"Ask The Expert" With Rick Rule - March 2023
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Rick Rule is a legendary natural resource investor specializing in mining, energy, water utilities, forest products, and agriculture, and he has originated and participated in hundreds of debt and equity transactions with private, pre-public, and public companies. Formerly of Sprott Inc., Rick is a frequent speaker at industry conferences and has been interviewed for numerous radio, television, print, and online media outlets concerning natural resource investment and industry topics.
This month, Rick answers seven of your listener-submitted questions, including:
- What are the thoughts on the recent changes in circumstances, particularly in the commercial and regional bank level, and whether these changes will have an ongoing impact on the odds of a 50-basis-point rate hike at the FOMC?
- Is there a risk of a self-fulfilling recession driven by a bigger issue than the recent events at Silicon Valley Bank, and can the Fed and the Treasury mitigate this risk?
- Why are you so excited about silver
For the answers to these questions and more, listen here:
Craig: Well, hello again from Sprott Money News at sprottmoney.com. We are now approaching the end of March. Heck, we're almost all the way done with the first quarter. Twenty-five percent of 2023 is wrapping up this week. I am your host, Craig Hemke, and it is time to wrap up March with our "Ask The Expert" segment. No better expert than I can think of for this particular moment in time than our old friend, Rick Rule. So, Rick, thank you so much for joining me.
Rick: Craig, it's always a pleasure. It's been a pretty eventful 2023 so far, so...
Craig: That's for sure. It's like somebody just keeps speeding up the old wheel and spinning it faster. And all of this augurs, obviously, look, I don't need to probably make this point, but Sprott Money sells physical precious metal, and they vault it as well. And this is the time. I mean, the last 12 years have been the time. But even if you've never owned physical precious metal, you need to find a dealer you can trust, someone that offers you great prices, great service, and Sprott Money is certainly that. You can go to sprottmoney.com, find out all kinds of details. You can also just pick up the phone and give them a buzz at 888-861-0775. They'll be happy to help you out.
And if anything, hey, maybe you're already a customer. Give them a like. If you're watching this on YouTube, give them a like or a subscribe. That helps with the algorithms, noticing what's going on, and casting a wider distribution net. And that's what we need to do for precious metals.
Hey, Rick, before we get started, you're now kind of retired, and just a personal, private investor, but you're doing great work with your company, Rule Investment Media, in putting on online investor symposiums. And I think you even got one that's gonna be in person coming up later this summer, correct?
Rick: That's true, Craig. We try to provide investor education, in a lot of ways, some of which we'll talk about later. But we have put on live natural resource investment conferences for about 30 years. The Vancouver conference, which we have done for many years, stopped because of COVID, and the border restrictions. We have, at least temporarily, moved that conference to Boca Raton, Florida, where we were last year. And we will do it again this July.
I would say the hallmarks of the conference, first of all, is that you have the ability to access a Michael Dell resort, 245 acres, in Boca Raton, Florida, including half a mile of Atlantic coast waterfront. You get a room that, they normally retail for $110...pardon me, $1,100 a night. You get it for $295. The facilities aren't good. They're unbelievable. They're spectacular. But that's not why you go to an investment conference. You go to one for an education.
So, let me give you the pitch. First of all, for 30 years we've had fantastic gurus, including, of course, Eric Sprott. People who tell you about the big picture, the global macro, in a way that you wouldn't hear about on CBC, CNBC, or even in "The Wall Street Journal." This year will be no exception. Jim Rickards, Bill Bonner. Nomi Prins. People like that. But we go beyond that. We've been able to assemble, for many years, some of the best analysts and portfolio managers in the world, in the natural resources space.
By the way, don't believe that we're a technology company, pardon me, conference, or a general investing, or bond conference. That's not what we do. We do natural resources and precious metals. But in that realm, we will bring you the best editors. We will bring you the best analysts. We will bring you the best portfolio managers, telling you how they do what they do. Talking their book, to be sure, but from an educational perspective. Much more importantly, however, we will bring the people that we call the living legends, a small group of entrepreneurs who have all built multibillion-dollar public companies from scratch, telling you how they did it over decades, what lessons they learned, how those lessons make them better investors, and how they can make you a better investor.
