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Stock picking beyond most AFAs

Many Authorised Financial Advisers are constructing portfolios with individual stocks and bonds despite not being qualified to do so, a finance academic says.

Thursday, January 10th 2013, 8:00AM 29 Comments

by Niko Kloeten

Massey University senior lecturer Mike Naylor said portfolio construction is outside the scope of regular adviser training and requires at least a degree in business and finance if not a master’s degree.

“I don’t mean they can’t put clients in a portfolio; I mean they can’t construct what’s in the portfolio.  They should be using products from suppliers, not choosing individual stocks,” he said.

“They can do investment advice for clients but they can’t make the products; that’s the job of a CFA not a CFP.”

Naylor said “knowing what you don’t know” is part of being a professional and advisers who exceed their level of competence by engaging in stock picking could find themselves in hot water.

“If they work outside areas they are competent in they could be sued by clients and prosecuted by regulators.”

Diversified adviser Vicki Watson agreed there are some advisers out of their depth stock picking but described Naylor’s comment as “a bit too much of a generalisation”.

She said a lack of suitable qualifications or experience isn’t the only issue when it comes to advisers stock picking; for many sole practitioners time is also a constraint.

“I don’t know with very small companies how they have time to do all the research required,” she said.

“Those that have got to do the accounts, the GST, the financial planning, some do insurance as well… I literally don’t know how they get the time to do the job.”

Private Asset Management adviser Brent Sheather said he agreed with Naylor’s view when it came to international stocks, bonds and property.

However, he said in the New Zealand context there are practical difficulties such as the relatively high cost of index funds compared to overseas.

“For example if you said to an adviser you can’t buy individual bonds you’re going to be forced to buy bond funds,” he said. 

“Who in their right mind would pay a 1% fee to invest in a quality bond fund that yields 4%?”

Niko Kloeten can be contacted at

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Comments from our readers

On 10 January 2013 at 9:22 am Stephen Rogers said:
The academic is right, picking stocks or bonds is for full time professionals!
As for Sheather’s comments about bond managers charging 1%,he is so myopic in his views that he hasn’t even had a look in the last decade at the fees they are charging. Most NZ bond managers charge less than half of 1% and can prove that, net of fees they had value, over and above their fees. Don’t get me started on using index funds for NZ equities, I do not know of any NZ Equity Fund with a five year history who has not outperformed their appropriate index. In the last 2 years Foundry has picked up a lot of new clients from other firms whose advisers thought they were the next Warren Buffett but with the function of time, their performance has proven otherwise!
On 10 January 2013 at 4:13 pm Graeme Tee said:
Stephen, i thought this was aforum for discussion about issues raised in Good Returns articles not a venue for self promotion. Perhaps you should look at the OnePath fixed Interest Fund to see a 1.0 % pa fee on a fixed interest fund.
On 10 January 2013 at 4:38 pm Brent Sheather said:
I looked up myopic in a dictionary and it is not a good look so I thought I better respond to Mr Stephen Rogers’comment. My staff rang five different fund managers who offer local bond funds to NZ investors and their MERs are, predictably, hard to find. But there is some data and the numbers are much closer to 1% than they are to Mr Roger’s “less than half of 1%”.
Some examples are Perpetual NZ Bond Fund – 1.06% MER, Westpac Corporate Bond Fund – 0.88% fee excluding other costs, SIL KiwiSaver Fixed Interest Fund – 1.0% MER, ForBar NZ Fixed Interest – 0.88% and Kiwibank NZ Fixed Interest Fund – 0.85%. So there you go.
Maybe I am not as myopic as first appearances might suggest.

Mr Rogers might need to do a bit more work on his figures as well to make sure when he says that bond managers add value that he is comparing apples with apples.

A lot of bond managers benchmark themselves against government bonds and then proceed to buy more risky instruments. It is easy to look tall when you stand next to a short person.

Last but not least Mr Rogers “does not know of any NZ share fund with a 5 year history which hasn’t outperformed the index”.

I am sure Good Returns readers would be interested to see the data here as there must be 10 or so NZ share funds on offer and surely they don’t all beat the index, especially when Telecom has a good year. I note the SmartFONZ ETF returned 31% in the 12 months ended 31 December 2012.

