The Mother of All Mother of All Bailouts

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OK, I'm getting ahead of myself. Nothing official has been announced just yet, but the market is absolutely rocking this morning on the news. In the coming hours and days, the Treasury and Federal Reserve are expected to introduce a sweeping bailout plan designed to finally pound a nail in the credit-crisis coffin for good.

The plan is likely to create somewhat of a government-sponsored dumping ground for bad assets on banks' balance sheets -- a place where loans can be sorted out and hopefully sold. The idea is to let banks jettison the trash on their books, so as to renew confidence in the financial system and let healthy lending resume.

The form this could take is still anyone's guess, but many assume the plan will look something like the Resolution Trust Corporation (RTC) that was created to kill the savings-and-loan crisis of the late '80s. And although the cost is also anyone's guess at this point, I'm willing to bet it'll cost somewhere between a gazillion and infinity dollars. Again, precisely zero details regarding what the plan will look like, or who exactly it'll cover, have been released. It'll all become clearer as the days go on.

Also making headlines this morning is that the Treasury is going to insure much of the $3.4 trillion in money market funds, the Fed will continue to add liquidity to the market, and the SEC has temporarily banned short-selling on 799 financial companies. These are all boons to the market.

What we do know about this new plan
Here's one interesting detail being reported in The Wall Street Journal: The RTC of the late '80s was designed to scoop up assets from failed savings-and-loan institutions. That seems fair. But this new proposal might actually be designed to inherit assets from solvent banks at steep discounts, in effect bailing out still-healthy banks such as Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC  ) , JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM  ) and Bank of America (NYSE: BAC  ) .

Rest assured, such moves will create no shortage of grumblings from moral-hazard opponents -- and perhaps rightfully so. Sure, a wide-reaching bailout seems to be the last remaining hope of ending this crisis, but good luck trying to convince taxpayers that they'll be on the hook for a stupendous amount of money to get solvent banks back in working order.

Nevertheless, it became increasingly clear in recent days that something needed to be done, and quickly. Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS  ) and Morgan Stanley (NYSE: MS  ) got annihilated all week over speculation that their days as independent investment banks were numbered. You're right: Volatility isn't an excuse to bail out the entire financial system. The problem was that it became ever more apparent that without intervention, there might not have been a financial system much longer.

And, goodness, did the market ever react in a spectacle of chaos. Some of this week's more memorable moments include:

  • The largest one-day loss since the 9/11 attacks. (Monday)
  • The largest one-day gain in six years. (Thursday)
  • A bizarre event in the bond market, in which investors were so eager to seek safety that demand for three-month Treasury notes pushed yields below zero. That means investors were willing to guarantee a small loss to ensure that they wouldn't endure a huge loss.

On Thursday, Morgan Stanley traded in a range from $11.70 to $24.72 per share. Bank of New York Mellon (NYSE: BK  ) traded between $21.33 and $35 on essentially no news. State Street (NYSE: STT  ) traded between $29 and about $69 on no significant news at all. The volatility was just a result of wild speculation, and of a market caught between a rock and a paranoid place.

So, will the new plans work? I've always thought Hank Paulson looks more like Lex Luthor than like Superman, but I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt on this one. What we've learned this week is that the bailout of AIG did absolutely nothing to quell fears of systemic risk -- if anything, the surprise collapse solidified those fears. With any luck, the new plans should do a number to instill confidence in the market and get us back into position to finally find our way out of this unprecedented mess.

Stay tuned. We'll keep you updated on these historic moves as the news comes in.

For related Foolishness:

Fool contributor Morgan Housel doesn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article. JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America are Motley Fool Income Investor recommendations. The Fool has a disclosure policy.

Read/Post Comments (42) | Recommend This Article (55)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On September 19, 2008, at 11:12 AM, robnatq wrote:

    Isn't the markets reaction a case of manufactured irrational exuberance? Are we in a moment where it's wide to be fearful rather than greedy?

