About the Editor
Equities strategist Josh Peters is the editor of Morningstar DividendInvestor, a monthly newsletter that provides quality recommendations for current income and income growth from stocks.

Josh manages DividendInvestor's model dividend portfolio, the Dividend Select Portfolio. Josh joined Morningstar in 2000 as an automotive and industrial stock analyst. After leaving in 2003 to join UBS Investment Bank as an equity research associate, he returned to Morningstar in 2004 to develop DividendInvestor.

Peters holds a BA in economics and history from the University of Minnesota Duluth and is a CFA charterholder. He is also the author of a book, The Ultimate Dividend Playbook, which was released by John Wiley & Sons in January 2008.

 
Investment Strategy

Dividends are for everyone regardless of age. The outcome of owning dividend-yielding stocks is the key variable-higher-yielding stocks with safe payouts being less risky while affording investors who don't need current income the ability to reinvest/reallocate the capital.

The goal of the Dividend Select Portfolio is to earn annual returns of 9% - 11% over any three-to-five year rolling time horizon. We further seek to minimize risk, as defined by the probability of a permanent loss of capital. For our portfolio as a whole, this goal is composed of:

3% - 5% current yield
5% - 7% annual income growth

 
 
Mar 03, 2015
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Josh Peters, CFA
Equities Strategist and Editor
Equities strategist Josh Peters is the editor of Morningstar DividendInvestor, a monthly newsletter that provides quality recommendations for current income and income growth from stocks.Josh manages DividendInvestor's model dividend portfolio, the Dividend Select Portfolio.
Featured Posts
Dividend Select Portfolio Trades: Overview

Shortly after the market opened this morning, I made a batch of trades for our Dividend Select portfolio--11 in all, including two new purchases, four sales, and five add-on buys. Our cash weighting drops to 1.3% from 6.5%. In order to get this information out early in the day, this alert provides an overview of my transactions. Later today, I'll be following up with additional information and perspectives.

Closed Positions (4)
* Sold all 310 shares of Spectra Energy Corp. SE at $35.29 each. This is almost exclusively a portfolio simplification move. On its own, I still think SE is an attractive purchase, but there's no reason to own both SE and Spectra Energy Partners SEP in the same account. Their total return prospects are very similar--SE offers a little more growth, while SEP offers a bit more current income (a current yield of 4.48% versus SE's 4.19%). For anyone dealing with tax-deferred accounts, SE is the natural replacement for SEP. However, without that constraint, I find SEP fundamentally more attractive than SE, and I bought more units of SEP today (see below).

The other three sales involved what had been the three smallest positions in the portfolio, with both of the telecoms carrying a portfolio role ranking of "tenuous".

* Sold all 165 shares of AT&T T at $34.39 each. In the four years we've owned AT&T, the company has made one questionable capital allocation decision after another--from $25 billion in mostly debt-financed share repurchases, to the $18 billion just spent on overpriced spectrum. As a result, we've downgraded our stewardship rating to poor from standard. Worse, even as leverage has been rising, support for the dividend has been falling--free cash flow only barely covered dividend payments last year. I've said for some time that the stock's sole appeal was its 5%-plus dividend yield, but with little chance for improvement on a 2% dividend growth rate and risks building over the medium term, I've replaced AT&T with Verizon VZ.

* Sold all 140 shares of Rogers Communications RCI at $35.23 each. In addition to being the smallest holding in the Dividend Select portfolio, it's also given us the worst performance of any position since my May 2013 purchase. A large part of our loss is attributable to the tumbling Canadian dollar, but more concerning has been the halt in Rogers' earnings growth even as it continues to invest heavily in its network (including a very large spectrum purchase last year). Dividend growth has slowed sharply, and what dividend increases Rogers has provided have come by way of a rising payout ratio. Offering a slightly higher current yield--with no foreign dividend withholding taxes to contend with--and a dividend growth outlook in which I have a lot more confidence, Verizon is a suitable replacement for Rogers too.

* Sold all 165 shares of Unilever PLC ADR UL at $44.30 each. Compared to AT&T and Rogers, I have no complaints about Unilever's operating performance or capital allocation practices. Negative currency movements have posed a fundamental headwind, but we've still registered a nice capital gain since I bought the shares in July 2013. However, the stock's valuation looks a bit rich--a 17% premium to our $38 fair value estimate and a dividend yield below 3%. For now I think our other purchases provide a superior use of our capital, but if Unilever's valuation becomes more attractive in the future, I'd be happy to consider buying this supporting player again.