There is an important lesson here for Mr Rogers and that is don’t mess with the statistics police.
On 10 January 2013 at 7:52 pm Realist said:

There is a lot of evidence to suggest that you are using 'selective statistics' here and that your crusade against fund managers' performance and their fees is somewhat myopic.

Firstly, you're not using the major fund managers as a reference (Kiwibank, Perpetual, SIL?). I did an analysis of the major fund managers (Tower, Tyndall, Fisher, AMP, Milford)looking at their fees and performance and quite clearly you're wrong.

Regarding bond managers, annual fees from the major managers range from 0.55% to 1%. Their performance since inception has ranged from 6.3% to 11.8% pa, so your assertion that you pay 1% to gain 4% performance is flat out wrong. Over the last 12 months performance for these managers has ranged from 5.87% to 18.1%. These managers probably do add value considering this performance is net of fees.

In regard to the equity side of things. Smarthshare NZ ETF's do have a management fee and it's rather high at 0.6%. Managers from the 'majors' range from 0.75% to 1.25%. The SmartFONZ ETF did not return 31%, it returned 21%!. See below for the performance but since inception and over the last twelve months it is clear that NZ managers have clearly outperformed ETF's for the most part, in fact AMP are the only manager to not have added any value in the last five years. All performance is net of fees here.

I hope that you do better research when investigating products for your clients.

Fund Performance
Mgt Fee 12 months Since Inception
Fisher Income Fund 1.00% 8.30% 6.30%
Tyndall Fixed Income 0.60% 8.69% 7.61%
Tyndall Corporate Bond 0.70% 8.99% 7.78%
AMP NZ Fixed Income 0.55% 9.04% 10.22%
Tower 0.85% 5.87% 5.73%
Milford Income 0.65% 18.10% 11.80%

Fisher NZ Growth 1.25% 26.30% 10.40%
AMP Stratgic NZ 1.00% 21.26% 1.48%
AMP NZ Shares 1.00% 18.31% 1.44%
Tower 1.50% 26.30% 5.65%
Milford Growth 1.05% 25.90% 11.90%
Tyndall Core NZ 0.75% 23.70% 10.57%

smartENZ 0.60% 20.17% 3.74%
smartMIDZ 0.60% 24.38% 6.21%
smartFONZ 0.60% 21.00% 3.19%

On 11 January 2013 at 9:08 am Stephen Rogers said:
No self-respecting investment adviser who is trying to add value to a client portfolio would buy a second rate (my opinion) retail bond fund manager, such as you have listed. They would instead buy quality, with a proven track record of outperformance against an appropriate index and negotiate a much lower management fee in the process.

I also thought you wouldn't have had to ring round to find out what fees fund managers where charging, that you would have paid for independent research and had therefore had the information at your fingertips?
On 11 January 2013 at 9:28 am Cam Millar said:
Is there any research which shows that investors with a particular qualification earn higher risk adjusted returns than other investors? For example, do CFAs have better investment performance than non-CFAs?

My guess is that qualifications are a pretty weak predictor of returns. Fund managers as a group for instance don't seem to have returns on average above the market, but I suspect on average they have "better" qualifications.

I must admit when researching a fund manager, I don't really worry much about their formal qualifications. But if there is evidence that qualifications are a useful predictor of performance I would like to know.

This is the main problem I have with adviser regulation. It ASSUMES that advisers who have certain characteristics will be better advisers. But no evidence seems to have been presented to show that is true.
On 11 January 2013 at 10:40 am Bazza said:
Qualifications are an indication of knowledge and expertise in a particular area. It is no indicator of better performance but rather a perceived reduction in risk. If they have studied a subject and been deemed competent then the theory is they should know what they are doing. As an indicator of future investment performance it is probably as reliable as past investment performance. I think higher qualifications should be required to manage/gamble peoples money. In the same way I like my Surgeon to be qualified before he cuts me open.
On 11 January 2013 at 11:31 am traveller said:
I'm with Cam Miller.In my experience,however well qualified they are,many advisers do not really know what they are doing or why. They merely slavishly follow the instructions their paymaster gives them. They have no option really do they? Rather like a private in the army really.
On 11 January 2013 at 11:32 am Brent Sheather said:
Hi Realist