  • Report this Comment On September 19, 2008, at 11:21 AM, robnatq wrote:

    Isn't the markets reaction a case of manufactured irrational exuberance? Are we in a moment where it's wide to be fearful rather than greedy?

  • Report this Comment On September 19, 2008, at 11:34 AM, ncjohnng wrote:

    Can ANYONE please explain to me why the AMERICAN TAXPAYER are the Sole individuals for bailing out these companies when those such as AIG opperate in several countries? No body is asking the citizens of those contries to contribute. I may be no scholar, but when AIG claims 14+ Billion in 2006 ( I'm curious about exactly HOW much of that is WITHIN the USA. If I make a bad investment in the market and I risk everything I have on GOLD and then the next day GOLD is worthless, no-body bails me out. This is the biggest crock of sh*% i've ever heard of. So please for my sanity and all the millions of hard-working taxpaying citizens in the US, please explain to me why this is Soley our burden. If we were going to be fair then the citizens of the world should pay a %percentage of whatever amount these global banks do in their respective countries. You wanna put the burden of bad bets on someone elses shoulders, make it more a shared burden and put it on all the world not just the US.

  • Report this Comment On September 19, 2008, at 11:45 AM, InformedFools wrote:

    But where is all the bailout money coming from? You can't just erase bad debt and not look back. Won't this lead to massive inflation? Which will in turn trigger a recession for good that we can't back out of with bailouts?

  • Report this Comment On September 19, 2008, at 12:08 PM, joshnix2 wrote:

    Are the underlying problems still there? The market has not been re-directed and this will probably creat another bubble that will burst. I say enforce naked short-selling and let the market be free and hopefully more legal.

  • Report this Comment On September 19, 2008, at 12:15 PM, boshey wrote:

    This is all about the ability to audit. We need to establish controls that companies must adhere too. They make tons of cash and then hide it in other locations and fake assets.

    Every company that we as the taxpayer bail out should have to keep all of their records, email, media and documents in a secure document management system that can be audited at anytime from anywhere by the government.

  • Report this Comment On September 19, 2008, at 12:42 PM, DavidKishere wrote:

    How about we audit the FED? I'd like to see their numbers in detail.

    Where is this bail out money coming from? We sure as hell do not have it, so either the FED is creating it, or borrowing more. Hello Weimar Republic.

  • Report this Comment On September 19, 2008, at 1:00 PM, tumachar wrote:

    I think Paulson is doing as good a job he can do for taxpayers. Unlike Greenspan, he is doing the right thing. He is penalising the equity holders (that includes employees and executives) of these finanical firms by asking for great terms for taxpayer. He did take over 80% of AIG, full control of FRE, FNM in return for investment.

    Think about this, if a family lives in a house and one of the kids started the fire, what is the job of head of household? To get everybody out safe (bailout) or to penalise the kid that started fire or to find and penalise the adult who did not place the fire causing items securely? The answer will be clear, at least it is to me.

    As for where we go from here. I do not think we are out of the woods yet. Housing cannot be stabilized by these actions The downturn in earnings cannot be avoided. That would mean even if multiple remains same, the prices will be lower in future, for everybody willing to pay current prices for BAC, JPM, WFC etc, need to think again.

    The best that can happen is that house and bank stock prices go down slowly or stay the same for next 5-10 years. In any case they will face difficult comparisons... All is not well.

  • Report this Comment On September 19, 2008, at 1:05 PM, pete4357 wrote:

    By not allowing short selling, the govts of the US and UK are artificially propping up markets. I agree with Joshnix2, allow prices to fall fall fall and lets shake the fear out of everyone so we can go shopping! The darkest hour is right before the dawn. Also, if our current financial regulations allow for recklessness on the part of businesses deemed 'too big to fail', we need to change them. Use legislation to limit leverage and make executive pay more accountable (I'm not saying pay them less per se, but pay for performance and don't pay for failure!) Unfettered markets are not efficient. They allow the cowboys, the richest 1%, to steal everything. Who made all the money during AIG's glory years? And who will end up footing the bill for their failure? It doesn't seem all that fair to me. If our tangled global system can't allow certain entities to fail, we the people need to be keeping a closer eye on what these companies are up to!

