EARLY LOOK: China Is What It Is

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It was originally published at 8am this morning, September 13, 2010.  INVESTOR and RISK MANAGER SUBSCRIBERS have access to the EARLY LOOK (published by 8am every trading day) and PORTFOLIO IDEAS in real-time.




“A man should look for what is, and not for what he thinks should be.”
-Albert Einstein



EARLY LOOK: China Is What It Is - Einstein China 1



Upholding the principle of that Einstein quote has to be one of the most challenging aspects of this risk management game. Most investors have a confirmation bias that guides their decision making. Over the years I’ve started using blunt mathematical instruments to attempt to impair mine.
Being bearish on US Equities since April 16th was the right call. Starting to cover our short positions on August 24th (covered SPY, IWM, XLY, etc. that day) and going long Chinese equities (bought CAF) on August 25th were good calls. Staying perpetually bearish on everything US or China is rarely a good idea.
One could argue that I made a wrong call selling our US Equity exposure too early this month (we moved to a 6% position in our Asset Allocation model in late August, buying Utilities and Pharmaceuticals). I’d have no argument in response. This is what we call the score. It doesn’t lie.
The score coming out of Washington last night was finally good. The Washington Redskins beat the Dallas Cowboys 13-7 and China re-accelerated their leadership in global economic growth. If you didn’t know why oil, US Equities, and US Treasury yields broke out above critical lines of resistance late last week, now you know…
Here’s a Chinese weekend data check:
1.      China’s Industrial Production growth re-accelerated sequentially (month-over-month) to +13.9% y/y in August versus +13.4% in July.

2.      China’s Retail Sales growth re-accelerated sequentially (month-over-month) to +18.4% y/y in August versus +17.9% in July.

3.      China’s Consumer Price Inflation (CPI) continued to accelerate, climbing to +3.5% y/y in August versus +3.3% in July.

Now this isn’t all of the Chinese data and, like it is in America, I’m certain that part of it is made-up… but it’s certainly better than Made-off type data and whenever our professional politicians attempt to chastise China or its data, they should seriously think about that.
The #1 reason why we are long China is the exact same reason why we were short China at the beginning of 2010. The core tenet to our Q1 Hedgeye Macro Theme - Chinese Ox In a Box – was that the Chinese were going to tighten the screws on speculative growth. They did. Economic growth slowed for almost 7 consecutive months. And no matter where you go this morning, here China’s data is – re-accelerating for the 1st time sequentially in 2010.
Whether you are a chaos theorist or not, you need to “look for what is, and not for what you think should be.” Jim Chanos is a world class short seller and he can be convincing in his longer term duration call that China can blow up. But I can tell you that is not happening today. In fact, I’ll put my risk management neck out on a limb here and make the call that China isn’t going to blow up this week either!
China is what it is right now – re-accelerating growth.
Sure, this will come at a cost to both your equity short positions (futures up) and the Chinese citizenry (inflation up). The world’s dark little deflation secret is that it’s not happening anywhere other than in certain assets domiciled in certain Fiat Republics. If you own J.R. Ewing’s 1980’s ranch on steroids and thought that having llamas grazing the front of your Connecticut front yard was going to inflate your property value in perpetuity, sorry to tell you like it is…
Here’s a real-time Asian market price check:
1.      China’s Shanghai Composite trades up another +0.9% overnight , taking its rally from the July lows to +13.8%.

2.      Hong Kong +1.9%, South Korea +0.9%, and India making another new YTD high trading up +2.2%.

3.      Japan even caught a bid, giving a Fiat Republic a bone, getting the Nikkei to close above its immediate term TRADE line of 9,190.


Here’s a real-time Europe/Middle East market price check:
1.      Germany’s DAX is up another +0.8% (bullish TRADE and TREND; we are long EWG), and now up +5.1% for the YTD.

2.      Spain +1.1%, Italy +1.4%, and Ireland +1.3% as the pain trade for those who shorted the Euro’s bottom in June continues.

3.      Russia +1.5%, Norway +1.2%, and United Arab Emirates busting a +2.3% move to the upside as oil breaks out above our TREND line.


Here’s a real-time Commodity/Currency market price check:
1.      CRB Commodities Index indicated up again this morning after going bullish from a TRADE and TREND perspective 3 weeks ago.

