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China levies bribery charges against British drugmaker

Fri, 2014-07-04 10:33

A major scandal engulfing the British pharmaceutical company Glaxo Smith Klein has taken another turn. The Chinese government has accused GSK of systemic bribery and corruption. Its top executive in China is under arrest.

And now, a private investigator Glaxo hired -- who's also been detained -- says he believes these allegations of impropriety are credible.

Marketplace's Stephen Beard has been following the story from London, and says Glaxo's executives recieved emails last year from a self-proclaimed whistle-blower claiming that officials with the company had bribed doctors and hospitals in China to buy Glaxo's drugs at inflated prices. Glaxo investigated the claims, and says that while it uncovered some unrelated fraudulent activity, it did not find any evidence of bribery.

GSK also claims it has been the target of a smear campaign.

"And there does seem to be something in that," says Beard, "Someone, for example, secretly filmed the top Galxo executive in China having sex with a woman who was in that classic tabloid phrase, 'not his wife'."

Beard also says that Glaxo is under a deal of pressure from Chinese authorities to push down the prices it and other Western drug companies charge in the country.

Andrew Halper of the international law firm Olswang spoke to the BBC about how non-Chinese corporations in China are vulnerable.

"Foreign companies don't benefit from cover, they don't benefit from connections," says Halper, "They rarely, if ever, will have that sort of thing to protect them; they're exposed."

The twist in the story, however, is that private-eye who turned on Glaxo to say the charges may have merit.

"After recieving the sex tape, Glaxo hired this private eye to find out who was trying to smear the company," says Beard, "He submitted his report, was then in days arrested by the Chinese authorities. But here is, as you say, the latest wrinkle: It's now emerged, having seen some of the whistle-blowing emails, the investigator thinks those bribery allegations are entirely credible."

Since Glaxo only generates about three percent of its revenue from China, it may not suffer a huge amount of damage from this scandal, in terms of its overall business in the region. But the company may be looking at some collatoral damage as British fraud regulators are opening their own investigation. The Department of Justice is rumored to be taking an interest in the case as well.

Why do they still have floor traders at the NYSE?

Fri, 2014-07-04 08:15

Listener John Wang, who dabbles in a little online trading, wrote in to ask this:

“I’ve always wondered why there are still people on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. It always seems kind of strange that they're there, now that we have computers and networks for doing all sorts of trades.”

Most of us have a mental picture of floor traders at the stock market – men in blue jackets, shouting at each other, waving bits of paper, gesturing wildly with hand signals.

“Even though it looks chaotic to people, it's actually very crystal clear what was going on to the people down on the floor,” says Johanna Lee, director of a documentary film called The Pit, about a group of floor brokers at the New York Board of Trade.

The guys in her movie dealt in coffee futures. And they used to do something called open outcry, setting the price right then and there in an open pit.

Lee made the film at an interesting time, back in 2011, just as the New York Board of trade – like almost every other exchange – was going electronic.

So what's it like on Wall Street now?

I went to find out at the New York Stock Exchange: the grand stage of American capital markets. It has an impressive carved stone ceiling, in which you can see the nearly 200 years of history – which is totally at odds with the rows of computer screens that line every single booth in the hall.

On the floor, traders in their blue jackets are everywhere.

“I spent my whole career in this building,” says Kenny Polcari, a trader for O'Neill Securities who represents an institutional investor. “For me it's really all I know.”

Polcari, a fast-talker with a big laugh and sense of humor, says things work very differently today from when he first started out in this job 30 years ago.

“Today it's defined by technology. It's defined by high-speed computers that take the emotion out of investing. Some say it's good. I, on the other hand… Listen, part of what investing was about was the emotion. You come down here 25 or 30 years ago, the emotion blew the roof off the building every single day. It was just so exciting.”

But here's the thing - for all the excitement and history and prestige, the NYSE actually handles a tiny amount of the overall volume of trades in the U.S.

So who does the rest of the trading? Robots.

“Robots now do anywhere between 50 and 75 percent of the trades in the United States,” says Bob Ivry, who works for Bloomberg News and wrote a book called The Seven Sins of Wall Street.

Ivry says the real action takes place in a high-security warehouse in a small town in New Jersey. That's where you'll find computers trading at lightning speed. They're also cheaper and more efficient than humans.