I assume your name here is an attempt at humor as is your comment about selective statistics! It is not my job to tell you how to do things but I will give you a couple of clues. Firstly the management fees you state are just part of the total fee impost facing your clients. There are other substantial costs as well which are not always delineated. I am not going to go to the trouble to work out the MER’s for your funds but you can be pretty confident that they are well above those numbers that you put forward. Secondly the performance figures which you seem to be so enamored with are problematic as many of the income funds you mention actually own property and shares as well as bonds and the quality of the bond portfolios are more often than not far removed from that of the index. Additionally some of the bond funds are only available on platforms which means another 30 or 40 basis points of cost for your client. If you presented this analysis in the UK, I am guessing the FSA would be on your case – remember apples with apples.

As regards the share funds and also speaking to Mr Rogers’ comment my firm likes to have up to date data and you appear to be using data as at 31st October for SmartFONZ. It might be a surprise for you to know that we are now in January thus we have the December 31 data and funnily enough SmartFONZ returned 31% in that period.

Just speaking again to Mr Rogers comment if there were independent research available staffed with skilled researchers looking at the entire universe of products available in NZ we might subscribe, until then we will stick to subscribing to the views of independent overseas economists.

Again for Mr Rogers’ benefit although he appears to have the “information at his fingertips “ he might need to “ring around” like I did to make sure that he has the correct information as management fees are just one part of the total fees that clients pay. In previous communication he also seems to be very keen on one particular bond fund manager which benchmarks itself against an index comprising 50% government bonds. I looked at their portfolio yesterday and its exposure to NZ Government Bonds is only 4% and it has almost as much money in deeply subordinated perpetual bank bonds. LOL. Last but not least Mr Rogers alludes to the fact that he has negotiated lower fees from certain bond fund managers so, without giving too much away, I am sure readers would like to know what total annual fee his clients pay to have their bond portfolios managed ie the sum of the MER of the fund, any platform fees and Mr Roger’s annual monitoring fee. I am guessing this number is going to be closer to 1.5% than 1.0% and a lot more than the “less than half of one percent” that he originally mentioned.
On 11 January 2013 at 11:52 am John Berry said:
Hi Realist - good comments but a couple of things worth noting -
1 - your point that the SmartShares management fee is expensive is often made but in my view is not right. Everyone points to the low cost US ETFs such as the SPDR S&P500 with a 0.09% MER. But that is a broad market fund with US$128 billion under management. It is hard to compare that to a niche NZ ETF with very little under management. If you look at niche US ETFs an annual MER of 0.50%+ is common - in fact about half of the 745 US listed equity ETFs have a MER exceeding 0.50%. Take for example the US$38m SPDR S&P Russia ETF which has a 0.59% MER. So 0.60% is not expensive for a small SmartShares ETF in a niche market.
2 - Fund managers like advisers to focus on the management fee which for many/most managers will not include expenses. I think the Milford management number you quote and the SmartShares 0.60% will include all expenses. But the other fund managers probably won't which adds another 0.30%+ p.a. to the fee. When looking at the SmartShares fee a fair comparison would be to say it has a 0.30% base management fee plus 0.30% for other PIE fund expenses - that looks like fair value to me.
On 11 January 2013 at 11:53 am Camino said:
I think you miss the point Cam. How can adviser effectively service a client and deal with portfolio construction and management with only limited hours in a day. They are saying that to effectively perform either role is a full time job.
On 11 January 2013 at 1:28 pm Beknown said:
@ Realist,

Sounds like you have a bone to pick.

Basic things you have butchered:
- MER and "Management fees" are different things.
- You have omitted high water mark fees
- You have omitted annual fixed admin fees
- You have ommitted inflation

Good day
On 11 January 2013 at 1:37 pm Craig Simpson said:
Some time back I remember reading in a CFA publication there was a survey of US fund managers who held either an MBA or CFA. Conclusion was mixed with it being split about 50/50 depending on the asset class.

I am not aware of any local studies but I guess the results would be similar - you only have to look at the performance of local managers who either have a CFA or some other qualification and come to your conclusions.
On 11 January 2013 at 2:39 pm Dr Mike Naylor said:
The couple of my comments cited above were taken from a long phone conversation, during I did explain and qualify them.