All four of these stocks have joined our Income Bellwethers watchlist--AT&T and Rogers with strategic appeal rankings of Low, and Spectra Energy and Unilever with strategic appeal rankings of High.

New Purchases (2)
* Bought 120 shares of Ventas VTR at $74.32 each. Like rival Health Care REIT HCN, this healthcare-focused real estate investment trust is a very good match for our strategy. The stock offers a 4.3% current yield and the likelihood of long-term dividend growth averaging 5% or better. I profiled Ventas favorably in the October 2014 issue of DividendInvestor, and I wish I'd bought it then in the mid $60s. Though it subsequently hit a high of $82, a selloff in the past few weeks allows me to get a small position started at what I think is a reasonable price (our fair value estimate is $76). While the initial weighting for this supporting player is just 2.0%, I expect to add to this stake over time.

* Bought 300 shares of Verizon Communications VZ at $49.36 each. Like AT&T, Verizon has had to deal with increased competition in the U.S. wireless market, and its debt load has increased in the past few years. The stock's dividend yield is about one percentage point lower (4.46% versus 5.47% for AT&T at my transaction prices). However, Verizon is a superior company in virtually every other respect, and the only telecom stock that I believe is suitable for our strategy. While AT&T can't seem to stop itself from acquisitions (however dubious), Verizon has been shedding assets and focusing more on its industry-leading wireless franchise. Rather than binging on share buybacks, it took advantage of low financing costs to acquire Vodafone's former 45% stake in Verizon Wireless. While dividend growth has been running in the low single digits, this has still beaten AT&T, and the rate of growth has been trending up rather than down. As financial leverage declines over the next few years, I think 4%-5% annual dividend growth is likely. Best of all, Verizon's dividend enjoys much stronger coverage through both earnings and free cash flow; on a price-to-free cash flow basis, Verizon is actually cheaper than AT&T. I'll grant that Verizon is not especially cheap in an absolute sense, trading just below our recently-raised fair value estimate of $50 a share. I expect this narrow-moat firm to play a supporting role in our portfolio rather than being a core holding. That said, I believe the combination of a well-protected, mid-4% yield plus the probability of healthy dividend growth justifies a weighting of 3.3%.

Add-On Purchases (5)
My first four add-on purchases involve core holdings.

* Bought 120 more shares of American Electric Power AEP at $56.26 each. I've been very pleased to see AEP's dividend growth rate pick up over the past few years as it has worked its way through the deregulation of power generation in Ohio. Odds are rising that AEP will simply sell its remaining merchant plants, leaving a fully-regulated base of business that earns good returns on equity. A few weeks ago the shares were too expensive to consider buying more. However, our fair value estimate recently rose to $59 from $54 on a lower cost of equity, and the entire utility sector has seen a reversal of momentum--enough to create a few opportunities to put capital to work in the group. With this purchase, AEP is now our top utility holding with a weighting of 4.4%.

* Bought 300 more shares of General Electric GE at $26.05 each. Though the oil-price plunge puts some near-term pressure on GE's oil- and gas-related businesses, I remain confident that CEO Jeff Immelt's remake of GE's portfolio away from financial services and toward industrial operations will be a long-term boon for the dividend and the share price. This trade boosts our portfolio weighting to 5.2% (fifth-largest holding overall) from 3.5%, and if the stock drops to a point where the yield closes in on 4% again, I'm ready to consider boosting our stake further.

* Bought 60 more shares of Procter & Gamble PG at $85.49 each. This trade boosts our weighting in the household products giant to 3.8% from 2.7%, reflecting our confidence in the company's revitalization efforts despite fierce currency headwinds. The stock is one of only a few in the staples sector that trades below our fair value estimate and offers a yield north of 3%. I continue to expect dividend growth of 7.0% a year.