Hooray for robots, right? Not quite.

“They are there when the going is good,” says Ivry. “The minute the prices start plummeting, for any reason, what the robots do is they run for the hills. They're nowhere to be seen when that stock is going down.”

Computers have been known to cause a flash crash – where prices tumble uncontrollably, causing a lot of damage. But the reality is, automated trading has taken over.

So does that make traders like Kenny Polcari an endangered species?

Polcari believes there is still a role for human judgement in the system, especially when the market is fragmented. “You almost have to develop a sixth sense, you have to be able to feel the liquidity,” he says.  “Today brokers use that sixth sense to try and assess supply and demand in a fractured market structure. And I think that’s part of the challenge but that’s also part of the key, that’s how you’re able to represent customers.”

“As far as the nuts and bolts of trading are concerned, they're already gone,” says Ivry. “If you consider there's some theatre involved – and I do – then they have a specific and necessary function. They put a face to the battle of the robots. All those traders down there in their blue smocks and their pins – they put a face on trading, on American capitalism.”

Ivry says we need a narrative to tell us how to invest our money in a way that will help communities. Trading algorithms are “a brutal and souless way of allocating capital,” he says.

Back at the New York Stock Exchange, it's a good thing trader Kenny Polcari is a “Type A” personality.                      

“I think that's fair,” Polcari says with a hearty laugh. “I love being the face of Wall Street.”

PODCAST: European banks leery of Bitcoin

Fri, 2014-07-04 07:53

The European Banking Authority is recommending that banks there keep away from Bitcoin, a virtual currency favored by techies, libertarians, and, sometimes, criminals.

Drivers this summer are paying the highest gas prices since 2008, in part because of the turmoil in Iraq. But mass transit riders are also feeling the sting of new rate increases in cities like Boston, St. Louis, and D.C. Some of this is driven by increasing operating costs, but even with these fare hikes, the transit systems will still lose money.

In India poor investment in cold storage warehouses and supply chain infrastructure means that a lot of food is wasted before reaching consumers-- 7 billion dollars every year.

PODCAST: European banks leery of Bitcoin

Fri, 2014-07-04 07:53

The European Banking Authority is recommending that banks there keep away from Bitcoin, a virtual currency favored by techies, libertarians, and, sometimes, criminals.

Drivers this summer are paying the highest gas prices since 2008, in part because of the turmoil in Iraq. But mass transit riders are also feeling the sting of new rate increases in cities like Boston, St. Louis, and D.C. Some of this is driven by increasing operating costs, but even with these fare hikes, the transit systems will still lose money.

In India poor investment in cold storage warehouses and supply chain infrastructure means that a lot of food is wasted before reaching consumers-- 7 billion dollars every year.

How LeBron James is changing how athletes are paid

Fri, 2014-07-04 07:28

There's a huge shift happening this month in the world of sports. We're in the middle of the free agency period, where NBA players are eligible to sign with any team.

And Lebron James, considered the best player in the NBA, is reinventing not only how NBA players get paid, but maybe professional athletes as a whole.

We wanted to explore why, so went down to the legendary West 4th Street basketball courts in New York City to meet up with sports business analyst Keith Reed.

Reed called LeBron maybe "the only truly free athlete in America."

"[LeBron] was an investor in Beats electronics. That just sold for $3 billion. He made $30 million sitting on his couch just from that Beats transaction. And so, when people talk about, 'Why is LeBron opting out of his contract, and what's he going to do?' At that stage of the game, he's made his money."

Brandon Grier is an agent who represents NBA players a little further down in the hierarchy, and sees how contracts go beyond just the single player on the court. "You're dealing with not just an individual's life, but the families that are affected by it as well. A lot of time these guys are the breadwinners as well."

Grier's company Principle Management represents four solid, but not superstar, NBA players. He says the free agency period is important to the average fan — not just the players.

"It affects the product that they consume for their enjoyment. I believe the super teams in big markets are great for the NBA, you either love them or you hate them. But one way or another you're watching. So the better the ratings are for the NBA, the better the business does in general. Because TV is the cash cow now.

And speaking of that cash cow, this weekend's number: 18 million. For 18 million viewers.

