility to respond to and focus on servicing customers’ needs such as fast availability of hard-to-find parts which can be delivered quickly from their system of 23 distribution centers (DCs). Each DC keep 120,000 SKUs (twice the industry average) and yet increasing far higher inventory turn while fulfilling customer requests all the time. Each store inventory is also modeled to match the specific market and customer demographic – O’Reilly Automotive (ORLY)
  • The metal casting compounder that cares about forging unique hands-on relationships with its customers to help improve not only the finished product, but also the engineering process that goes into developing these complex parts for critical applications such as aircraft components. As a result, the dollar content per commercial aircraft platform has grown tremendously. When they turned into short-term opportunistic acquirers of businesses that had very little, if any, contact with the end users of their products, which were primarily sold through distributors and the products themselves were a collection of components brought together from outside sources, then assembled and tested prior to shipment, the problems caught up later on. The company’s share price plunged 60% from the middle of 1998 till end 1999 while the S&P 500 index was up 30% over the same period. The company learnt painfully that selling through distributors does not build close interface relationships with the customers to win critical engineering insights to develop high value-added components that can be bundled into a solution to command pricing power and high “switching cost” – Precision Castparts (PCP), potentially the largest acquisition that Berkshire Hathaway will make in the latest news announcement on 9 Aug in which Berkshire could potentially utilize half of its $60bn cash holdings, dwarfing Buffett’s purchase of 31 bolt-on acquisitions in 2014 for a total of $7.8bn
  • The logistics company that gives the white-glove treatment to their customers such as long-haul truckers whether the shipment is cans of tomatoes or cases of machine parts because it cares about how each container contain promises: “A promise that manufacturers will get what they need to produce their product. A promise that retailers will receive the product by a certain date and have it on the shelves. And ultimately, it’s a promise that consumers will be able to buy that product easily, whenever they need it.” The company operates in the tough LTL (less-than-load) niche with a hub-and-spoke system with 219 shipping centers to do both long-haul loads and short distances and serve over 48,000 direct points in US and Canada. It keeps its focus on employees, giving workers the tools and the time to fit boxes precisely, cushioning them with inflated brown paper pillows. As forklifts pull up with pallets, operators tap their touch screens to enter each step into a mainframe computer. Over time, that information, entered by every person touching a shipment, builds a database that top managers can use to shape the company’s entire system – Old Dominion Freight Line (ODFL)

When you don’t care – whether it is using cheap wood for the back of a cabinet, taking shortcuts, or focusing on opportunistic short-term financial engineering schemes or accounting tunneling manipulations that usually unwind into eventual impairment losses – people can tell.

Un-caring can be manifested in “smaller” simple ways, such as BreadTalk (BREAD SP, MV $271m), Singapore’s largest 46-outlet bakery chain who was under fire by being recently discovered last week for using Yeo’s pre-packaged soya bean milk, labeling the third-party vendor’s soya bean milk as their own branded bottle of “freshly-prepared” soya milk for a number of years. BreadTalk sold the 350ml bottles for a special promotional price of S$1.80 each (its normal selling price is S$3) while Yeo’s soya bean milk is sold at S$1.50 for a one-litre carton.

Usually, when a company engages in financial engineering deals, it could easily forget or be distracted from its original Purpose in Serving and Caring at the day-to-day ground level. Before the recent scandal, Breadtalk had made a joint venture investment to develop Beijing plots in Apr 2013, following up from an investment in various property projects managed by a Singapore retail property trust in Jan 2014, Nov 2011 and Jan 2010. Interestingly, if the sum of capital is allocated to strategic investments in bakery-related wide moat companies since Jan 2010, Breadtalk would have gained handsomely in not only capital gains but more importantly, an opportunity to seek long-term cooperation leveraging off its core competencies. These “could-have” capital allocation include: bakery-café compounder Panera Bread (PNRA) which tripled in value; Japan’s Yamazaki Baking (2212 JP), up over 90%; Taiwan’s bakery equipment specialist Sinmag Equipment (1580 TT), up over 230%; Indonesia’s Nippon Indosari (ROTI IJ), up over 320%; Korea’s Samlip General Food (005610 KS), the listed company supplying to its Paris Baguette bakery chains, up over a staggering 3,800%.