2.      Oil prices have confirmed the critical breakout above our intermediate term TREND line of $75.70/barrel last week.

3.      Chinese Yuan/USD 6.75 this morning is a new record (post 2005) high and Euro/USD is trading solidly above TREND line support of $1.26.

I guess Timmy shouldn’t have called the Europeans piggies and the Chinese manipulators. After all, in the end markets and political lives all find a funny way of finding where everything starts – not for what the conflicted and compromised want them to be, but for what they are.
We’ve reduced our cash position in the Hedgeye Asset Allocation Model to 55% (down from last week where we started the week at 64% and down from our 2010 YTD peak cash position of 79%). My immediate term support and resistance lines for the SP500 are now 1107 and 1129, respectively. The greatest risk to not being short US Equities right here and now is that Congress is back in session today.
Best of luck out there today,

Keith R. McCullough
Chief Executive Officer


A quick look at short interest in the restaurant industry.


In the casual dining space, the shorts keep pressing the bets on BWLD, PFCB, BOBE, RUTH, CHUX and CAKE. 


I continue to be bearish on BWLD because of the brand’s positioning losing steam with the consumer and the company continues to press on with an aggressive growth platform.  In the short-term, lower chicken prices will keep margins and earnings in check. 


BOBE is facing a very difficult commodity environment and is struggling to get the top line going - never a good combination.


RUTH could see an increase in red meat costs as we head toward 2011 and the sales trends will be more difficult from 4Q onwards.  2Q and 3Q09 comps were -23.4% and -24%, respectively, with the next three quarters (4Q, 1Q10, and 2Q10)seeing trends improve to -11.2%, -0.5%, and +2.9%, respectively.  As the easy comps become difficult compares, it will be interesting to see if the top line can keep up.  Also a concern is the rising cost of beef which could see significant inflation year-over-year in 4Q.


CHUX has a new management team but the bearish case remains powerful given the company’s relative position within the struggling bar and grill category.


In the QSR space, those exposed to MCD taking share, increased wheat costs, and increased coffee costs all saw an uptick in short interest for the most recent two weeks of data.  JACK, DPZ, PEET, PNRA, TAST, BAGL, MCD and CBOU were all pressed by the shorts on a two week basis.  SBUX remains the Teflon Don of the coffee space but sooner or later they may also have to take up pricing if coffee costs maintain their current trajectory. 


Being short on JACK is an interesting call given that exposure to MCD and the company’s regional exposure serve to keep sales trends sluggish.  Additionally, commodity pressure is coming to bear on their bottom line.  At the same time, they are high on my list of potential companies that could go private.  At 6.0x EV/EBITDA, there is nearly $8 of upside and only $2 of downside from its current price, all else being equal.


AT 9.2x EV/EBITDA DPZ is expensive.  Additionally, same-store sales trends are going to slow and commodity prices are on the rise.  The street is not all that bullish on DPZ and the days to cover is high putting it closer to a potential long.  Their business really needs to fall off a cliff in order for the stock to work on the short side.


PNRA is an interesting one.  The days to cover is high but the street loves this stock.  What’s not to love with double digit same-store sales trends?  PNRA is currently goosing the company with a significant increase in their marketing budget.  The timing of the spending will be the key to getting this potential short right.  Two key commodities - wheat and oil - are breaking out to the upside which is negative for the stock. 


MCD as a short? Given how many frappes and smoothies MCD is selling, they should be posting better same-store sales.  Unfortunately for MCD, it has an average check problem.  For the time being this is not that big of an issue.  Come 4Q10 if/when sales slow and commodities prices are in the rise, MCD could have a problem.


BAGL, TAST, and CBOU: shorts press on rising wheat prices (BAGL), the McDonald’s momentum (TAST) and rising coffee prices (CBOU).








Howard Penney

Managing Director

The Key Senate Races To Watch

Conclusion: The Hedgeye Senatorial Race Predictor currently suggests the Democrats will retain the Senate 51 – 49.


Last week we had Karl Rove come in for a call with our subscribers to analyze the midterm elections.  Rove’s analysis, which we agree with, is that it seems likely that the Republicans will take control of the House.  The real wild card question relates to the Senate, where, obviously, elected officials hold their seats for six years and only 1/3 of the seats come up for election every two years.  In aggregate, this makes it more difficult for any party to lose control from election to election.  Despite this, the race for the Senate is incredibly close, according the Real Clear Politics Poll aggregate.