That's how many people tuned in to watch the San Antonio Spurs beat Lebron James and his teammates on the Miami Heat in this year's NBA finals, according to Nielsen, up 10 percent from last year.

Fireworks spark up a black market economy

Fri, 2014-07-04 07:24

California bans anything that flies into the air and explodes. Which isn't surprising -- according to the American Pyrotechnics Association, most states have restrictions on this type of firework. 

For Californians who want to celebrate the independence of our nation by blowing things up, they could head over the mountains to more firework-friendly Nevada, or head into the virtual black market on your computer.

On Craigslist you’ll find listings like "Air shows Disneyland style cheap" and "I HAVE FIREWORKS FOR SALE WHENEVER YOU NEED THEM."

You can find bottle rockets, roman candles, and mortars with just a mouse click and a phone call. But what’s harder to get is an interview with one of these dealers. Which makes sense, because having a large quantity of illegal fireworks is a felony in California, punishable by a year in jail and up to $50,000 in fines. But one firework dealer in Stockton is willing to take the risk.

"It’s not something I prefer to do, you know there’s always that spice of danger that you have to watch out for," he says.

In a well-lit parking lot at night, the young, friendly man lays out some of his merchandise on the hood of a car. What keeps fireworks coming into California are people like him and his business partner.

"I have a buddy of mine who goes down to Nevada and brings back a U-haul truck that’s full and then basically I just help him distribute it," he explains.

Their truck carries about $2,500 worth of product, and he figures they will double their money on resale. This vendor is relatively small time. In other parts of the state, police recently seized stockpiles of fireworks worth more than half a million dollars .

"If it is that profitable enough, then there are big criminal enterprises working in this area- quite professionalized," says Steve Weber, who teaches at UC Berkeley’s School of Information and co-wrote a book on the Black Market Economy of the 21st Century. "The mistake is to think of this as fly by night stuff- these are really serious people and they are as entrepreneurial, innovative and venturous as anyone you’d meet in Silicon Valley."

Actually, there's a hotbed of illegal firework trafficking just south of  Silicon Valley.  The police department in San Jose says the crime ranks low on its list of priorities.  

But Keith Gilless, chair of the California Board of Forestry and Fire Protection, says it’s a major concern. "California is the most flammable place on earth by most people’s reckoning, we can have 400-500 fires a year whose origin is fireworks."

All those fires can cost millions in damage, and millions more to put them out. Something, Gilless says to consider before lighting up this Fourth of July.

Hollywood turns to... taxidermy?

Fri, 2014-07-04 06:12

On Sunday morning in Downtown Los Angeles taxidermist Allis Markham immediately cuts into her subject for the day: a bird.

She started her studio, Prey Taxidermy, this March and rents her mounted pieces to Hollywood films, television sets, and photoshoots. She recently worked on a shoot for Disney featuring Taylor Swift as Rapunzel.

“I did some combing pigeons for them,” she says. “Bird skin is like working with wet toilet paper with feathers attached. And so it’s this very tedious process where you’re making all these incisions.”

Animals rights groups, including PETA, have criticized Hollywood in recent years after news broke that animals were harmed on Hollywood sets. On the now-canceled HBO show, “Luck,” four thoroughbred horses died during production. According to reports, the horses were elderly, underfed, and possibly even drugged. Due to these alleged abuses, taxidermy businesses are catering to studios who are looking to minimize their legal and safety risks. “If you want to have a tiger on set, it’s a lot safer when it’s dead,” Markham says.

Wayne Carlisi inherited his father’s big game taxidermy collection, and in 2012, he opened ArtKraft Taxidermy in North Hollywood. His company rents out lions, antelope, and rhinos to studios including Warner Brothers and Paramount. Carlisi says, in the special effects ridden world of entertainment, taxidermied animals serve a new purpose.

“They’re [computer graphics animators] able to scan the actual mount into the computer,” he says, after which studios will build rigs and transpose them on the animal’s body. “So from rigs they can make the animals move and perform the way they want.”

Smaller production companies are also vested in mounted animals for its cost effectiveness. David Anderson, an independent filmmaker, says directors like himself often have no choice but to use taxidermied animals.