Or un-caring can take the form of bigger complex schemes, such as a Chinese healthcare services firm doing a financial engineering job in soliciting a $966m non-binding bid on 6 Aug 2015 from a Chinese departmental store whose book equity is $219m (tangible book equity is a negative $593m!) and is pummeled by recently reported interim losses while carrying over $950m in interest-bearing debt (excluding undisclosed off-balance sheet debt and a sudden suspicious jump in “other current liabilities” from $40m in FY04 to $207.5m in 1Q15) – and the market value of the Chinese healthcare services firm is around $460m before the “bid”. Share price spiked up after the non-binding bid announcement, saving the day for the insiders who have likely pledged their shares and thus escaping margin calls on the pledged shares. Much of the Chinese healthcare services firm’s supposed cash & cash equivalents held in the balance sheet are raised from $243m in external funds; its cash outflow on “investing activities”, including related-party transactions, amount to $130m, corresponding to the increase in “unearned revenue”, raising the reasonable doubt on the possibility of the cash outflow re-routed back to the firm as “cash equivalents” while generating artificial sales. It is to be noted that the sum of external funds raised and the cash outflow in investments approximates the total cash and cash equivalents. The Chinese healthcare services firm also has inconsistent patterns between its non-financial measure and financial measures, an empirical tool to detect firms with high fraud risk.

In the course of highlighting our monthly Moat Report Asia ideas over the past two years, we have focused on a two-step process to identify wide-moat compounders in the Asian capital jungles:

  • Step 1 in eliminating firms with potential accounting fraud and misgovernance risks, taking away the fear factor of investing in fraudulent stocks with deceptive visual signals that include low price-to-book, low PE ratios, high profit margins and ROE, decent accounts receivables and inventory turnover period, and high net cash as percentage of market cap.
  • Step 2 in analyzing and assessing the business model for its resiliency, innovations and wide-moat characteristics to eliminate the risk of investing in value traps.

We realize that the wide-moat companies in which we have thought deeper about a Step 3 – the story and validated committed actions of how they Love, Serve, and Care with a Purpose larger than themselves – tend to perform better.

Who are the Asian businesses that undertake the committed action to illuminate the power of caring? We highlight some of them below:

Consider Major Cineplex (SET: MAJOR) that we highlight in Sep 2013 and is up about 80% while the SET index is flat over the same period; Major was also down >15% along with the SET index in 4Q13. Major is Thailand’s dominant cinema chain operator with a 80% domestic market share, a “spider-web” lifestyle entertainment business model attracting 25-30m Thai consumers to its “destination to be”. Major’s CEO Vicha Poolvaraluck shared how he cares deeply about the consumer experience, using creativity to fight foreign competition which dominated the local cinema industry. Vicha elaborated that he made “all theatres different, more colourful and invested in interior decoration. Thais are people who are eager to see and experience something new and exciting all the time. In the West, many theatres may use the same style of carpet for three or more years without any renovation. But I cannot do that with my cinema here. If people get bored with the atmosphere of the place, they can instead stay at home and watch a DVD. We have to always make everything fresh [design and concept of the cinema] to draw them go out of home.” Vicha demonstrated his love and care to serve his customers in the committed action to take photos of nice places during his travel trips and send them to his marketing and engineering team to see the possibility of adapting the décor, carpet, toilet, unique objects, welcome drinks, and the services in the cinema.