Currently, the Democrats should win 48 seats and the Republicans should win 46 seats.  That leaves 6 seats that are currently toss ups, or too close to call.  If the Republicans win four of the six toss up seats, the Senate would be deadlocked at 50 – 50, with Vice President Biden as the deciding vote.  Below we’ve outlined these key Senate races and how they screen on our Hedgeye Senatorial Race Predictor.  The key components of this screen are: 

  • Momentum – Specifically, which candidate has won more of the last three polls;
  • History – Specifically, how did the State vote in the last three Presidential Elections; and
  • Bully Pulpit – This is the party of the current Governor, which will give that candidate’s the increased advantage of the bully pulpit. 

The results of the screen are outlined in the table below:


The Key Senate Races To Watch - 1


This analysis suggests that the toss ups will be split evenly between the parties.  The implication of this is that the Democrats would retain the Senate with the narrowest of margin at 51 – 49. 


Interestingly, our analysis projects that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid loses his seat in the Senate.  Admittedly, this may be the one race where the impact of the Tea Party could be most felt in a negative manner for the Republicans and where we may be off on our prediction.


In Nevada, Republican nominee Sharron Angle was endorsed by the Tea Party Express over her more mainstream opponent, Sue Lowden.  As an indication of Angle’s extreme status within the Nevada State Assembly, where she served from 1998 to 2005, she was known as “41-to-Angle”.  This nickname came from the fact that Angle would often be the lone dissenter in matters that were voted in the affirmative by the other forty-one members of the State House. 


Thus, while there was a time that Senator Reid’s hold on his seat seemed tenuous, he has engineered an amazing turn-around in the polls as voters have become less comfortable with his opponent.  In fact, from June 2010 to July 2010, the margin swung 18% in Reid’s favor.  This is the largest swing in Senate election history.


As we head into the midterm, the Senate Races highlighted above will be the key races to watch.  If the Republicans win four or more of these seats, it is likely that they take the Senate.


Daryl G. Jones

Managing Director



September 13, 2010


It’s footwear Monday, with news ranging from China inflation to the development of a K Swiss collaboration.  Keep an eye on Car Shoe, which is likely to see some increased door penetration as Prada looks to growth engines ahead of a potential IPO. 




- After adding several new categories and innovations to the mix over the last 12-to-18-months (e.g. running, outerwear, accessories, etc.), management of Lululemon stated that it would be holding off adding more in the near-term. While this might suggest a departure from recent growth initiatives, the company did confirm plans to build its technical R&D capability including innovation specifically. Given the initial success of recent launches including the categorization that “our bag assortment is like our outerwear assortment – it’s evaporating,” perhaps its best the company focuses on capitalizing and building on early successes despite demand for further expansion.


- Add K-Swiss to the list of “tennis” shoe makers looking to reinvigorate the brand via collaboration.  This time K-Swiss teams up with American brand, Billy Reid, to launch three men’s only styles.  This is certainly not going to help regain shelf space at Foot Locker, but it ‘s a help in building some fashion credibility as the brand continues to figure out what it really wants to be.


- As online private sale operator Gilt continues to expand, this time it’s heading down an editorial path.  The company launched Gilt MANual, a site that almost aims to be a competitor to GQ.  The content aims to be both editorial and instructional, aimed exclusively at the male who is interested in style.  We’re not sure how this sells close-outs, but it certainly helps to differentiate the site in what has become a competitive field.





Macy's Find Your Magic Campaign - Dubbed “Find Your Magic,” Macy’s Inc.’s new marketing and merchandising campaign launches this week with a team of celebrity designers including Donald Trump, Martha Stewart and Rachel Roy featured in a series of TV spots and online videos. The online videos, presented in a series at, feature the celebrity designers in amusing campaigns to dress up what appear to be everyday people in dull garb by taking them to a Macy’s store for a fashion makeover. <>

Hedgeye Retail’s Take: New campaign, same faces. While national advertising is a big component of Macy’s centralization effort, we’re still not convinced The Donald is the key traffic driver the mall needs.