I'm confident enough in the value of all of our educational products that there's an absolute money-back guarantee. If you pay to come to the Boca Raton investment symposium, and for any reason, you don't feel like you got your money's worth, email me and I'll give you your money back. We've had that guarantee in place for 30 years. We've given back well less than one half of 1% of the tuition fees that we have received. So, that guarantee really doesn't convey too much risk to me, but it leaves you with no financial risk whatsoever. Come prepared to work hard. You get out of this what you put into it. We're gonna give you 4 straight days, 12 hours a day. We're gonna give you immediate access to the gurus, immediate access to the analysts, immediate access, by the way, to 60 exhibitor sponsors, including Sprott Money. And by the way, the exhibitors are different too. At most investment conferences, Craig, the qualification to be an exhibitor is a pulse and a check that cashes, in reverse order of importance.
Craig: That's right.
Rick: Our exhibitors are people that we have done business with, or, if they're public companies, that we own, either directly or in managed accounts. Now, sadly, there's no guarantee that because I own a stock, it goes up. But there is a guarantee that I know the company well enough that I've invested my own time and treasure in it. Repeat, every exhibitor there, we have done business with, which is to say, bought goods or services from, or if they're public companies, we own them. And remember, once again, the money-back guarantee. By the way, for those of you who can't attend in person, we're gonna live stream this event, which means that you will be able to watch it from your house. If you don't live in the United States and Canada, if Boca Raton is too far away, we can live stream it. And if you attend the live event, you will have access to the live stream, on a delayed basis, for six months after the conference.
It's important to understand that we're gonna give you 48 hours of investment programming. And by the end of day three, you're gonna be pretty tired. So, having the ability to relearn the lessons that were taught to you in the conference, in the comfort of your own home, for the next six months, is gonna be very, very useful to many people.
Craig: Yeah. No doubt about it. If memory serves me right, we've got about four months to go. I know this because I can't attend, because it's the weekend of my oldest daughter's wedding. So I won't be there, but man, everything you, whether it was the uranium one last year, the silver one earlier this year, people from my site, everybody just raves about the value of it. And again, especially being able to go back over the six months.
Rick: Well, Craig, I'll accept that excuse, but we look forward to entertaining you in the live stream.
Craig: That's right. I appreciate that. My daughter appreciates it as well. Anyway. All right. Well, thank you, Rick, for that. And I'll make sure... I'll get a link, maybe Sprott Money can put it in the comments section on YouTube or something like that, for people to check it out and register. Now, again, it's 20, what is it? Like, the 23rd through the 27th of July, something like that?
Rick: Correct. Absolutely
Craig: Hey. Old man can still remember something. Can't remember what I had for breakfast. But anyway. All right. Rick, this is the "Ask The Expert" segment for March, where we collect questions from Sprott Money customers for said expert. I kind of just group them into just a couple of topics, and we'll try to hit all three over the course of this call. And it's all top-of-mind stuff. Let's start with the current situation, because, as we began the month of March, Chairman Powell was on Capitol Hill talking about higher for longer. And odds of a 50-basis-point rate hike at the FOMC last week were about 80%. Now, as we end the month of March, it's a little different set of circumstances, primarily due to what's going on in the commercial and regional bank level. Your thoughts on this, and whether this has been fixed or whether this is gonna be ongoing?
Rick: Three quotes come to mind, Craig. One, "Plans are what you make until life gets in the way." I guess Powell got ambushed by reality. "May you live in interesting times," certainly a quote that we need to remember in this context. And then, of course, my favorite, "I'm from the government and I'm here to help." You know, Craig, I've been involved now in, well, I'm starting my seventh community bank. And so, banking is of particular interest to me.
You may recall in earlier interviews that you and I have done, I described many banks as over-leveraged hedge funds. Now, many banks are not. But you have a circumstance where the Fed itself says a well-capitalized bank has a 7% equity slice, 7% of total assets, which would suggest that 93% of the assets aren't equity-backed. That's what fractional reserve banking is all about. The equity slice is supposed to protect the depositors from mistakes on the asset side. And I would suggest to you that 7% is only enough equity slice if a banker is extremely prudent.
The second problem, of course, comes to a mismatch in terms of time duration between the assets and the liabilities. This problem, I would say, the immediate problem, came about as a consequence of the fact that long-term interest rates are generally higher than short-term interest rates. And so the temptation is for the bankers to borrow cheap money on an overnight basis or on a demand basis, and invest that money in longer-duration, higher-interest-rate-yield products.