Consider PChome Online (GreTai: 8044 TT) that we highlight in Aug 2014 and is up around 51% while the TWSE index is down 8% over the same period. PChome is the largest ecommerce group in Taiwan and has complete platform coverage in the Amazon-type of B2C ecommerce of selling directly to end consumers (PChome), Rakuten-type of B2B2C platform (PChomeStore) to support the online SME merchants who in turn sell to the end consumers, and the eBay-type of C2C auction site (Ruten) where individuals buy and sell to one another. PChome’s founder and chairman Jan Hung-tse shared how he describes the obstacles to ecommerce transactions as ‘friction’, and how he care deeply to commit to building a business model that can deliver within 24 hours. Jan showed great foresight in understanding the needs of the consumer in forging the Purpose, the Why:

“First, the why. We can have an asset-light business model and it’s about managing information flow more efficiently and more complete. A body as light as a swallow. I can have online orders from the customers. Then I will go to the suppliers to purchase the goods to deliver to the customers. However, I am now a customer myself and I am dependent on the efficiency of the suppliers. The goods that I ordered from the suppliers may come one day later, two days, three days, maybe not at all. Once I received the goods, I will deliver them to the customer. Another one day, two days, or three days. The key question for the customer is this: How am I going to arrange my life? If I am flying off to Shanghai the day after, and I want to buy one more memory storage card for my digital camera. Do I spend time to go out to buy or do I make the purchase online? If I know that the purchased goods will come the next day, it will be just in time for my flight to Shanghai and I can utilize my time better. The biggest problem is that there is uncertainty in the delivery time. It can arrive tomorrow, the day after, or even longer. If we can have a business model that can deliver within 24 hours, then we have solved the major problem of the customer and provide the maximum benefit of ecommerce: as an enabler to help arrange his or her life better.”

Jan elaborated: “I resolve to take on the Life’s Task to reduce this ‘friction’. I decided to build our own warehouse inventory management and logistics system. Taking on this challenge to sharpen the sword to reduce the friction has taken nearly 10 years. We have reduced the time to delivery from three days to 24 hours.” PChome reap the returns from serving the consumer with love and care: “Through 24-hours delivery, 7 days no-conditions returns policy and various other measures, including the cost of goods returned is borne by PChome and a penalty fee of TWD 100 shopping voucher for late deliveries and free delivery for purchases above TWD 490 ($16.3), we erase the doubts and concerns of consumers. As a result, during the initial launch of the 24h, the average daily transaction value of each customer is around TWD 500 per customer. One year later, it jumped nearly 10-fold to TWD 4,900.”


Consider Paiho (TSE: 9938 TT) that we highlight in Mar 2014 and is up 75%  while the TWSE index is flat during the same period. Paiho is the world’s largest touch fastener tape maker (1.3m km/yr, >10% market share) with applications in apparel, shoes, diapers, car seats etc. All top 20 global athletic shoe brands, inc Nike, Adidas, Reebok, Sketchers, UnderArmor are customers and Paiho has forged long-term “spec-in” partnerships with them. Paiho’s founder and chairman Vergil Cheng shared the insight how he care about the customer and fostering innovation among his employees:

“Paiho is one of the rare few Taiwan and even Asian shoe materials company with proven R&D capabilities and is involved in the design stage with the client before the new product is launched. Our “spec-in” long-term partnerships with all the top 20 athletic sports shoe companies develop new materials/designs and provide better and patented solutions to avoid price competition and maintain stable margin. We send 8,000 pieces of sample products to our clients for them to do their trial tests. Only by doing co-R&D work with the world’s best brands and growing together with them can we provide the best customer service and solution, to master and even lead the industry trend. Our comprehensive product range is also protected by over 110 patents. Some of these patented innovations include our water-resistant tape fastener which can maintain its ‘stickiness’ in the water and is designed for water sports activities. The importance of R&D cannot be emphasized enough; it’s akin to helping the engineers and developers to‘carry books’. At Paiho, all business unit managers and supervisors and above are automatically listed as a R&D personnel and can present their idea proposal.”