    Here's a great article on the origins of the credit crunch. It was posted somewhere on TMF - I'm reposting it here

  • Report this Comment On September 19, 2008, at 1:20 PM, fooldotcom76 wrote:

    any of you free market proponents see this as an example of how "free markets" don't work? I do. The Bush administration plans to add to the $400 billion projected deficit and our $9 trillion national debt with this bailout. The next generation will pay for it. Why don't the CEOs and fund managers pay for this, they profited from the bubble more than anyone.

  • Report this Comment On September 19, 2008, at 1:28 PM, pedorrero wrote:

    Interesting point brought up: the Federal Reserve is one of the very few parts of the U.S. government (or quasi-government, it is partly owned by private member banks), that is not subject to audit. And nobody has inventoried the gold for several decades either .... hmmm....

  • Report this Comment On September 19, 2008, at 1:57 PM, poach wrote:

    The consequences of this massive, steriod induced govt bailout will be disastrous in the long run. The focus should have been on improving accounting standards, increasing capital adequacy and disclosure norms.

  • Report this Comment On September 19, 2008, at 2:13 PM, scorp99cam wrote:

    It all depends what we pay for the bad debt. If it is 25 cents on the dollar the taxpayer may make money. We don't have details yet.

  • Report this Comment On September 19, 2008, at 2:53 PM, GatorGuy69 wrote:

    What most people do not realize is that we have only begun to see the needed bailouts. What will happen in three to four months when inflation starts getting rampant and interest rates rise by 1/2 point. People are already being stretched thin on rising food and energy prices, and those who hold adjustable rate mortgages or loans will see their payments skyrocket. We have only begun to see the millions of foreclosures that are going to occur. Don’t think it will happen… Wait another year and read the headlines. So who is going to lose? The margin on all the debts that the Fed (or this new pseudo entity) has will be called out. Then more money will be due. Folks, Fannie and Freddie have nearly $5 trillion dollars alone in mortgages they purchased. Then wrapped up in various derivatives and sold them like options. When you sell a put, you receive compensation for “insuring” someone else’s stock. Simply put (not a play on words), this is what a lot of this debt is, and when interest rates rise (and they will rise), the only way for the Fed to pay the bill is to start their printing presses again and start printing more money. This dilutes the dollars that are in your pocket, or in your “safe” money market account, or even in your NEGATIVE yielding Treasury bonds, whoa! Just as if a company decided to raise capital by issuing more shares, each current shareholder owns less of a percentage of the company then before the dilution. The Fed is stealing your money and most people are none the wiser. I am not sure what needs to be done or if anything can be done, but I for one, am stocking up on canned goods, water, gold & silver coins, and ammunition. Good luck, and God Bless!

  • Report this Comment On September 19, 2008, at 3:08 PM, Akboogie wrote:

    Socialism for Corporate America and Capitalism for U.S. tax payers

  • Report this Comment On September 19, 2008, at 3:47 PM, reeljerc wrote:

    Let's see if I have this right, the republican Knights in Shining Armour swoop in and save the day. Or at least the next couple of months, right? Short-lived bravado in an election year for a long-long-term problem. Once again, at our ultimate expense (literally) treating the symptom rather than the disease.

  • Report this Comment On September 19, 2008, at 4:37 PM, bluebonnet35 wrote:




  • Report this Comment On September 19, 2008, at 4:51 PM, fooldotcom76 wrote:

    Paulson and the Federal Reserve are trying to replay the bailout approach used in the 1980s for the savings and loan crisis, but this situation is utterly different. The failed S&Ls held real assets--property, houses, shopping centers--that could be readily resold by the Resolution Trust Corporation at bargain prices. This crisis involves ethereal financial instruments of unknowable value--not just the notorious mortgage securities but various derivative contracts and other esoteric deals that may be virtually worthless.

