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 Financial Happenings Blog 
Thursday, May 29 2008

The author of the famous book A Random Walk Down Wall Street, Dr Burton Malkiel, has recently visited Australia on a promotional tour for investment fund manager Vanguard.  Malkiel is a board member of Vanguard's parent entity in the US.  Before going any further, to be totally transparent I should make it clear that we recommend the use of some Vanguard funds in building investment portfolios for clients.  Unfortunately he did not visit Brisbane on his tour as I would have loved to have listened to his views.

Now that I have gotten that disclosure out of the way...

During his visit he conducted an interview with Alan Kohler which has been published in the Eureka Report - Why it's so hard to "beat the street".  In the interview Kohler broaches a range of issues with Malkiel including Warren Buffett's position on index funds, why personal investors should use index funds as the core of their investment portfolios and why investors are very unlikely to "beat the market".

Malkiel re-iterates a great quote that has been made by him in the past - a "chimpanzee with a dart" could do better than active managers, "although not only portfolio managers but the chimpanzees got angry at me for being compared with active portfolio managers."

Not only does Malkiel come out strongly in favour of using index funds, he also talks favourably about the "value" effect that we have identified as one of the three factors of investing.

I really encourage you to take a look at the article - Why it's so hard to "beat the street"

Regards,
Scott Keefer

Posted by: Scott Keefer AT 09:24 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, May 29 2008

Last November we transferred our client referral program over to support the work done by KIVA - a micro-lending agency.  For every new client that comes to us thanks to the referral of a current client we add an extra $50 into the account we hold with KIVA.  From this account we are able to loan funds to small business enterprises in struggling areas ofthe world.

Our first loan of US$300 has recently been paid back by Tik Yun, a 60 year old female farmer from Cambodia.  We have added another $50 thanks to a recent referral and have today placed another loan with a village bank in Khsom Village, Cambodia.

The bank consists of twenty-nine members. Mrs. Ly Chan is the Village Bank President. She is a 38-year-old married woman with four children, all of whom are studying in state school. Her husband, Mr. Sopha Mao, is a farmer in the local village.

She is a fish-seller, so she buys fish to re-sell in the village. Her business is doing well, but she would now like to expand the business. Unfortunately, Mrs. Ly Chan has insufficient money to purchase more fish; thus, Mrs. Ly Chan is requesting a loan for this purpose.

If you would like to find out more information please go to Our Lending Page hosted on Kiva's website. 

If you would like to know a little more about how KIVA works take a look at the following summary of what KIVA does our go to their website - http://www.kiva.org/

Kiva's mission is to connect people through lending for the sake of alleviating poverty.

Kiva is the world's first person-to-person micro-lending website, empowering individuals to lend directly to unique entrepreneurs in the developing world.

The people you see on Kiva's site are real individuals in need of funding - not marketing material. When you browse entrepreneurs' profiles on the site, choose someone to lend to, and then make a loan, you are helping a real person make great strides towards economic independence and improve life for themselves, their family, and their community. Throughout the course of the loan (usually 6-12 months), you can receive email journal updates and track repayments. Then, when you get your loan money back, you can relend to someone else in need.

Kiva partners with existing expert microfinance institutions. In doing so, we gain access to outstanding entrepreneurs from impoverished communities world-wide. Our partners are experts in choosing qualified entrepreneurs. That said, they are usually short on funds. Through Kiva, our partners upload their entrepreneur profiles directly to the site so you can lend to them. When you do, not only do you get a unique experience connecting to a specific entreprenuer on the other side of the planet, but our microfinance partners can do more of what they do, more efficiently.

Kiva provides a data-rich, transparent lending platform. We are constantly working to make the system more transparent to show how money flows throughout the entire cycle, and what effect it has on the people and institutions lending it, borrowing it, and managing it along the way. To do this, we are using the power of the internet to facilitate one-to-one connections that were previously prohibitively expensive. Child sponsorship has always been a high overhead business. Kiva creates a similar interpersonal connection at much lower costs due to the instant, inexpensive nature of internet delivery. The individuals featured on our website are real people who need a loan and are waiting for socially-minded individuals like you to lend them money.