Consider Kajaria Ceramics (NSE: KARARIACER) that we highlight in Dec 2014 and is up around 28%  while the Nifty index is up around 3% during the same period. Kajaria is the #1 ceramic tiles company in India with a 20% market share in the organized segment of the tiles industry. The company has been able to successfully create a ‘pull’ for its products and currently enjoys the highest brand equity in the industry in quality, innovation, availability. Kajaria is backed by sound management credibility, comprehensive product range, superior design capability, high brand recall, loyal and widespread dealer network, strong marketing capabilities, business policies, giving it a distinct competitive edge over its peers. It has been conferred the ‘Superbrand’ status for consecutive years since 2004, giving Kajaria a price premium and pricing power advantage. Kajaria’s founder Ashok Kajaria pioneered large-format wall tile segment when everyone is selling cheap small-format tiles as he believed in delivering “Tiles that touch your soul” at a value-for-money price point, rather than compete on price and giving consumers a quality they do not deserve. Kajaria care deeply about delivering Aspiration, Affordability, Availability to the Indian consumer, giving them “a house we can be proud of’ and giving them flooring that stamps the character of our home”. As a result, Kajaria “created a brand that would trigger a consumer pull. Over the last 25 years, the biggest transformation at Kajaria is that what started out as a tile manufacturing company is now an aesthetics-led organization.”


To summarize, we realize that we sometimes commit the mistake in trying to fit what we see and learn about the competitiveness of the firm into the “model” of wide-moat characteristics such as “high switching cost”, “network effect”, “low cost advantage”, “efficient scale”, “intangible assets”. This descriptive approach into fitting observations into the model is categorization through analogy – and its #1 flaw is stocks are categorized into moats AFTER they are obvious. Until we go the distance and extra mile in Step 3, the story and validated committed actions of how they Love, Serve, and Care with a Purpose larger than themselves, we could fall into the dangerous trap of overpaying for the moat even if the valuation metrics appear cheaper with seemingly lower downside risks. The table below sums up the need for value investors to delve deeper into the DNA of a Carpenter-Craftsman to understand the origin and source of the wide-moat before it becomes obvious.

Table of Bamboo Innovators


Sacrifice is needed for not using cheap wood for the back of the cabinet: The wood was more expensive; the work required more energy, focus, and effort; the process was filled with more sweat and failure; and the years and tears it took to master the craft were greater. Everyone can be a craftsman but not everyone is willing to become one. Too many people want five minutes of fame but they don’t want to spend the thousands of hours it takes to master their craft.

You show up every day. You do the work. You see yourself as an artist dedicated to your craft with a desire to get better every day. You put your heart and soul into your work as you strive for excellence. You desire to create perfection, knowing you’ll never truly achieve it but hoping to get closer to it. You try new things. You fail. You improve. You grow. You face countless challenges and tons of rejection that makes you doubt yourself and cause you to want to quit. But you don’t. You keep working hard, stay positive, and preserver though it all with resilience, determination, and a lot of hope and faith. Then you make it! Everyone wants to work with you. And the world says, ‘Where have you been?’ And you say, ‘I’ve been here all along, and hopefully getting better day by day.’ To the world, you are an overnight success. To you, the journey continues. You’re a craftsman who wants to make your next work of art your best work no matter what you have been accomplished in the past.

You cannot be a craftsman unless you are putting your love into the work you do. After all, if aren’t building it with love it won’t be worth building. As an artist you must be driven by love. Only then will you create something special, magnificent, and compelling. Only through love will you create a masterpiece.

It is also essential to have the right attitude and approach to your life and work. Think of the craftsman beginning a new work. The craftsman is not thinking about failure. The craftsman is only thinking about building his work with love. Because he loves his work so much and creates with love, fear loses its power over the craftsman. And this allows him to do his best work and create with all the love in the universe. In every moment will you choose fear or love? Choose love and:

Love the struggles because it makes you appreciate your accomplishments.

Love challenges because they make you stronger.

Love those who have hurt you because they teach you forgiveness.

Love fear because it makes you more courageous.