Renting an animal actor gets expensive when final costs include handlers, insurance, and a representative from the Humane Society. Markham’s larger pieces, like a bear, could can run up to $1,500, while the cost of a live animal can easily shoot into the $8,000 range. Because of all of the additional costs, Anderson turned to Markham for his latest movie.

Yet others in the industry, including set decorator Kristin Peterson, think something is lost when Hollywood productions use mounted animals instead of live animals.

“The taxidermied animals don’t have as much of a personality as the live animal,” she says.

Here comes yet another increase in transit fares

Fri, 2014-07-04 02:43

Drivers getting out of town on this Fourth of July weekend will pay the highest gas prices since 2008, but transit riders are also feeling the sting of new rate increases in major cities like Boston, St. Louis, and Washington D.C.

But even with semi-regular fare hikes, transit systems still lose money. Revenue from fares isn’t enough to cover rising costs, like labor, fuel, expanded services, and infrastructure maintenance, even though ridership in 2013 was the highest it's been in nearly six decades. 

“The actual fare rider could be paying half of the rider cost, sometimes two thirds of it,” says Mitchell Moss, director of the NYU’s Rudin Center for Transportation.

Nationally, fare revenues covered only 33 percent of the operating cost of all transit systems in 2012, according to the National Transit Database.

But raising fares is tricky.

“When you increase fairs, it tends to discourage ridership,” says Steve Schlickman is with the Urban Transportation Center at University of Illinois at Chicago. “If you increase fares too much, you discourage so much ridership that you really don’t have an increase in revenue.”

It falls to cities and states make their transit systems’ deficits. But the Department of Transportation is warning that without intervention from Congress, a critical source federal funds for many transit and highway projects will run out of money later this summer. 

Here's a look at which cities bring in the most revenue from transit fares per rider, and which cities are planning to hike their fares this summer:

North Dakota oil wells drain energy and money

Fri, 2014-07-04 02:00

A defining sight in the booming oil fields of North Dakota is flames flaring from the top of wells -- burning off natural gas that escapes during pumping.

Today oil wells in the state burn about a third of the natural gas that comes when fracking for oil. North Dakota officials estimate that’s like burning about $50 million dollars a month.

The problem is drillers have rushed to extract oil and ignored building pipelines to capture natural gas needed to ship to market. Basically, economist Philip Verleger says ,it’s cheaper to burn money than build pipelines.

“The economics of constructing a pipeline to every one of these large number of wells becomes prohibitive,” he says.

After getting input from industry, this week state officials said that by the fall, wells must capture 76 percent of natural gas or be forced to cut oil production.

Western Environmental Law Center Senior Policy Advisor Thomas Singer says state leaders and industry officials know the current level of flaring is unsustainable.

“They recognize that a gold rush in the Wild West where everybody goes out and starts poking holes is really a very wasteful way to develop these resources,” he says.

Singer says the test now is to see if the state enforces its own rules. 

With credit card debt, not all states are equal

Fri, 2014-07-04 02:00

The average American has more than $3,600 in credit card debt, but that number is falling.

“Not a huge decline overall -- about $27 dollars this year compared to last, but it’s still an improvement,” says Gerri Detweiler, director of consumer education at Credit.com. “It’s a good thing for consumers to carry less credit card debt. It’s good for their credit score and it’s good for their wallets.”

So why do some states owe more than others?

Alan Ikemura, senior product manager at Experian, says people have bigger credit card debt in states that have higher costs of living and where the employment picture hasn’t improved.

“The economy hasn’t picked up as well in certain areas and so there might actually be an immediate need for the utilization of credit," Ikemura says. "On the flip side, [people in states] that have recovered really well, [are] more confident overall in the economy, so they’re just spending more.”

Ikemura says the fact that American’s are paying down their credit card debt is a sign the overall economy is improving. 

Experian Decision Analytics released a list of average credit card debt by state for Q1 of 2014. So which states have the highest average debt?