VF Licensed Sports Group Realigns Sales Organization - VF Licensed Sports Group said it will align the division's sales organization along key strategic channels. The changes are designed to enable LSG to provide a focused approach to assortment planning, inventory management, replenishment and marketing based on specific channel needs. <>

Hedgeye Retail’s Take: With the majority of VF’s efforts geared towards Majestic and its MLB license, this is likely an early indication of an increased focus to build out the company’s portfolio of licenses. In light of the NFL’s suggestion that it might fractionalize it current license structure, this could position VF to strengthen its stance as a current NFL apparel licensee.  


BBY and E-readers - Best Buy Co. Inc. seems to think avid readers are ready to make the switch from printed volumes to electronic readers. That’s suggested by the multichannel retailer’s decision to begin selling Inc.’s Kindle e-reader, as well as a host of other e-readers, this fall. Best Buy has slowly been building its selection of e-readers. In April the multichannel retailer became the first retailer other than Barnes & Noble Inc. to sell the bookseller’s Nook e-reader in its stores and online at Best Buy also sells both Sony Electronics Inc.’s Reader and Apple Inc.’s iPad, the tablet computer that can be used to read digital books. <>

Hedgeye Retail’s Take: Let’s be honest, without a real ‘hot ticket’ tech product so far this holiday season, this move is likely due more to a lack of alternative product than anything else.


Prada Takes Full Control of Footwear and Accessories Brand Car Shoe - “We believe the brand can be developed internationally,” said Stefano Cantino, group communications director, pointing to a retail expansion that will add “impulse and identity” to Car Shoe. There are 250 points of sale that carry the brand globally. Cantino declined to provide sales figures for Car Shoe. Prada first bought a 51% stake in the label from founder Antonio Moretti in spring 2001. The Car Shoe trademark was first registered in the early Sixties and is known for its pebble-soled driving shoes, which originally appealed to professional race-car drivers and later became fashion accessories. <>

Hedgeye Retail’s Take: A rebranding initiative may be in store here for Car Shoe. Linking Prada to the Car Shoe brand can only help here.


Chinese Retailers Pass on Product Costs to Consumers as Shoe Prices Surge - China’s footwear prices continue to increase due to the surging costs of finished leather and labor costs, said the China Leather Industry Association (CLIA). A recent survey of department stores in the country’s largest cities found that average prices of branded women's shoes had gone up from around RMB$90 per pair to nearer RMB$105. Footwear manufacturers explained that it was due to the 10-15% increase in finished leather as well as the 10% rise in labor costs. The new autumn footwear products in current Chinese markets saw about a 10% increase in prices. For example, a pair of branded lady’s shoes rose to RMB700 yuan from RMB600. <>

Hedgeye Retail’s Take: Despite a step up in promotional activity headed into BTS, we’ve seen a prices stabilize of late domestically. Perhaps the pricing power we’re seeing in China is a leading


Back-To-School Sales Strong in Footwear - Back-to-school sales are marching forward for many retailers, thanks, in part, to strong early boot sales. “It has been better than expected,” said Fred Kraft, VP and DMM for shoes at Bon-Ton Stores Inc. “It’s definitely up from last year.” Hot brands at Bon-Ton this year include Rampage, Rocket Dog and Madden Girl, while ankle boots and shooties are the most popular styles. To drive traffic, the retailer has used direct mail, as well as broadsheet inserts in the Sunday newspapers. Independent retailers, too, are feeling upbeat about the season. One independent retailer added that she got an early delivery of snow boots, which are “flying off the shelves.” The cool air has been driving traffic into the store because people are thinking about buying boots and getting ready for the season. Another good sign for this year’s b-t-s season is the absence of promotional activity. Shoe Biz, Shoofly and Next all said they offered no discounts to get customers into stores. Athletic retailers are also reporting solid results this season. <>

Hedgeye Retail’s Take: While colder weather of late has driven recent outerwear and boot outperformance, this commentary confirms the bullish trends we’ve seen in athletic footwear on a trailing 3-week basis for five straight weeks now. More notable is the commentary on promotional activity which appears to be stabilizing.