We encourage you to take a look at this great enterprise.

Regards,
Scott Keefer

Posted by: Scott Keefer AT 07:50 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, May 28 2008

The Australian's Wealth supplement published today contained a really useful article outlining the simple but central rules of investing - 10 golden rules for successful investment.

 

The rules were:

  1. Invest regularly
  2. Stay the course
  3. Diversify
  4. Avoid get rich schemes
  5. Regular reviews
  6. Get the structure right
  7. Borrow to invest
  8. Look long term
  9. Seek professional advice
  10. Spend less than you earn

The article provides a good summary but in our opinion would benefit from a re-jigging of the order of items.  We would also suggest the removal of borrowing to invest as we do not consider that this is necessary for investment success.  Borrowing to invest increases the risk of a portfolio.   Sure, if the returns from the investment are greater than the cost of the loan it will be a successful strategy.  If not it can be a good way to destroy value.  Many do not need to take on this extra risk to reach what is a successful result.  Therefore it should not be included as a rule.

 

Finally we would include the need to keep investment costs low to round out the list.

 

Our order would look more like this:

 

  1. Spend less than you earn
    1. Before you can invest you need to establish and continue to build a capital base from which to invest
  2. Seek professional advice
    1. Unfortunately this seems a little bit of self-interest, but nevertheless good quality professional advice put in place early will pay for itself.  Professional advice should first look at the risk-free strategies such as reducing tax, getting structures right and then assist with identifying the actual investments
  3. Get the structure right
    1. It is important to look at where investments are placed in terms of superannuation or non-superannuation and in who's name
  4. Look long term
    1. Investing in higher risk assets such as shares and property requires a long term focus of more than 5 years.  There have been period through history where higher risk asset classes have had periods of negative performance for more than 5 years.
  5. Diversify
    1. The old saying rings true - don't put all your eggs in the on basket.  It is essential to invest across a range of asset classes and assets within those classes to avoid the risk of one or two individual asset collapsing and taking your whole portfolio with them.
  6. Keep costs low
    1. Unfortunately this was left off the list in the Australian article.  We see this as really important.  High costs eat in to the returns of investors and inevitably lead to poorer performance.
  7. Avoid get rich schemes
    1. Choice of investments should take into account the trade-off between risk & return.  If an investment promises high returns, make sure you understand the risk involved.
  8. Invest regularly
    1. Investing regularly not only builds the portfolio but also takes out some of the timing risk i.e. investing everything today and tomorrow the value falls sharply.  If you regularly invest over time, even if markets fall you will be buying new investments at lower prices.
  9. Stay the course
    1. Jumping in and out of investments is a great way to destroy wealth because research shows that  investors tend to buy at high prices and sell at low prices.
  10. Regular reviews
    1. Even though you should keep your follow your investment approach for the long term, circumstances will cause the need to re-assess the strategy such as a change in life circumstances or the need to re-balance after a period of strong growth in a particular asset class

Regards,

Scott Keefer

Posted by: Scott Keefer AT 07:36 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, May 27 2008

The latest edition of our fortnightly email newsletter was sent to subscribers on the 20th of May.  If you would like to be added to the mailing list please click the following link to be taken to the sign up page - The Financial Fortnight That Was Sign Up Page.

The financial topic discussed this fortnight was the importance of getting your asset allocation right.  The latest edition also contained the following Market Update:

Market Indices

Since our previous edition, Australian and global sharemarkets have both experienced positive movements.  The S&P ASX200 Index has risen 4.04% from the 2nd to the 16th of May.  It is now down 5.78% from the same time last year and down 6.45% for the calendar year (2008) so far.  The MSCI World - ex Australia, a measure of the global market, has risen 1.18% over the same period.  The index is down 7.91% from the same time last year and down 4.22% for the calendar year so far.

 

Emerging markets have also experienced positive movement with the MSCI Emerging Markets Index rising 2.78% since the 18th of April.  It is up 18.44% from the same time last year but down 4.09% for the calendar year so far.