Academic qualifications are, of course, just one of the points to be looked at when assessing the skill of an investment specialist. However they are an essential pre-requisite. Would you, for example, employ an accountant who had never earned a degree? (If you would then phone me - I have a bridge in Brooklyn you may want to buy.)
Investors and some financial advisers make the mistake of assuming that financial investing is a easy skill to master - it can seem that way in an up market. The GFC, I hope, has taught that things are not that simple.

There is amble research which shows that suitable qualifications are an essential of being a competent fund manager. It is, admittedly, hard to find research which compares the performance of fund managers who have degrees with those who do not, for the simple reason that no self-respecting fund would employ a non-degree holder, so the data is not there. In the US the basic industry start point is a Masters in Finance or an MBA. The standard industry qualification for a fund manager is the CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) qualification. This teaches basic skills like what the products are, advanced portfolio theory, tax, ethics, etc etc. Ask yourself if you would use a fund manager who does has not demonstrated that they know those things. Personally I am not that reckless with my hard earned savings.

Research does show that CFAs earn as high returns as MBA's but with lower risk. Research shows that professional fund managers earn substantially higher returns than the average non-professional with substantially lower risk. Afterall the average householder thought that 'diversifying' meant buying bonds from 4 finance companies!
Care needs to be taken when comparing the performance of funds versus the 'market' as the market is composed largely of professional funds so 'fund outperformance' implies beating the other professional funds - and naturally most funds, risk-adjusted, cannot be better than the average. And of course, active managers may not beat that 'market' due to higher fees.

The question you have to ask yourself is - do I invest my savings via the portfolio construction of a well-qualified manager who has the backing of a large firm and who does the job 60 hours a week or via a financial adviser who does not have qualifications in fund construction, who does not firm backing, who spends most of their time doing other things (what they should be doing - talking to clients).
On 11 January 2013 at 4:05 pm R1 said:
Realists comments should not pass without some challenge.

Historic returns on the bond market are almost irrelevant. Realist probably knows bond yields have been falling sharply over the last 10 years thus enhancing returns. To say that Brent’s comment comparing 1% fees to 4% performance is “flat out wrong” is probably “flat out wrong” itself because if past returns were to continue bond yields would have to continue falling. Sheather’s forecast of a 4% return assumes bond yields stay where they are hence the comparison with a 1% fee is valid. If as most financial planners seem to think bond yields are going to rise then a 4% return itself could be optimistic.

It is very important that as financial advisers we have a professional and “realistic” view of prospective returns and don’t just jump on historic returns as a way of selling plans to clients.