1. Alaska -- $4,472

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

2. New Jersey -- $4,431

Craig Barritt/Getty Images

3. Connecticut -- $4,351

Elsa/Getty Images

4. Maryland -- $4,214

  Patrick Smith/Getty Images

5. Georgia -- $4,192

 RAYMOND ROIG/AFP/Getty Images

6. Delaware -- $4,165

 Hulton Archive/Getty Images

7. Washington, D.C. -- $4,115

JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/GettyImages

8. Virginia -- $4,068

 Grant Halverson/Getty Images for Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

9. Rhode Island -- $4,056

 Stacy Revere/Getty Images

10. Texas -- $4,047

   Harry How/Getty Images

Silicon Tally: Independence and surveillance

Fri, 2014-07-04 02:00

It's time for Silicon Tally. How well have you kept up with the week in tech news? This week we're joined by Julia Angwin, author of "Dragnet Nation: A Quest for Privacy, Security, and Freedom in a World of Relentless Surveillance." var _polldaddy = [] || _polldaddy; _polldaddy.push( { type: "iframe", auto: "1", domain: "marketplaceapm.polldaddy.com/s/", id: "silicon-tally-independence-surveillance", placeholder: "pd_1404443731" } ); (function(d,c,j){if(!document.getElementById(j)){var pd=d.createElement(c),s;pd.id=j;pd.src=('https:'==document.location.protocol)?'https://polldaddy.com/survey.js':'http://i0.poll.fm/survey.js';s=document.getElementsByTagName(c)[0];s.parentNode.insertBefore(pd,s);}}(document,'script','pd-embed'));

Colorado marijuana dispensaries have nowhere to put their money

Thu, 2014-07-03 16:28

Let’s say you’re a new retail business owner, and you’ve hit the sales jackpot. The product you’re offering is moving faster than snow-cones in the Sahara, and the cash just keeps coming in.

But there’s one hiccup: You can’t deposit said cash into a bank.

That’s the problem recreational marijuana vendors in Colorado are facing. Because the federal government considers marijuana illegal, and because that same federal government regulates banks, THC retailers in Colorado are sitting on piles of cash they can’t do anything with. These vendors are keeping the mounds of cash in backrooms, specially designed vaults, and specially created security firms to hold the money. Yet, there are still significant security concerns about keeping all that cash on hand (not to mention the hassle when it comes to paying taxes, bills and fees).

The IRS, meanwhile, is so opposed to the cash payments on federal taxes, that they’ve begun charging penalties to businesses that pay in greenbacks.

So to help fix the problem, the Colorado legislature has created a co-op that would act very similar to a bank. It would allow pot vendors to make deposits, withdrawals and even electronic transfers.

The problem is that in order to have the co-op function fully, it needs to get approval from – wait for it – the federal government.

Mike Elliot from the Marijuana Industry Group says the regulatory hurdle with the co-op has to do with the Automated Clearing House (ACH), the same system used to make direct deposits for employees.

As Elliot explains to Lizzie O’Leary, most people in Colorado’s marijuana industry think the chance of this co-op passing federal muster are about the same as finding one of those snow-cones in the Sahara Desert.

Big Ideas: Jeremy Rifkin and the internet of everything

Thu, 2014-07-03 15:34

Now and then we like explore some of the big ideas changing our world.

Like the so-called "internet of everything."

In 2014, it's fair to say that most of us think of capitalism as one of the planet's default economic systems. Markets around the world are interconnected, and even communist countries like China buy and sell internationally.

Jeremy Rifkin is one of the people behind our big idea this week, and he argues that capitalism is, in effect, eating itself. That, thanks to the internet, we've gotten so good at making things cheaply, that everyone can.

Rifkin is an economic theorist who has advised the European Union, and he lays out those ideas his latest book is called the "Zero Marginal Cost Society," which is, he explains,

"The emergence of a news economic system called the 'collaborative commons.' This is actually the first new economic system to emerge since the advent of capitalism and socialism."

On profit motive:

"There's another whole institution that everyone on this planet relies on every day. It's called 'the social economy...' we have millions of organizations that provide all sorts of goods and service from health care to school systems...they're not considered by economists because they create social capital, not market captial."

Listen to the full innterview in the player above.

 

 

Jobs rise, unemployment falls... but the economy?

Thu, 2014-07-03 13:57

Since April, the economy has averaged 275,000 new jobs per month (288,000 in June 2014), according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The unemployment rate is approaching 6 percent (6.1 percent in June 2014) and within the next year will likely be in the mid-5-percent range, low enough for the Federal Reserve to end some of its extraordinary stimulus measures on interest rates and asset purchases. Moreover, long-term unemployment has slowly fallen over the past 12 months (from 36.9 percent to 32.8 percent), and in June more than 80,000 people entered the workforce, reversing a trend during the recession and much of the recovery, of declining participation in the labor force.