 

Property trusts have fallen since the 2nd of May with the S&P ASX 200 A-Reit Index (formerly known as the Property Trust Index) falling by 4.65%.  The index is down 31.30% from the same time last year and also down 19.42% for the calendar year so far..  The S&P/Citigroup Global Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) Index, a measure of the global property market, has fallen 0.68% over the same period.  It is down 16.56% from the same time last year but up 1.05% for the calendar year so far.

 

Exchange Rates

As of 4pm the 16th of May, the value of the Australian dollar has had mixed movements.  It has risen against the US Dollar since the 2nd of May being up 1.41% at .9449.   It is up 13.47% from the same time last year and up 7.18% for the calendar year so far.  Since May 2nd the Aussie has risen 1.98% against the Trade Weighted Index now at 72.2.  This puts it up by7.12% since the same time last year and up 5.09% for the calendar year so far.  (The Trade Weighted Index measures The Australian dollar against a basket of foreign currencies.)

 

General News

Since our last edition the Australian Bureau of Statistics has released the latest employment data.  The unemployment rate has risen by 0.1% to 4.2% for April 2008.  At the same time the participation rate has risen by 0.25 to 65.4%

 

The Federal budget for 2008 was also brought down by Treasurer Wayne Swan last Tuesday night with the budget surplus sitting at over $20 billion.

Posted by: Scott Keefer AT 09:58 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, May 27 2008

During their tuesday evening program Channel 9's Brisbane Extra presented a segment on the use of Debit Cards. Scott Francis was interviewed for the program to provide some brief analysis of the use of debit cards and any traps to watch out for.

For a copy of the transcript of the program please click on the following link to the Nine's Brisbane Extra website - Debit Cards.

Posted by: AT 05:41 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Sunday, May 25 2008

In today's podcast, Scott Keefer outlines some of the competing arguments for and against commission payments to financial advisers and looks at the much larger issue of ownership bias.

He suggests that the ideal approach for investors is to find an adviser who is free from both ownership and commission bias.

Please click the following link to be taken to this podcast - The Problem of Ownership and Commission Bias.

Posted by: AT 11:30 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Sunday, May 25 2008

Today marks the commencement of the Financial Planning Week.  In the lead up to the week there has been an interesting exchange of "ideas" between the Financial Planning Association and the Industry Super Network, predictably around the place of commissions within the financial services industry.

 

To review the basic arguments, the anti-commission lobby, strongly supported by the industry super network, believe that the payment of commissions to financial planners distorts their ability to provide the best possible investment advice to clients.  The theory goes that planners will favour investment products that provide the planner with a healthy commission rather than the product that will provide the best investment result.  Industry super funds like to push this point because they do not offer commissions to planners and therefore feel that they are not being fairly considered by advisers because of this.

 

The opposite side of the argument is that by taking commissions rather than imposing upfront fees, planners are able to provide good quality investment options for their clients at affordable prices.  This being especially important for the wealth accumulators who are just starting to build investment portfolios and likely to think twice before throwing large chunks of cash at their adviser.

 

It seems to us that the truth is somewhere in between.  What concerns us is that neither argument really takes into account the real elephant in the room - Ownership bias.  We think that this is the biggest potential problem for investors.  By ownership bias, we mean when you rock up to a financial adviser who's firm is owned by a particular financial product provider.  Common examples are financial planners linked to the major banks and AMP.  Advisers are under real pressure in those organisations to recommend the products of their parent  i.e. Commonwealth Bank planners recommending Colonial First State investments and margin loans, CBA home loans and insurance.

 

Some of these style of planners are moving away from commissions.  MLC for example, owned by NAB, have come out in recent times saying they are moving away from a commission based remuneration model to an upfront fee model.  What they don't say is whether there will be pressure placed on their financial advisers to recommend MLC / NAB products to clients.

 

An interesting question to ask at this point is where do industry super fund financial planners fall on the issue of ownership bias?  Unfortunately they have a very restricted range of products on which to advise - the investment options within their respective industry super fund - quite a severe form of ownership bias in the scheme of things.

 

Ownership bias seems to provide a great deal more potential for advisers to recommend sub-par in-house products compared to a commission based planner who at least has a choice of products across a range of providers.

 

Ideally, though, you should be looking for a financial adviser who is free from ownership bias and do not accept commissions from products if you want the very best financial and investment advice.