That's okay except for two things. The first is, if interest rates go up fairly rapidly, that means that the cost of funding these investments rises at the same time that the capitalized value of the distributions, in other words, the principal prices of the bonds, fall. And that's precisely what happened to these banks. Silicon Valley Bank, as an example, had three or four-year durations, sometimes five-year durations, on their mortgage-backed securities. When the interest rates over the course of a year doubled, if you take the accretion of interest against amortizing on the time, five years, what you find is that the principal in these bonds often fell in price by 6% or 7%, at the same time that the cost of funding these bonds rose. The mark-to-market delta, that is to say, the negative accretion of value, on the bonds, wiped out the equity, and the nervousness that people had spilled over into the bank.
With regards to Silicon Valley Bank, they had a third problem, which is to say that most of their deposits, 97% of their deposits were so-called non-core, non-retail, non-insured deposits. These deposits were often deposits that were put in place by venture capital companies, venture capital firms, where the uninvested contributions from limited partners were deposited in a bank. But of course, as they got invested, it came out of deposits and went into investments. A bunch of the rest of the money was for companies that were tech companies, non-revenue companies, that were venture-funded. And as these companies spent the money that was on deposit to sustain themselves, the deposits fell.
When the whole technology ecosystem began to show signs of strain two years ago, what that meant was that less money was raised by venture capital firms. So that source of deposit growth went away. And less money was raised by technology companies, which meant that that source of new funding went away, at the same time that the deposit base itself was deteriorating, because the owners of the deposits were using the deposits for the purpose that they were intended. A real, true, perfect storm, that obviously blew up a bank. When that bank blew up, depositors, who hitherto believed that they were lending money in effect to the federal government, figured out that with regards to large deposits, they needed to understand something about the institution.
And there were a whole bunch of websites, overnight, that showed depositors those institutions that had very large mark-to-market losses, in terms of the mismatch between their assets and liability. And they also showed banks that didn't have very good equity slices relative to the size of the deposit base. That is, banks that could be grievously wounded by a run on the bank. This is all very healthy, Craig, looking longer-term. Investors should spend more time understanding their investments. When people buy physical gold and silver, they need to buy physical gold and silver from a company they can trust, not Schlep, Schmuck, and Schmo, under-capitalized scamsters with an office on top of a gas station somewhere.
And the same thing with banking. You need to put your money in banks that have money in them. You need to put your money in banks that have an equity slice. You need to put your money in banks that have adult supervision. And so, in the four or five-year time frame, in terms of our economy and how it functions, what we're going through right now is a really, really, really good thing. Lazy people are getting slapped. Lazy people are getting scared. And as lazy people begin to work harder on their investments, they and the world as a whole will be better. But right now, however, we have to pay the piper. And that price is high.
Craig: So, as this pertains, I guess, to the second primary topic, that's Silicon Valley Bank. But now there's a lot of concern that I've been seeing on my site and other sites in the last, really, the week or two about commercial real estate and commercial mortgage-backed securities. And the role that commercial banks, small, local, and regional banks play in funding those markets and their potential liability, and them being underwater on corporate downsizing and strip malls and businesses going out of business and stuff like that. So, can the Fed and the Treasury kind of, no pun intended, kind of paper over things like Silicon Valley Bank? Is there a bigger fish to fry here that might ultimately, [inaudible 00:16:02] what we're getting at, drive this Fed pause and pivot, you know, create kind of the self-fulfilling recession, that sort of thing?
Rick: That's an enormous question. In fact, there were three questions there.
Craig: Yeah, sorry.
Rick: There are three questions there, so I'll try to deal with them sequentially. The first thing is that I think that commercial real estate does have the potential to be a big problem. It has the potential to be a big problem in three ways. Craig, you'll know that we went through a 40-year period of declining interest rates. That period is probably over. I'm not trying to say that they won't lower them from here, but the systemic period of lower interest rates, beginning 1982 to 2022, I think, is over. Commercial real estate works best in a period of declining interest rates, where the capitalized value of the rents goes up while the cost of capital goes down. The wind was in the investors' and the bankers' sails for 40 years. The wind is at best slack, or at worst, coming at the banks. The consequence of 40 years of good times is that bankers came to confuse a bull market with brains, which is to say, the fact that commercial real estate treated them well meant that they believed that they understood commercial real estate, which may or may not be the case. The aggressive banks did the best, the ones that had the highest loan-to-value relationships, as an example. The most aggressive lenders did the best. These are the guys that are gonna experience the pain the most.