* Bought 125 more units of Spectra Energy Partners SEP at $52.51 each. SEP holds the crown jewels of the Spectra organization--pipeline and storage assets, primarily for natural gas, that provide very steady cash flows under long-term contracts. (Not included in SEP are SE's more volatile exposures to gathering and processing, the regulated gas utility in Ontario, and additional financial leverage at the SE level.) Atop the units' current yield of 4.5%, management expects to drive distribution growth averaging 8% annually through 2017 as it executes on a high-quality backlog of expansion projects. Prior to this trade SE and SEP had a combined weighting of 6.2%, which I felt was a bit high. This add-on purchase took about 60% of the proceeds from selling SE and gave SEP a weighting of 5.2%, the fourth-largest in Dividend Select.

* Bought 50 more shares of Southern Company SO at $45.13 each. Like its peers, Southern has gotten quite a bit cheaper in the past few weeks, boosting the stock's current yield to 4.65%. This is among the highest of any regulated utility in the U.S., which reflects some apprehension regarding two over-budget construction projects. While these problems have dented Southern's reputation a bit, the financial cost to date has been absorbed without disturbing a steady pattern of annual dividend increases of $0.07 a share. I assume that the size and complexity of these projects will result in occasional negative headlines over the next few years, but we believe the costs to complete these projects will prove manageable. In fact, I think it would be difficult to buy this stock at an attractive valuation if the firm didn't face a few challenges. However, while this trade boosts our weighting in Southern to 4.0%, I still regard the stock as a supporting player, and we will continue to carefully monitor progress at the Kemper County and Plant Vogtle projects.

Below you'll find our latest analyst reports for Ventas and Verizon. As noted earlier, I will have more information to share about these trades as the day unfolds, including our analyst reports for all of the stocks traded today.

Best regards,

Josh Peters, CFA
Director of Equity-Income Strategy
Editor, Morningstar DividendInvestor

Disclosure: I own the following stocks in my personal portfolio: AEP, APU, CLX, CVX, EMR, GE, GIS, GSK, HCN, JNJ, KO, KRFT, MCD, MMP, NGG, O, PAYX, PEG, PG, PM, RCI, RDS.B, SE, SEP, SO, UL, UPS, WFC.


Ventas VTR
Investment Thesis 04/11/2014 | Todd Lukasik, CFA

With the advent of the Affordable Care Act in the U.S., change is underway in the health-care industry. The reforms bring a renewed focus on constraining growth in health-care costs, while potentially introducing tens of millions of new insureds to the health-care system. Despite the uncertainty with current (and potential) changes to the health-care industry, the bulk of health-care spending is nondiscretionary and often requires physical space--that is, real estate--for its delivery, favorable conditions for health-care landlords. We think Ventas will continue to benefit from in-place long-term leases, well-located senior housing properties, and future opportunities for profitable external growth with partners expanding their operations and by consolidating its industry.

In recent years, Ventas has added senior housing operating assets to its diversified portfolio. Given the direct impact of their operating variances on Ventas' financials, we view its operating assets as potentially introducing more variability to Ventas' results than its legacy (mainly triple-net leased) assets. However, Ventas is also immediately exposed to operating improvements at these properties, which can drive faster growth in strong markets. The firm's strategy in this area is sound, as it attempts to limit downside risk by owning high-quality assets in markets with favorable demographics that it expects to enjoy expanding demand over time. Ventas reports that its operating portfolio is in areas within its markets with higher average household incomes and higher home values, which--along with the ageing of the population--should benefit demand for its senior housing operating assets. Early results of this effort are encouraging, as these assets have been some of Ventas' best performers of late.

In general, Ventas' business remains exposed to favorable tailwinds, such as a growing and aging population and additional users of the health-care system because of ACA. We expect inflation-plus internal growth from legacy assets, plus, its fragmented industry should provide further consolidation opportunities to drive external growth.

Ventas: Economic Moat 04/11/2014

We are reinstating our narrow moat rating for Ventas. After its massive balance sheet expansion of a few years ago, we downgraded Ventas' moat to none from narrow. The high prices paid for its acquisitions resulted in low initial yields on investments and a drastic reduction in our estimate of Ventas' ROREA, or return on real estate assets, to a level below our estimate of its cost of capital. (We estimate ROREA, our preferred return metric for REITs, as EBITDA less maintenance capex, divided by the gross book value of revenue-generating assets.)