E-mail Click-Through Rates in Q2 Drop to Lowest Level on Record - E-mail click-through rates dropped to 5.3% during Q2 10, the lowest rate recorded since 2006 when marketing services firm Epsilon and the Email Experience Council began tracking e-mail with their Email Trends and Benchmarks quarterly report. Click-through rates peaked higher than 7% several times throughout 2006 and 2007 but have averaged 5.9% since Q2 2008, according to the report. Meanwhile, the average volume per Epsilon client tracked in the benchmark report increased 10.5% year over year and open rates remained steady at 22.1%. <>

Hedgeye Retail’s Take: Not surprising given a combination of better spam filters and more productive targeted marketing (e.g. mobile, banner, etc.).


New Online Retail Concept Ahalife Launches - Ahalife has the potential to remake retail much as Vente-Privee did. It is an online design lifestyle store that features one “globally curated” product every 24 hours. The items can be chosen by a celebrity or anyone in the world who is a member of the site. Products could come from the worlds of home design, fashion, food, art, consumer electronics or charity. Prices will start at $75 and go up into the thousands. Each member can submit an idea or a photo of an item to sell. If Ahalife likes the idea, its nine-person team will hunt it down or produce it. The item will be produced according to demand or shipped immediately if it’s something available in limited quantity. Some of the upcoming curators and designers include Diane von Furstenberg, Iris Apfel, Tim Gunn, blogger James Andrew of What Is James Wearing, Alexis Bittar and Rachel Roy. <>

Hedgeye Retail’s Take: The latest iteration of a limited luxury product distribution site sprinkled with authoritative recommendations by some of the industry’s highest profile designers a la Facebook’s “Like It” feature has the makings for the latest must have it fashion source.  


Most Expensive Retail Locations - As the global economy crawls its way back to solid footing, retail markets are seeing the effects. Most of the high-end premises in Europe and Asia saw lease prices improve between spring ’09 and 2010, with the exception of Milan and Rome, which dipped slightly, mostly likely due to the country’s financial uncertainty. In the U.S., rates continued to fall, opening up space for domestic and international retailers to grow their store counts: Paris, Champs-Elysees $1,255.90; New York, Fifth Avenue $1,250; Hong Kong, Russell Street Causeway Bay $1,205.46; London, Bond Street $1,175.24; Milan, Via Montenapoleone $929.37. <>

Hedgeye Retail’s Take: We’re not surprised as we have noted in the past that capacity in retail real estate has not contracted to levels commensurate with demand.



Illinois Gaming Board announced it will be rebidding the central system contract which will likely delay the rollout.



On August 12th, Scientific Games (SGMS) was awarded the contract to develop and run the central system for the video gaming network in that state.  The rollout of games was expected to begin sometime in Q1 of calendar 2011 and in earnest in 2Q2011.  Unfortunately, the rebid of the central system will likely delay the timing of initial shipments by at least a quarter.  Thus, there is a high probability that IL won't impact fiscal 2011 for BYI and WMS - both have June fiscal year ends - and maybe not even IGT's 2011 (September).  


The rebid should only affect the timing but not the opportunity.  We still expect at least 25,000 machines to be shipped into Illiniois and if Chicago signs up then up to 50,000, making Illiniois potentially the largest video game network in the country.  However, those looking for fiscal 2011 contribution for the big three suppliers may be disappointed. 


IGT has not yet provided fiscal 2011 guidance and the WMS and BYI FY2011 guidance contains only a very modest amount of revenues from Illinois given the uncertainty - timing and size and how many games will be straight sale versus lease has always been uncertain.  For the industry we had projected 1,500 and 2,500 in slot shipments to Illinois in calendar Q1 and Q2, respectively.  We don't anticipate any change to our fiscal 2011 EP estimate for WMS and only slight downside to BYI and IGT.

Breaking Down Muni Bonds

Conclusion: We firmly disagree with the relative “safety” of muni bonds, as current yields are at a disconnect with the underlying negative fundamentals that will begin to reveal themselves over the next 2-4 quarters.


Municipal bond yields increased 6bps wk/wk last week according to the latest Bond Buyer 20 General Obligation Bond Index. This marks the first weekly gain since a 1bps increase in the week ending July 15th. Much of the recent strength in Muni bonds has been attributed to the mixed-to-negative U.S. economic data out of late July and August, which caused some funds to chase yield via the relative “safety” of muni bonds. More recently, economic data (including jobless claims and consumer confidence) has been positive on the margin, which has stewarded investor confidence back into the equity market and away from muni bonds.