But markets work on liquidity. And the fact that for the next two or three years, the banking system is gonna be focused on repairing their own balance sheet, that banks are gonna be focused on short-duration assets to manage short-duration liabilities, means that all but the very best commercial real estate lenders are gonna pull in their horns, which is to say capital is gonna be less available. Commercial real estate's a capital-intensive business. As capital becomes less available and more expensive, it will necessarily hurt commercial real estate, I would suspect, for obvious reasons, particularly in the office sector. If you add all of those factors together with the fact that more and more and more and more and more people wanna work from home, it's easy to see systematic problems in the office market. It's also easy to see, with online shopping, the fact that some parts of the retail business, some mid-scale, not upscale malls and shopping centers, will, I think, continue to experience problems with the disintermediation of retail shopping from middle-class and lower middle-class malls to Amazon, Overstock, and various online services.
So, if you combine the fact that capital becomes less available, and the cost of capital increases, and the rent rolls suffer from changes in business condition, I think the circumstance that you describe, which is to say, emerging problems in commercial real estate will be a real problem for non-prudent banks. You are gonna have commercial real estate lenders, like Wells Fargo, top-quality lenders, that are gonna do fine. They're absolutely, positively gonna do fine. The conservative underwriting standards, stay on top of their portfolio, do a reasonably good job matching assets to liability, syndicate out enough of their loan package, where if they're making $100-million-dollar loan, they lay off 65% or 75% to other banks. But then you're gonna have a whole bunch of other banks that were no kind of prudent. And, you know, I think they're gonna have an unpleasant learning experience.
Craig: Does this, Rick, like I said, the self-fulfilling part was the last part of my long question. Recession seemed an eventuality anyway. Does this type of bank crisis only make it more likely? And again, what I'm getting at is does that then drive Fed policy? They gotta turn the printer back on?
Rick: Well, that's a great question. Sooner or later, you have to have a reckoning. What's happened is that a whole bunch of money has gone to money heaven. And we need to restock the larder. When we restock the larder, money is less available. That's the way it works. Now, the Fed can postpone that. The Fed can quantitatively ease. It's important, by the way, to understand that that phrase, quantitative easing, is Fed-speak for counterfeiting. They can create more money backed by nothing, with the stroke of a key. Making fake money does not make existing money more valuable. It makes existing money less valuable. The second thing that they can do, as long as they maintain confidence, is they can lower the interest rate. Remember that in years past, attempts, the Fed's attempts to lower the interest rate, like in the early years of the Clinton administration, didn't work. They gave treasury auctions and the investors forgot to show up. It's only been in the last 25 years, if you will, that the Fed has had the ability, because of confidence, to raise and lower interest rates at their leisure.
If we see a circumstance where the unexploded bombs in the economy and the banking sector scare more and more voters and more and more politicians, I think you will see a circumstance where the Fed increases the pace of counterfeiting, and does their best to artificially lower interest rates. That should, Craig, be extremely good for the business of Sprott Money, and for the portfolios of Sprott Money subscribers. Remember that gold and silver are probably the only two mediums of exchange in the world that have intrinsic value in and of itself, rather than as a medium of exchange, and are also assets that don't convey a liability on anybody else. Gold is not a promise to pay, it's payment itself. And if you don't trust the currency and you don't trust the payment system, there is something to be said for having some portion of your liquid assets in a medium of exchange that isn't simultaneously somebody else's liability, meaning gold and silver.
So, I'm not trying to say that the world is gonna blow up. I'm not trying to say any of the things that you hear so often from the hard money movement. What I am trying to say is that a prudent investor insures against contingencies when the probability of the contingency is as recently proven, and as large as this one. My suspicion is we'll weather the storm. My suspicion is we'll get through all this fine in five years. My suspicion is that we're gonna encounter an awful lot of angst over the next five years that people who own physical gold and silver won't experience the same degree as people who don't. And there is, of course, the chance that I'm wrong. There is, of course, the chance that this blows up. Blows up like 2008 blew up, blows up like 1975 blew up. I was in both of those. Neither of them were fatal, but neither of them were pretty.