Failure serves as a defining moment, a crossroads on the journey of your life. It gives you a test designed to measure your courage, your perseverance, commitment and dedication. Are you a pretender who gives up after adversity or a contender who keeps getting up after getting knocked down? Failure provides you with a great opportunity to decide how much you really want something. Will you give up? Or will you dig deeper, commit more, work harder, learn and get better?

Yes, we will have moments when the last thing you want to do is to love, serve, and care. Loving others is the last thing on our mind when we are stressed. There will be days you don’t want to get out of bed. It is during these times that you need to remember your purpose. The love of what you are building has to be greater than the challenges you face. When you know your why, you will know the how, and you’ll find a way. Your purpose will inspire you to love those you find hard to love, serve when you don’t feel like serving, and care more when you don’t feel very caring. Do everything with gratitude and love. It’s much more powerful this way. And the more you are thankful, the more you will have things to be thankful for.

We have, and will, never forget our original motivation and Purpose to do up the Moat Report Asia in highlighting the overlooked, neglected, misunderstood, underappreciated and undervalued wide-moat Bamboo Innovators in the Asian capital jungle to serve value investors and the public, “to explain, exhort, encourage, inform, educate, advise”, in the spirit of the timeless wise words of the late Dr Goh Keng Swee, one of the founders and chief economic architect of modern Singapore.

Every year on August 9, Singapore celebrates our National Day commemorating our independence in 1965. This year is a special one as Singapore crosses the mark of 50th year. Singapore had the winning founding team of Lee Kuan Yew as the indomitable political visionary, Goh Keng Swee as the economic and financial architect, and Hon Sui Sen as the builder and administrator par excellence. National Day is a time to remind ourselves to remember how our founders and forefathers Serve and Care in crafting Singapore to be a special Home filled with Love and the right values.

Five years ago, we wrote a trilogy series about Berkshire Hathaway and Singapore. We like to share them with you in this Singapore’s National Day special. Happy National Day to all!..

Part 1: The power of vision

The success of Berkshire Hathaway and Singapore can be traced to their visionary leaders who work with winning teams


Part 2: Lion Infrastructure and value investing

Both of them are an ongoing team process that demands sacrifice, hard work and soberness to scale new heights


Part 3: Lion Infrastructure is the way to go

To reach a US$2 trillion GDP in 2065, Singapore must create and build commercial assets with a special quality


The Trilogy in One Document:


Read more at the Moat Report Asia: http://www.moatreport.com/updates/

Warm regards,


The Moat Report Asia


A new monthly issue of The Moat Report Asia is now available!

Access the in-depth idea presentation:


This month of August, we highlight a listed Asian company who is the #1 functional beverage drinks company in its country with around 40% domestic market share by value and the leading functional coffee powder brand in terms of volume (#2 by value). The company is one of few Southeast Asian consumer firms who enjoy success outside of their domestic market, with overseas exports to over 60 countries contributing over 60% of total sales. The company is still in the early growth stage of deepening its channels in the overseas markets with functional beverage as the fastest growing category driving the growth of the global $200 billion nutraceuticals industry. Nutraceuticals is expected to play a central role in the frontline of the battle for consumer health with the rise in lifestyle diseases and consumers are increasingly making health-conscious choices from cutting down on carbonated soft drinks to switching to natural, organic diet.

Gross margin has expanded from 30.3% in 2012 to 39.5% in 2014 with improving production efficiencies and rising higher-margin export sales. EBITDA and EBIT margins stand at 19.8% and 16.6% to generate ROE of 22.8%. The company’s high-capex era has stabilized and will enter into a bigger free cashflow and net cash position going forward. Interest-bearing debt-to-equity has dropped from 1-1.2x in 2012-13 to zero debt and net cash in 2014, with the latest net cash to book equity position at 21.7% in 1Q15, giving it a stronger position to make bolt-on acquisitions of niche nutraceutical companies, including expanding into the functional food category to strengthen its robust portfolio of functional beverage brands. The company trades at historical EV/EBIT 15.9x and EV/EBITDA 13.3x.


About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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