My thoughts for what they are worth.
On 11 January 2013 at 5:11 pm Realist said:
I'm really interested to know where you're getting your data from regarding the smartFONZ etc.
Performance here (through Morningstar) is 22.07% as of 31/12/12.
The previous data I had collected was at 30/12/2012 from the Smartshares website. So where is this up to date data that you speak of? If the NZX 50 was up barely 1% in December 2012 then I fail to see how this product returned 31% in 2012. Maybe I’m missing something. I also used November 31 figures to compare ‘apples to apples’ like you said.
So for these share funds, despite the fact that you seem to be quoting returns which are grossly inflated, the fact is that over a 5 year period any investor investing in any of the smartshares NZ ETF products would have seen returns inferior to actively managed portfolios even taking into account other costs such as custody etc. You may not agree philosophically with the fees charged by fund managers and 1% plus costs may be excessive when looked at against an ETF charging 0.5%, one needs to look at total after fee returns and if the manager has added value then it’s in the best interests of your client to use an actively managed fund.
Regarding MER’s of bond funds, yes they need to be taken into consideration but your initial comment and rubbishing Mr Rogers comments were only looking at management fees. Selective statistics was based on the fact that explicitly bond managers such as SIL, Perpetual etc instead of looking at the larger and more established managers. When looking at bond managers why would one look at SIL and Perpetual rather than Tower, Tyndall or AMP? Even taking out extra fees there is sufficient evidence that an advisor would get value utilising the services of one of these managers. The makeup of their appropriate benchmark index is another discussion and somewhat irrelevant when substituting this for a diverse portfolio of fixed interest securities. Unless you have all your clients in government bonds I don’t see the issue.
Also , the annual monitoring of a bond portfolio isn’t really the issue here as this fee will be there regardless of the portfolio being managed actively by the advisors or outsourced to a bond manager.
R1 – I agree with you regarding bond yields moving forward, but Brent’s throw away comment wasn’t really forward looking, it was more aimed at rubbishing the fees and performance of bond funds (read any of his NZ Herald articles and one would see that this is his general theme).
Benknown – What are “high water mark fees”? I’m assuming you mean performance fees these have been taken into consideration when reporting performance. Inflation? I don’t see how this comes into consideration when evaluating the performance of a fund manager.
John – I wasn’t implying that the smartshares fees were expensive ‘per se’ I was just noting that they’re not quite as cheap as everyone makes out, ie ETF’s still have management fees. I think the smartshare ETF’s are fair value.
On 12 January 2013 at 9:35 am brent sheather said:
About 1989 I wrote a 20000 line computer model to calculate returns on funds,indices,stocks etc so we could get info in a timely manner.We also subscribe to datastream and check our numbers there from time to time. Looking at FNZ it started the year at about 1.22 and finished at 1.50. That's 23% without dividends or IMP credits.These add another 6-7% which compounds out to 31%. You might like to ring your data provider ..maybe they have forgotten to include dividends !! lol by the way I would love to see the 5yr performance figures for your managed funds..performance since inception isn't relevant cause they all have different inception dates.Remember apples with apples.You might also like to revisit your comments of 10 Jan about "using better research" Regards Brent
On 12 January 2013 at 4:44 pm Craig Simpson said:
If you are using Nov 31 figures suggest you have a problem....
On 13 January 2013 at 8:32 am cathyB said:
Hi Realist,
Just run the Fonz numbers and MorningStar date is correct but data isn't. Do the numbers based on price only from NZX:
31/12/11 $1.21
31/12/12 $1.50
Return on price is around 24% - now add the dividends...
On 14 January 2013 at 1:17 pm Daniel Clark said:
Dr Naylor:
An excerpt from an Interview with Ben Graham(The legendary Dean of Wall Street):
Q:Turning now to individual investors, do you think that they are at a disadvantage
compared with the institutions, because of the latter's huge resources, superior
facilities for obtaining information, etc.?

A:On the contrary, the typical investor has a great advantage over the large institutions.


A:Chiefly because these institutions have a relatively small field of common stocks to
choose from--say 300 to 400 huge corporations--and they are constrained more or less to
concentrate their research and decisions on this much over-analyzed group. By contrast,
most individuals can choose at any time among some 3000 issues listed in the Standard &
Poor's Monthly Stock Guide. Following a wide variety of approaches and preferences, the
individual investor should at all times be able to locate at least one per cent of the total
list--say, 30 issues or more--that offer attractive buying opportunities.

Q:What general rules would you offer the individual investor for his investment policy
over the years?

A:Let me suggest three such rules: (1) The individual investor should act consistently as an
investor and not as a speculator. This means, in sum, that he should be able to justify
every purchase he makes and each price he pays by impersonal, objective reasoning that
satisfies him that he is getting more than his money's worth for his purchase--in other
words, that he has a margin of safety, in value terms, to protect his commitment. (2) The
investor should have a definite selling policy for all his common stock commitments,
corresponding to his buying techniques. Typically, he should set a reasonable profit
objective on each purchase--say 50 to 100 per cent--and a maximum holding period for
this objective to be realized--say, two to three years. Purchases not realizing the gain
objective at the end of the holding period should be sold out at the market. (3) Finally, the
investor should always have a minimum percentage of his total portfolio in common
stocks and a minimum percentage in bond equivalents. I recommend at least 25 per cent
of the total at all times in each category. A good case can be made for a consistent 50-50
division here, with adjustments for changes in the market level. This means the investor
would switch some of his stocks into bonds on significant rises of the market level, and
vice-versa when the market declines. I would suggest, in general, an average seven- or
eight-year maturity for his bond holdings.

Q:In selecting the common stock portfolio, do you advise careful study of and selectivity
among different issues?