 

Have a great Financial Planning week!!

 

Regards,

Scott Keefer

Posted by: Scott Keefer AT 10:37 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, May 19 2008

In today's podcast, Scott Francis looks at the budget from the perspective of how the business of government works.  He breaks down the numbers in terms of revenue and spending and makes some interesting insights.

Please click the following link to be taken to this podcast - Business of Government.

Posted by: AT 06:53 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, May 15 2008

Today we have posted graphs for the Dimensional funds that we use to build investment portfolios for our clients.  They have been updated to include performance up until the 30th of April 2008.

 

 

Some interesting points to note:

 

- the month of April has seen a nice pick up in investment returns both in Australia and globally.  Take a look at the growth of wealth graphs to see this impact.

 

- the Dimensional Australian Value Trust has outperformed the ASX200 by 3.76% per annum over the past 7 years. (After fees)

 

- the Dimensional Australian Small Company Trust has outperformed the ASX200 by 4.51% per annum over the past 7 years. (After fees)

 

- the Dimensional Global Value Trust has outperformed the MSCI World ex Australia Index by 4.58% per annum over the past 7 years. (After fees)

 

- the Dimensional Global Small Company Trust has outperformed the MSCI World ex Australia Index by 6.07% per annum over the past 7 years. (After fees)

 

- the Dimensional Emerging Markets Trust has outperformed the MSCI World ex Australia Index by 14.22% per annum over the past 7 years. (After fees)

 

Some words of caution:

 

- past performance does not provide a good prediction of future performance

 

- the premiums on top of the market return that have been experienced are above what we would expect in the long term, value premiums should be 2-3% small company premiums 3-4% over the relevant market index.

 

 

If you would like to know more about how we use these funds to build investment portfolios please take a look at our Building Portfolios page.  This philosophy is based on strong scientific research - please take a look at Our Research Based Approach pages for more detail.

 

If you would like more information please be in contact.

Posted by: Scott Keefer AT 09:30 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, May 14 2008

In the latest edition of Alan Kohler's Eureka Report, Scott has added some commentary to Eureka Report's 2008 Budget analysis.

In his comments, Scott looks at a change hidden in the detail of the budget that may have an impact on salary sacrifice strategies.  He also points out the beneficial changes to the Senior Australian Tax Offset.

Click on the following link to read Scott's article - 2008 Budget: Salary Sacrifice Rethink - Eureka Report insert

Posted by: AT 09:11 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, May 14 2008

In today's podcast, Scott Keefer outlines some of the detail from this week's Federal Budget which may impact on personal finances.

He suggests that there have been no major surprises but notes that each individual will need to look at the details to consider the bottom line impact on their situation.

Please click the following link to be taken to this podcast - 2008 Federal Budget - Personal Finance Summary.

Posted by: Scott Keefer AT 09:03 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, May 13 2008

Every year we put together a summary of the major items from the Federal Budget that may impact on the personal finances of our clients.  The Budget presented yesterday by Wayne Swan provided few financial planning surprises.  The really significant development might possibly come from the taxation system review that has been funded in this budget.  One other important point to note from the outset is that there have been no changes made to the Simpler Superannuation system that has been introduced over recent years.

We have posted a summary on our website and encourage anyone with questions regarding the details to get in contact.  The following is a brief summary of the major points.  For more details please click on the link to the full summary - 2008 Personal Finance Budget Summary.

-          Confirmation of the income tax cuts and increases in low income tax offset

-          Increases in the Senior Australian Tax Offset levels of income before tax is payable to $28,867 for singles and $24,680 for each member of a couple in 2008/09 and increasing in future years

-          Increases in the Medicare levy low income threshold to $17,309 and surcharge threshold to $150,000

-          Introduction of the First Home Saver Accounts with a government co-contribution of up to $850 per year and taxed at 15%

-          Confirmation of the Carer's Bonus at $1,000 and Carer's Allowance at $600 for each eligible person in their care

-          Confirmation of Senior's Bonus at $500

-          Confirmation of Senior Concession, Telephone and Utilities Allowances

-          Increases in the level of Child Tax Rebates from 30% to 50% with The maximum out-of-pocket expenses claimable increasing from $4,354 to $7,500 (indexed) per child per year