In the years since, however, Ventas has outperformed our expectations, resulting in higher levels of EBITDA, coupled with slightly lower capital expenditure outlays--especially in its senior housing operating portfolio. The net result is higher ROREA today than we expected and forecast ROREA that exceeds our estimate of Ventas' WACC by nearly 100 basis points at the end of our 10-year forecast, a comfortable level for a REIT.

Given that we now expect Ventas to achieve ROREA that exceed our estimate of its cost of capital, it is once again eligible for a narrow moat rating, which we think it sources from intangible benefits associated with owning quality assets in markets with strong demand characteristics, particularly in its senior housing operating and medical office building portfolios, as well as customer switching costs stemming from its triple-net lease portfolio.

Ventas' senior housing operating portfolio (27% of NOI, or net operating income) is concentrated in top metropolitan areas with higher average household incomes and higher average home values than the country in general. Moreover, Ventas' properties in these markets are in more affluent areas that exhibit higher average household incomes and home values than their broader metropolitan areas. We expect these favorable characteristics, combined with the general desirability of living in population centers and the aging of the population, to drive above-average demand for Ventas' senior housing operating portfolio over time, resulting in pricing power for Ventas.

Similarly, we think Ventas' medical office building portfolio (17% of NOI) also enjoys intangible benefits associated with owning quality properties in desirable areas. Specifically, 96% of Ventas' MOB portfolio is located directly on a hospital campus or is affiliated with a hospital campus. We think the potential for tens of millions of incremental Americans joining the ranks of insureds because of the Affordable Care Act, the aging of the population, and an industry trend toward serving patients in lower-cost settings will in combination provide a tailwind for demand for health-system services, and Ventas' well-located on-campus and affiliated MOB properties are positioned to benefit from this expected increase in demand.

Ventas' triple-net leases with operators of its senior housing, skilled nursing, and hospital properties (54% of NOI) impose high switching costs on its tenants. The triple-net structure makes the tenants responsible for all costs associated with the operation of the properties, including repairs, maintenance, real estate taxes, insurance, and utilities in addition to paying rent, which generally escalates annually at rates that keep up with--or exceed--inflation. These leases are long term, with initial terms of 12 to 15 years or more, followed by one or more renewal options. Furthermore, Ventas generally rents its properties under master leases, which group individual properties together under one lease. These master leases generally prevent tenants from dropping poorer-performing properties, as renewals are all-or-none. Other tenant credit enhancements may include corporate guarantees or letters of credit.

Overall, Ventas' different property types and leasing models afford it competitive advantages, which should result in a steady stream of rental income that can grow organically at rates approximating inflation or more over time.

Ventas: Valuation 04/11/2014
We are increasing our fair value estimate for Ventas to $76 per share, up from $68 previously, which mainly reflects better-than-expected performance recently and the time value of money since our last update. Our $76 fair value estimate implies a 5.5% cap rate on our 2015 NOI forecast, an 18.6 times multiple on our 2015 normalized AFFO estimate, and a 3.8% dividend yield, based on a $2.90 annualized payout. The major assumptions driving our valuation include annual same-store NOI growth averaging 2.8% across our 10-year forecast and settling in at 2.5% over the long term. With its relatively slower growth rate embedded in our forecasts, we're projecting Ventas' triple-net portfolio to have a slightly smaller impact on overall results over time. Overall, we forecast Ventas' EBITDA margin to stay near 53.5%, similar to recent levels. We expect Ventas to continue winning its share of acquisitions, with a projection of $500 million annually at an average cap rate of 7.5%. Our acquisition forecast does not account for potential large acquisitions, which are possible. We estimate that maintenance capital expenditures will range between $95 million and $120 million per year, higher than historical levels because of the increased impact of senior housing operating assets. Outside of our cash-flow forecasts, we give Ventas credit for its loan book, joint ventures, current debt-funding costs that are well below our long-term expectation, and other minor assets, which add roughly $2 billion to our valuation, or $6.50 per share to our fair value estimate.