 Breaking Down Muni Bonds - 1


To be frank, we beg to differ regarding the perceived “safety” of these investments, as credit risks in municipalities and States across the country look to build as a result of slowing GDP growth, decelerating consumer spending and declining housing prices. Take Harrisburg, PA, for example, which intends to default on a $3.29 million bond payment this week. To help close the city’s $4.5 million budget gap this year, Mayor Linda Thompson drafted emergency measures including closing a fire station, increasing parking fees 67%, selling real estate tax liens and cutting $155k in personal expenses.


We don’t think the pending default or the aggressive austerity measures out of Harrisburg, PA will be a one-off event when it’s all said and done over the next 6-12 months. In the YTD, muni bond defaults have totaled only $1.7 billion, down from $6.9 billion in 2009. That number is likely to go up in 2011 based on the following negative fundamentals:


Current Setup:

We’ve been vocal throughout the year highlighting the headwinds facing State and local governments over the next 12-24 months. States, which are facing a collective budget gap of roughly ~$140 billion in fiscal 2011, saw their 2Q revenue from sales, personal income and corporate income taxes trail original projections in all but four states. This is likely the reason that one-third of state spending in 2010 came from federal government American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 funds.



With the federal government under increasing pressure to reign in the deficit, where will the money come from in fiscal 2011? States have already spent 89% of their ARRA funding, so that leaves little federal reprieve to fill the budget gap. The latest National Association of State Budget Officers (NASBO) Fiscal Survey of State Budgets suggests states are baking in a 4% increase in tax collections in fiscal 2010. Keep in mind that housing, consumer spending, and personal incomes are the key drivers of roughly 87% of State and local government tax receipts (see image below). We think an increase of any magnitude is unlikely given the setup for employment, consumer spending and housing over the next year: 

  • Housing: As part of our Housing Headwinds Q3 Macro Theme based on Josh Steiner’s proprietary models, we expect housing prices to decline 15-30% over the next 18 months, absent major government intervention. What is really frightening to municipalities across the country, however, is that their appraisals operate on a 2-3 year lag with market prices. That means they are currently taxing properties roughly based on 2H07 market prices. Ouch.
  • Employment: A key tenet of our American Austerity Q3 Macro Theme is that based on burgeoning federal deficits, U.S. public debt will grow to a level that structurally impedes growth going forward. Our 1.7% 2011 GDP growth estimate is 80bps below consensus and is subject to further downward revision. This will keep a floor under the unemployment rate, as pro-cyclical business investment stalls absent real growth opportunities.
  • Consumer Spending: As of today, it appears the Bush tax cuts will be extended for all but those with incomes greater than $250k. A higher effective tax rate for the wealthy will have a substantial negative impact on consumer spending, as the top 5% of earners in America account for roughly 40% of consumer spending. Furthermore, the wealth effect associated with home ownership will erode on the margin should we prove right on housing prices in the coming quarters.  

 Breaking Down Muni Bonds - 2


Breaking Down Muni Bonds - Property Tax Case Shiller


One ray of sunlight for municipal issuers has been investor appetite for Build America Bonds, of which interest payments are subsidized by the government (35%). These bonds have become the fastest-growing part of the $2.8 trillion municipal market, with total issuance of ~$130 billion since inception, according to Bloomberg data. The program is set to expire this year and is a near certainty that it will not be extended, based on current legislative gridlock and the likelihood that the GOP wins 7-8 seats in the Senate. It remains to be seen whether or not investor demand will naturally flow back to general obligation muni bonds once BABs are removed from the table. Even if it does, it is likely to be at higher yields than are currently in the market – given the negative fundamental outlook for many municipalities across the country and the prospect for much greater tax-exempt bond supply in 2011 (YTD issuance down ~20% Y/Y).


All told, we firmly disagree with the relative “safety” of muni bonds, as we feel current yields are out of touch with the underlying fundamentals, which will begin to reveal themselves over the next 2-4 quarters. The one positive we see is a marginal increase investor demand for tax exempt securities stemming from the Bush tax cuts likely not being extended to the wealthy. Even then, will that be enough to keep muni bond yields from backing up?


As always, time, data, and price will tell.


Darius Dale



Breaking Down Muni Bonds - 4

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