-          Introduction of the Education Tax Refunds of up to $750 per primary student and $1,500 per secondary students

-          Increase in the baby bonus to $5,000 but no longer eligible for families earning more than $150,000

-          Introduction of means testing to Family Tax Benefit - Part B limiting payments to where the primary earner has an adjusted taxable income of $150,000 a year or less

-          Expanded definitions of income in terms of income tests to include certain superannuation sacrificed contributions, net financial investment losses and net rental property losses and reportable fringe benefits for certain income support payments

-          Dependency Tax Offsets limited to those earning less than $150,000

-          Senior's Health Card Income Test amended to include gross income from superannuation income streams from a taxed source and income which has been salary sacrificed to superannuation

-          Tightening of Fringe Benefit Tax exemptions specifically around laptop computer purchases and meal cards

-          Increase in the luxury car tax from 25% to 33%

Posted by: Scott Keefer AT 11:54 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, May 12 2008

The Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) have recently released some interesting charts and data looking at the long-term performance of the Australian Share Price Index and Accumulation Index over the past 109 years - Long-term Australian sharemarket returns.

The ASX have published the data in the context of the recent sharemarket volatility to show Australian share prices moving steadily higher through history.  They also provide charts on the difference between the Share Price Index (dividends not reinvested) and the Accumulation Index (dividends reinvested).  The charts show the strength of reinvesting dividends backk into the market.  Over the 109 year history the average return from the Price Index was 7.48% with the accumulation index providing a return of 12.42%.

(Please note - we believe that this does not necessarily mean reinvesting the income back into the share from which it came, but more broadly about reinvesting back into the market as a whole.  Take a look at Scott Francis' Eureka Report article - When it pays to reinvest - for more details on our views about dividend reinvestment.)

The ASX publication is another source of evidence that a long term approach to investing, with regular incremental investments over time, will lead to a successful investment outcome.

Posted by: Scott Keefer AT 07:44 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, May 12 2008

In the latest edition of Alan Kohler's Eureka Report, Scott has added some commentary to James' Kirby's article - Bookmakers Caught by MFS.

In his comments, Scott delves into the MFS Premium Income Fund to anlyse how this fund has hurt investor returns - including the NSW Bookmakers Suparannuation Fund.

Click on the following link to read Scott's article - Bookmakers Caught by MFS - Eureka Report insert

Posted by: AT 05:10 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Sunday, May 11 2008

My parents are visiting after returning via Brisbane from a recent trip.  While chatting over Mother's Day brunch yesterday, my mum reminded me of a saying her grandfather passed on to her during her upbringing - "Look after the pence and the pounds will look after themselves."

 

I could not help thinking that this is similar to the philosophy we use when talking through financial strategies with clients.  Get what some might say are the "smaller" issues right and the larger issue - i.e. a successful financial outcome will look after itself.

 

So what are these "smaller" issues?

 

Firstly the importance of spending less than you earn - if you don't have any surplus money you will have nothing to invest. (including putting funds towards the mortgage or saving for a deposit)

 

Secondly, making sure you are not paying too much tax - just what you are legally required to contribute.

 

Thirdly, making sure you are keeping the fees and costs of investing to a minimum.  We see this as a bit of a sleeping giant slug that sits in portfolios and sucks away the benefits from investments.

 

If clients can get these strategy, or "Pence", issues structured right, the "Pounds", will follow.  (Another way of looking at this is that decisions about investments should be the last, not the first considerations for clients when setting in place plans for future or ongoing financial independence.)

 

Mums can be relied on to provide that special bit of wisdom - so thanks to all the mums who read our blog and hoping you all had a great Mother's Day.  Have a great week and watch this space for a personal finance summary of the Federal Budget on Tuesday night - there should be some interesting points of interest.

 

Regards,

Scott Keefer

Posted by: Scott Keefer AT 08:37 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, May 09 2008

The latest edition of our fortnightly email newsletter has been sent to subscribers.  If you would like to be added to the mailing list please click the following link to be taken to the sign up page - The Financial Fortnight That Was Sign Up Page.