Ventas: Risk 04/11/2014
Ventas roughly tripled in size in 2011, changing its property and business mix, and expanding its business to include assets it also operates. However, Ventas has exposed itself to the upside potential in its best assets (that is, operating assets) through the RIDEA (or operating) structure, while protecting itself somewhat from the potential fluctuations in results at its lesser properties by leasing them to operators on a triple-net basis. This strategy makes sense, but relative to its historical triple-net-heavy model, which resulted in historically stable and growing cash flow, Ventas has introduced a greater degree of potential future variability into its own results, in our opinion. Ventas has significant customer concentrations relative to other REITs. Atria Senior Living, Kindred Healthcare, Sunrise Senior Living, and Brookdale Senior Living operate or manage large chunks of Ventas' properties, and they represent 15%, 13%, 11%, and 9% of Ventas' NOI, respectively. Ventas' competitor Health Care REIT is a partial owner of Sunrise, and Ventas is currently trying to find a new tenant for a portion of Kindred-operated properties Kindred no longer wants. Recently, roughly 16% of Ventas' NOI was attributable to facilities where its tenants receive reimbursement under government health-care programs Medicare and Medicaid, indirectly subjecting Ventas to pressure on Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement levels. Health-care inflation has run roughly 2.5 times the overall inflation rate historically, which can't continue indefinitely. When rates of health-care inflation normalize, the entire health-care industry will re-evaluate spending. Health-care landlords such as Ventas, which have historically enjoyed a strong tailwind from outsized growth in health-care spending, may suffer.

Verizon Communications VZ
Investment Thesis 03/02/2015 | Michael Hodel, CFA

Verizon has focused relentlessly on network quality over the years, cementing its reputation with customers and its position as the premier U.S. carrier in terms of customer loyalty and profitability. This position has enabled the firm to weather increased competitive intensity well.

Verizon Wireless is a good business and the best of the U.S. carriers. The firm has been the most consistent of the industry's major players over the past decade, investing steadily in its networks and approaching the market with a consistent brand message. Verizon Wireless has consistently captured more than its share of growth among higher-value postpaid customers. Only AT&T can match Verizon Wireless' scale, but we believe Verizon has several advantages relative to its primary rival, notably a more robust network built around uniform spectrum blocks and a more loyal customer base built around network and brand reputation rather than more ephemeral qualities (such as past iPhone exclusivity).

The bottom end of the U.S. wireless industry has evolved, with both T-Mobile US and Sprint now fighting for a sustainable place in the market. T-Mobile has already emerged as a stronger competitor, revitalizing customer growth recently. Sprint has also begun competing more aggressively. However, neither of these subscale rivals produces adequate profitability today and we expect that both will price their services within close proximity to AT&T and Verizon over the long term as they attempt to drive the cash flow needed to reinvest in their networks.

Verizon's fixed-line business is locked in a battle with the cable companies to capture Internet access, phone, and television customers. Verizon has invested heavily in its networks, which has enabled solid consumer revenue growth and provided a largely future-proof network. But, returns on this investment have been poor, as we calculate fixed-line asset turnover and margins trail most peers. We believe Verizon's position in the market providing services to large businesses and other carriers, which constitutes more than half of fixed-line sales, is stronger than in the residential market.

Verizon Communications: Economic Moat 03/02/2015
We base our narrow moat rating for Verizon on the strength of its wireless business (70% of revenue), which we believe is the best in the United States. Verizon Wireless and AT&T dominate the U.S. wireless industry, with about 60% of the retail market between them. These firms both generate solid cash flow while simultaneously investing heavily in marketing and network improvements that other rivals can't match. As evidence of the firm's scale, we estimate that Verizon Wireless serves more than 1,300 customers per employee; T-Mobile serves around 1,000 customers per employee; and U.S. Cellular, the nation's fifth-largest carrier (and similarly focused on the postpaid market), serves about 685 customers per employee. Verizon Wireless also spends roughly half as much per customer on advertising as U.S. Cellular despite spending 8 times as much in absolute terms. Verizon's wireless EBITDA margins are the class of the industry, typically running in the mid-40s as a percentage of service revenue versus about 40% at AT&T and 20%-25% at Sprint and T-Mobile.

Following the acquisition of Alltel in early 2009, Verizon Wireless also offers the most comprehensive geographic coverage of any wireless carrier in the nation, a position that would be very difficult for any other carrier to match. In addition, Verizon Wireless has had a decade to build its brand and reputation around the strength of its networks without interruption. Although not as strong an advantage as its scale, this unbroken stretch stands in stark contrast to every other major wireless carrier in the U.S. We believe Verizon Wireless' continued strong customer loyalty indicates that a large percentage of customers choose the firm for attributes it controls directly, including its network reputation.