Craig: Yeah. That's true. Rick, in our final minutes, because I wanna be respectful of your time, I mentioned the silver symposium that you... That was just back in February, maybe, around the time of the Super Bowl?
Rick: Yes, sir.
Craig: Okay. Even outside, and irrespective of all of this Fed stuff, right, and easing and liquidity, I think you can make a pretty bullish case for silver. And I know we got a couple people that were at that symposium and said, "Would you just ask Rick again to hit a couple bullet points as to why he's so excited about silver?"
Rick: Well, I own gold, Craig, as an insurance policy. I own a lot of gold, and I'm in this odd position of owning a bunch of it and hoping it doesn't go up in price, because the set of circumstances that makes it go up in price is bad for the rest of my portfolio. I own gold out of fear. I own silver for greed. Despite the fact that I'm 70 years old and I have enough money to get through the rest of my life, I want more. I can't help myself. And in my experience over the last 50 years, when the circumstance occurs that causes gold to move... Gold leads precious metals bull markets. But when silver moves, it moves later, but it moves further and much, much faster. My suspicion is, if the gold price doubled, I'm not saying it will, I'm not saying it won't, that the silver price would quadruple or quintuple. I'm not saying that's gonna happen. Let's be more reasonable in our goals. Let's say that we believe that the gold price could go up by 25% or 30%. My suspicion is that the silver price would at least double or triple the performance in gold, because I've experienced that in my life.
It's important to note that silver, unlike gold, gets used for stuff. Gold gets used in iconography, jewelry, coins, and stuff like that. Silver gets used in various industrial processes. So, about a billion ounces a year go to heaven, silver heaven, simply through economic growth. The ability to quench demand from above-ground supplies is smaller with silver than it is with gold, because silver gets used for other purposes. On the supply side of silver, too, many people don't realize it, but most silver doesn't come out of silver mines. It comes out as a byproduct from mining other metals: gold, copper, lead, zinc, and from recycling. So, the inelastic nature of the silver market and the low unit cost means that as the precious metals narrative gains adherence with generalist investors, silver moves later, but silver moves further, and silver moves faster. That's why I'm attracted to silver. I've been a beneficiary of three former silver bull markets, and I can tell you that they were all extraordinarily pleasant.
Silver does nothing for you for five or six years at a stretch, other than giving you some aggravation and some excitement. But when silver pays you, it makes up for that five or six years, and it does it in a year and a half. If you are in place before the move, you are happy. If you are not in place before the move, you can lose a third of the move in three or four months before you can do anything about it. So, you have to endure this lethargy or this torture for five or six years before the metal moves. And you have to remember, after the metal moves, that the uptick in the silver price, if silver were to triple, you'd suddenly feel smart. You'd suddenly think that silver was a good investment, after it already tripled. In addition to having the intelligence and the patience to buy it before it moves, you have to remember to sell some after it does move. I've watched people round-trip silver. People that I know. I've watched them round-trip silver three times in my career. That's not what you do.
Craig: I've been telling people on my site... What do you think of this? Look, I don't know what the right gold-silver ratio is, given the pricing structure and everything else these days. But if you just even think gold's gonna exceed its old all-time high by 10%, and goes to $2300, then you've gotta have a 100 gold-silver ratio to have silver at $23. That's unlikely, wouldn't you say?
Rick: I don't look at it that way, because I don't think that the relationship between the two metals is particularly fundamental. Here's what I look at. In the '70s, silver went from a buck and a half to 50 bucks. Okay? Not gonna do that this time. In the early '90s, the silver price went from 4 bucks to 50 bucks. Not a bad move. Last time through, silver probably touched, what, 12, 14 bucks on the low side? Went to 50 bucks. Silver is what now, $24, $25?
Craig: Twenty-three, as we speak.
Rick: Yeah. I'd be happy if it retested $50. I'd be happy to see a double. I don't think I'm gonna see a double. I think I'm gonna do better than a double. I don't think I'm gonna see the same percentage response that I saw in the '70s, you know, a 20-bagger. I don't even think that I'm gonna see a 10-bagger. But I don't think a three-bagger or a four-bagger is unreasonable at all.