The financial topic discussed this fortnight was making the most of superannuation  The latest edition also contained the following Market Update:

Market News

 

Market Indices

Since our previous edition, Australian and global sharemarkets have both experienced positive movements over the past fortnight.  The S&P ASX200 Index has risen 4.99% from the 18th to the 2nd of May.  It is now down 8.61% from the same time last year and down 10.09% for the calendar year (2008) so far.  The MSCI World - ex Australia, a measure of the global market, has risen 2.35% over the same period.  The index is down 5.34% from the same time last year and down 8.16% for the calendar year so far.

 

Emerging markets have also experienced positive movement with the MSCI Emerging Markets Index rising 2.78% since the 18th of April.  It is up 18.44% from the same time last year but down 4.09% for the calendar year so far.

 

Property trusts have also risen since the 18th of April with the S&P ASX 200 A-Reit Index (formerly known as the Property Trust Index) rising by 6.95%.  The index is down 27.08% from the same time last year and also down 15.49% for the calendar year so far..  The S&P/Citigroup Global Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) Index, a measure of the global property market, has risen 2.24% over the same period.  It is down 17.52% from the same time last year but now up 1.74% for the calendar year so far.

 

Exchange Rates

As of 4pm the 2nd of May, the value of the Australian dollar has had mixed movements.  It has fallen against the US Dollar since the 18th of April being down 0.70% at .9318.   It is up 12.99% from the same time last year and up 5.69% for the calendar year so far.  Since April 18th the Aussie has risen 0.43% against the Trade Weighted Index now at 70.8.  This puts it up by5.83% since the same time last year and up 3.06% for the calendar year so far.  (The Trade Weighted Index measures The Australian dollar against a basket of foreign currencies.)

 

General News

Since our last edition the Australian Bureau of Statistics has released the latest consumer price index data.  The March quarter of 2008 has seen prices rise 1.3% with this taking the annual inflation rate to 4.2%.  The board of the Reserve Bank of Australia met today and has decided to keep official interest rates steady at 7.25%.

Posted by: Scott Keefer AT 11:12 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, May 05 2008

In today's podcast, Scott Keefer outlines some of the benefits involved with making extra contributions into superannuation - tax effectiveness, investing for the long term, givernment co-contribution, self employed tax concessions and spouse contribution rebate.

He concludes that these benefits need to be weighed up against the inability to access this money until the lead up to retirement.

Please click the following link to be taken to this podcast - Benefits of Extra Super Contributions.

Posted by: Scott Keefer AT 09:22 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, May 05 2008

Wouldn't it be great if we could turn to expert to tell us where the market is going for the remainder of 2008!  Well the Weekend Australian Financial Review, 24th to 27th April, tried to do just that.  They canvassed the views of 8 leading economic and investment experts from some of the the well known organisations in the investment world - ABN Amro, AMP, Citigroup, CommSec, Credit Suisse, Morgan Stanley, Ord Minnett and the Russell Investment Group.  Surely putting together the thoughts of these industry experts should provide a pretty clear picture of things going forward.

 

Well, unfortunately, the forecasts made by the market experts painted an anything but clear picture.  They were asked to provide a forecast for the S&P/ASX200 as at the 30th of June and 31st of December.  The forecasts for the 30th of June, two months away, ranged from 4,913 to 6,100.  (As of yesterday, the ASX200 sat at 5,797.7)  The forecasts for the 31st of December ranged from 5,000 to 6,800. 

 

So what to make of this?  In all probability, one of these experts will go very close to getting in right but which one?  For us it clearly shows the difficulty in forecasting what markets, yet alone individual shares, are going to do.  What hope does the average investor have if market experts, who spend most if not all of their working days pouring over the data, can't get close to consensus for a period as short as two months?

 

A much better approach is to have a long term outlook based on the fundamentals of capitalism and how markets work, have a well diversified portfolio of cash, fixed interest securities, Australian shares, international shares and listed property and then hold these into the future.  Then you can sit back and watch from the sidelines as the experts differ between themselves with most getting their forecasts wrong.

 

Have a great week,

Scott Keefer

Posted by: Scott Keefer AT 05:16 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
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