One of the biggest detriments to the competitive position, in our view, is U.S. spectrum policy. The AWS-3 spectrum auction demonstrates the extremely high prices spectrum can fetch given that the U.S. government ultimately determines how and when additional spectrum is made available to the industry. We believe Verizon showed more discipline than AT&T did during the AWS-3 auction, but it still spent more than $10 billion, at very high prices relative to recent past purchases. This spending will constrain future returns on invested capital, which we estimate only modestly exceed the firm's cost of capital.

We aren't as enamored with the fixed-line side of the business. About 40% of this unit's revenue comes from the residential market, where cable and wireless companies have been stealing customers. We estimate Verizon now serves less than 40% of the households in its territory, down from nearly 60% five years ago. We believe that losing customers will make it difficult for Verizon to earn a solid return on FiOS network spending or justify network upgrade spending beyond where FiOS already exists.

Business and wholesale services generate the remainder of fixed-line revenue. We believe Verizon is well positioned in these markets because of the capabilities of its networks, especially the local reach it has within its traditional service territory. Few firms have the expertise to deliver the complex networking services Verizon can offer. We do expect increasing competition for small business customers, however.

Verizon Communications: Valuation 03/02/2015

We have increased our fair value estimate to $50 per share from $45 as we recalibrate our cost of capital assumptions to better align with returns that equity investors are likely to demand over the long run. We now assume a 9% cost of equity, down from 10%. We had maintained our fair value estimate following the AWS-3 auction on the belief that the firm showed good discipline relative to AT&T during the auction. While phone subsidies have pressured wireless profitability in recent years, especially since the introduction of the iPhone, Verizon Wireless has done a solid job of controlling costs. The cost of providing service to customers has steadily declined from about 13% of service revenue in 2011 to less than 10% recently. The pace of customer phone upgrades rebounded in 2014, causing wireless margins to fall modestly relative to the record level recorded in 2013. The drop in margin would have been more dramatic absent the benefit from phone installment-plan accounting, which calls for Verizon to book all future payments up front. We think margins will move higher in the future, as phone installment plans provide an accounting lift while also better matching phone device revenue and cost over time. Verizon Wireless has expanded its customer base at an impressive pace in recent years, taking share from rivals. We expect customer growth to remain solid, though we now expect wireless service revenue to increase only about 1% annually, on average, through 2019. The accounting for phone installment plans hurts service revenue growth, as a portion of revenue previously considered service shifts to equipment. On the fixed-line side, weakness in the enterprise business has offset continued strength in the consumer market recently. FiOS has shown progress in stemming fixed-line phone customer losses, and the firm has pushed through price increases that have significantly boosted consumer revenue growth. Any pickup in employment should give enterprise revenue a boost, but we expect this business will again shrink in 2015. The wholesale business is likely to remain in decline for the foreseeable future, but should shrink at a slower pace over the next few years. We believe revenue will stabilize over the next couple of years, which should allow fixed-line margins to expand modestly. Fixed-line capital spending peaked in 2008 and has tapered off nicely since. We expect spending will hold fairly steady through 2019.

Verizon Communications: Risk 03/02/2015
The buyout of Vodafone's stake in Verizon Wireless eliminates a source of uncertainty. But, the deal also adds leverage at the same time that the wireless business is reaching maturity, with smartphone growth slowing. Verizon Wireless and its rivals are turning to new services and devices to spur growth, but the revenue opportunity in these areas may not prove adequate to maintain the current rate of growth across the industry. If smaller carriers such as Sprint and T-Mobile aren't able to stabilize market share and grow revenue, one or both may turn to increasingly irrational pricing in attempt to reach stability. Anything that cuts into wireless cash flow over the next couple years will hinder Verizon's ability to repay debt. Another expensive spectrum acquisition would likely also reduce Verizon's balance-sheet strength.

On the fixed-line side of the business, cable companies and wireless substitution continue to steal residential customers in large numbers despite Verizon's network-upgrade efforts. Predicting when phone customer losses will slow is difficult, and the firm will likely need to win customers back to generate a decent return on its investment in FiOS. If consumer revenue growth stalls or if the enterprise market continues to struggle, Verizon may have trouble expanding fixed-line margins as planned.

 

 
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