Craig: Heavens, no.
Rick: And in my life, a three-bagger or a four-bagger when there's probably only 20% or 30% downside, and when time is on my side, which is to say, where the probability of the narrative gaining popular currency is as high and as proximal as it is today, for speculators, for people who can afford the risk inherent in precious metals, and can afford the psychological torture of owning precious metals, I mean, it's very difficult for me to understand why somebody wouldn't do it.
Craig: Right, right, right. As I've always said, Rick, if the global central banks are taking some of their dollar reserves and putting it into gold, and then silver, in this case, maybe we should be listening to them and taking some of our own dollar reserves and doing the same?
Rick: I disagree with that too. I think these guys who run central banks came from good families. And I think if they hadn't gone from good families and had good educations that they'd be wearing masks when they went into 7/11s.
Craig: Yes, I suppose.
Rick: I think you ignore the big thinkers, and I think you just pay attention to the arithmetic yourself. Do you think it's more likely than not that the currency will continue to be debased? Do you think it's more reasonable than not to assume that the U.S. 10-year treasury, which pays you a 4% interest rate in a 7% inflationary environment, in other words, that costs you 3% a year, do you think that silver can compete as a medium of exchange and a store of value with an instrument that absolutely promises to guarantee you to lose 3% a year for 10 years? I mean, I think silver can withstand that fight. I don't care what the central banks are doing. I care a lot about arithmetic with regards to my investments. And the arithmetic around gold and silver is very good. It actually hurts my feelings that the central banks are buying lots of gold, because I wish they would lose money. And I think, unfortunately, they're gonna make money on their gold positions, which I think is a tragedy.
Craig: I like your point. I like that a lot. And as usual, Rick, you're just a fantastic guest. And I heard a quote over the weekend that I thought was appropriate for the markets. This guy wasn't talking about the markets, but he said, "In the 21st century, you can download knowledge, but wisdom is hard to come by." And your experience and your wisdom is just invaluable. So, I thank you so much for sharing it with all of us here [crosstalk 00:32:01]
Rick: Always a pleasure, Craig. And if you'd allow me, I'd like to share a little more.
Craig: Please, go ahead.
Rick: As before, any of your listeners who care what I have to say about precious metals and natural resources can get it personalized. Go to my website, ruleinvestmentmedia.com. Download your natural resource stocks, and I'll personally rank them 1 to 10. By the way, no crypto, okay? No tech stocks, no pot stocks.
Craig: For free.
Rick: Stick me with what I know. Absolutely free. I'll return it by email. By the way, if you're interested in a real bank, one that has money in it, and one that loves to lend it against precious metals as collateral, in the question and comment section, on the rankings database, add "bank." I'm happy to talk about my new bank. Once the bank gets its charter and up and running, first of all, it will have adult supervision, some of it being mine. We won't have 14 savings products that you can't understand. We'll have one, a high-yield account, that pays you interest on your savings and on your checking. And in particular, for Sprott clients, if you have gold and silver in segregated accounts, and you need access to cash, or you wanna borrow to buy more gold and silver, if you wanna leverage, prudently, your gold and silver holdings, our new bank, Battle Bank, will work very closely with Sprott Money, to allow you to do just that. So, email@example.com, in questions and comments. If you care about the bank, write in "bank." We'll put you on the list, and we'll notify you as soon as we're open. Battle Bank means that we wanna battle for your business. We wanna battle to lend to you. We wanna battle for your deposits.
Craig: Dynamite. Rick, thank you. It's just great. And again, please, everybody, what an offer, to have Rick Rule offer to let you know what he thinks of some of your miners that you hold. Rick, thank you so much. It's always valuable. I wanna thank everybody for watching. And please, again, just remember, Sprott Money is the sponsor of this content, so give them a like, maybe subscribe to the channel that you're watching on, or, hey, next time you're in the market, give them a thank-you by checking out sprottmoney.com and giving them a call at 888-861-0775. Rick Rule, thank you for your time. It sure has been fun to visit again.
Rick: Craig, always a pleasure. I look forward to these conversations.
Craig: We'll do it again soon. And from all of us here at Sprott Money News and sprottmoney.com, thanks for watching. We'll have another one of these "Ask The Expert" segments in April.
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