But this recovering economy is not yet mirroring a healthy pre-recession economy either, say economists.

The economy has now recovered all of the millions of jobs lost in the recession. Both private payrolls and overall payrolls (including government) are now at record highs.

But that still leaves a significant shortfall in the labor market, considering that millions of people grew up into adulthood or immigrated to the U.S. and needed new jobs, says economist Harry Holzer at Georgetown University. “The fact that we’ve caught up with a number that existed six and a half years ago," says Holzer, "when the population and the labor force have grown way beyond that point - we’re still in a jobs hole.”

Holzer also points out that a high proportion of the new jobs that have been created are in low-paid service industries, such as retail, hotels and restaurants. And a lot are temporary or part-time. Many of the jobs that were lost in the recession were better-paid—in manufacturing, construction, financial services.

Holzer does believe some well-paying middle-class jobs will come back—in business services and manufacturing and construction—if employers see the recovery is strong, steady and long-lived.

Darlene Miller is president of Permac Industries, a precision manufacturing firm outside Minneapolis that supplies a wide variety of industries, including transportation, medical, food, and avionics. The company laid off more than two dozen workers in the Recession. Now the payroll is back up to thirty employees. And there are several open positions—though Miller says she is having difficulty finding skilled, certified machinists to hire.

“I would say the economy is slowly progressing,” says Miller. “I wouldn’t say we’re back to pre-2009. But we are seeing improvement. I’m optimistic—optimistic with caution.”

Jeff Kravetz, investment manager at US Bank Wealth Management, says businesses are increasing their spending on capital equipment, and predicts hiring will also pick up. And he anticipates optimism among American consumers will return to pre-recession levels.

“They see that their portfolios have recovered, and their homes have come back in value significantly,” says Kravetz. “They feel wealthier, and that bodes well for a nice steady recovery.”

Kravetz also says the economy and financial system are on sounder footing than during the boom of the mid-2000s, when inflated home prices, over-leveraging and risky borrowing by consumers and corporations led the economy into catastrophe.

Weekly wrap: Cashing out

Thu, 2014-07-03 13:40

We discuss the week that was with Sudeep Reddy from the Wall Street Journal and Linette Lopez from Business Insider. The magical number this morning was 288,000, which Lopez claims made today “a pretty good day.”

But be wary, Reddy warns. Getting through the issues the economy currently faces is “a whole other story,” he says.

Obama: Immigration reform could lead to growth

Thu, 2014-07-03 13:23

In his interview with Kai, President Obama said that the economy could see $1.4 trillion in additional growth if the government passed immigration reform.

Believe it or not, there are two $1.4 trillion figures the White House has mentioned when it comes to immigration reform and they mean two completely different things: One comes from the Congressional Budget Office. And one comes from the Center for American Progress.

At the heart of both is the idea that citizenship brings higher wages. That's something multiple researchers have studied, including Madeleine Sumption with the Migration Policy Institute.

"We found that citizens earn between 50 percent and two thirds more than non-citizens," she says. "Most of that is explained by the fact that citizens are more educated and they speak better English and they've been in the country for longer."

But, she says, once you control for those factors, citizens still get a 5 percent wage boost or more.

More wages means more spending and more tax revenue. The Center for American Progress added up the ripple effect of that and got … $1.4 trillion in GDP growth over ten years.

"The $1.4 trillion in our report was more of a hypothetical thing," says Patrick Oakford, who co-wrote that report. "What if they got legal status and citizenship status right away."

That report also looked at different timelines for naturalization with different economic outcomes. Big picture: the timing of citizenship matters for economic growth.

But of course in the immigration debate, there is no overnight path to citizenship. The Congressional Budget Office scored the Senate's actual bill, with its decade-plus path, and came up with … about $1.4 trillion in growth over twenty years.

Manual Pastor directs the Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration at the University of Southern California.

"The numbers, the $1.4 trillion, look very much the same," he says. "But the difference is one is scoring the actual legislation and the other is a thought exercise."

The CBO looked at comprehensive immigration reform which is about more than just the path to citizenship.

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