A:In general, no. I am no longer an advocate of elaborate techniques of security analysis in
order to find superior value opportunities. This was a rewarding activity, say, 40 years
ago, when our textbook "Graham and Dodd" was first published; but the situation has
changed a great deal since then. In the old days any well-trained security analyst could do
a good professional job of selecting undervalued issues through detailed studies; but in
the light of the enormous amount of research now being carried on, I doubt whether in
most cases such extensive efforts will generate sufficiently superior selections to justify
their cost. To that very limited extent I'm on the side of the "efficient market" school of
thought now generally accepted by the professors.

Q:What general approach to portfolio formation do you advocate?

A:Essentially, a highly simplified one that applies a single criteria or perhaps two criteria to
the price to assure that full value is present and that relies for its results on the
performance of the portfolio as a whole--i.e., on the group results--rather than on the
expectations for individual issues.
On 14 January 2013 at 4:32 pm brent sheather said:
Given that legions of Harvard trained insider traders sporting multiple Bloombergs can't beat the average I don't think Percy Punter who reads the inside cover of "The Intelligent Investor" has a snowballs.
On 14 January 2013 at 7:31 pm traveller said:
Two questions to Mr Clark:

1: When was that written?
2: Do you think that if advisers took that approach, they could defend their position if things went wrong by quoting the Guru Ben Graham?
On 14 January 2013 at 9:44 pm Kimble said:
1. Why do you think it matters?

2. If an adviser took that approach they would be able to justify why they purchased each stock and why they sold it. So, why do you think they wouldn't be able to defend their position?
On 15 January 2013 at 10:50 am Brent Sheather said:
Hi Kimble

It matters because I don’t think the FMA could care less what Ben Graham thinks if an adviser took unnecessary and stupid risks with a clients portfolio. For example if the client is 50 and only has 25% in bonds and the stockmarket craps out I think the FMA would be on the advisers case. Similarly if the adviser disregarded the obvious benefits of diversification, threw caution to the wind and bought 10 stocks that fitted Ben Graham’s definition of value if two of them went bust or sharply underperformed I think the FMA would rightly be on their case in this situation as well. Defending your position relates more to minimizing risk than maximizing returns. There will be court cases coming up this year looking at these issues. So it will be interesting to see what the courts decide.

Brent Sheather
On 15 January 2013 at 2:56 pm brent sheather said:
Hi Kimble,I didn't read the excerpt from Ben Graham carefully but I don't recall when he said that the minimum in bonds should be 25% that he qualified that rule by saying that it applied only to people with guaranteed pensions. But I agree, I have clients with guaranteed pensions with low bond weightings. Regards Brent
On 16 January 2013 at 9:56 am Stephen Rogers said:
Brent, I agree 100% with your comments to Mr Kimble, that the FMAs concerns are more about advisers essentially maximising risk for clients by stocking picking rather than minimising risk by appointing a full time professional to do that for clients. Fees aside I agree with your comments.
On 16 January 2013 at 11:41 am Kimble said:
And I dont recall you saying that the FMA wouldnt approve that allocation for anyone except people with guaranteed pensions.

He gave a general rule, you took one example said it didnt apply. Proving what?
On 16 January 2013 at 6:22 pm Well read said:
Anyone who involved themself in this discussion should be claiming they spend the time researching stocks enough to pick them for clients!

With regard to bond funds, the benefits are the obvious ones from investing in a fund: diversification, liquidity,(good) avoidance of poor risk, access to issues you wouldn't be able to on your own, duration management, trading gains, PIE tax efficiency etc.

Downsides are fees (which remember, covers quality goverance and reporting) and mark-to-market issues with cash-flows and multiple investors.
On 19 January 2013 at 9:04 pm Daniel Clark said:
"Given that legions of Harvard trained insider traders sporting multiple Bloombergs can't beat the average I don't think Percy Punter who reads the inside cover of "The Intelligent Investor" has a snowballs. "

Some people either have it or they don't it doesn't matter what degrees or connections they have. Dr Michael Berry is an example of this.

Value outperforms the market by a significant margin (proven fact). Anyone that can remove their emotions from stock picking and sticks to value will do well in the long run. If you study any of the great stock pickers you will realise they all have a simple value system and they stick to it.

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Westpac 8.64 7.84 7.35 6.99
Westpac Choices Everyday 8.74 - - -
Westpac Offset 8.64 - - -
Westpac Special - 7.24 6.75 6.39
Median 8.64 7.19 7.17 6.65

Last updated: 12 June 2024 4:04pm

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