    Despite what the pols in Washington think, the RTC bailout was also a Wall Street scandal. Many of the financial firms that had financed the S&L industry's reckless lending got to buy back the same properties for pennies from the RTC--profiting on the upside, then again on the downside. Guess who picked up the tab? I suspect Wall Street is envisioning a similar bonanza--the chance to harvest new profit from their own fraud and criminal irresponsibility.

  • Report this Comment On September 19, 2008, at 4:58 PM, eldetorre wrote:

    "no shortage of grumblings from moral-hazard opponents -- and perhaps rightfully so."

    I am so tired of hearing mention of the "moral hazard" as if it were a trite abstraction.

    There has to be a better phrase to encompass the seriousness of bailing out financially irresponsible institutions on the backs of responsible people who can ill afford it.

    This has very practical and real implications unrelated to Moral high mindedness.

    We have just guaranteed that this WILL HAPPEN AGAIN!

  • Report this Comment On September 19, 2008, at 4:59 PM, poach wrote:

    People go to court for smaller, sometimes ridiculous offences; we citizens (taxpayers) should file a suit against the government for perpetrating this bailout, with money that doesn't belong to them.

  • Report this Comment On September 19, 2008, at 5:28 PM, eldetorre wrote:

    "It all depends what we pay for the bad debt. If it is 25 cents on the dollar the taxpayer may make money. We don't have details yet."

    Are you deluded? Don't you think that this was attempted already in the private realm?

    This stuff is worthless, absolute junk. I can not express how mad I am right now!

  • Report this Comment On September 19, 2008, at 5:28 PM, sparrowshead wrote:

    This will be the most damaging piece of legislation ever passed and will bankrupt the taxpayer for a generation to come.

    Shame on the government for inflicting socialism for the rich.

  • Report this Comment On September 19, 2008, at 7:57 PM, vigorate wrote:

    Yeah, it sucks but, I'm not so sure that there are any better alternatives. We can only look at where we are at now not what should/could have been done differently to avoid this mess.

    Government takes action such as the one they have outlined and we are stuck footing the bill for a massive bailout and potentially years of recession (or worse).

    Government fails to act and financial markets freeze up, nothing can be manufactured, transported, maintained because no one trusts that they will get paid.

    Either way, it is the people dependant on the US economy that will suffer (not to mention the greater ramifications of inaction would have on the World economy). My take is that if the US doesn't offer a plan to restore 'confidence' in the financial sector the 'balance of civilization' as we know it would erode so fast that the money we all believe in would be valueless anyway.

    So why not 'manufacture' an imaginary trillion dollars worth of the stuff to put everyone's minds at ease so we can continue to maintain the illusion of the hope for future prosperity just a little longer.

  • Report this Comment On September 19, 2008, at 10:58 PM, hbofbyu wrote:

    It's been so long since we've had double digit inflation. I can't wait for the chance to open up a savings account with 10% interest that will actually lose money in real dollars over the course of a year. I guess its time to buy gold and burying it in the back yard - and also guns for the wife and kids.

  • Report this Comment On September 19, 2008, at 11:15 PM, magnant63 wrote:

    Fools, off-balance accounting has no real purpose except fraud and deceiption.

    Skirting the regulations and laws by using fancy "financial instruments" is the same.

    I'm OK with the bailouts on two conditions:

    1) Each employee of a bailout company must pay back every dime they received directly or indirectly, over $200,000 in any year of the past decade.

    2) Each executive that met the SEC's requirement to report all insider stock transactions must do hard time, say 5 years per million dollars of pay.

    If it were up to me, I'd say shoot 'em all at the opening bell on MSNBC. That should eliminate the moral hazard question.


    Write your Congressional Reps and stop this non-sense unless money is paid back and hard time is done.

    No consequences, no change. They're laughing at us. If this goes through, we are fools not Fools.

    Jim M.

  • Report this Comment On September 20, 2008, at 1:12 AM, 2xterra wrote:

    Just wanted to reply to marwino96. We haven't been operating under a free market economy for YEARS! That's the job of the Federal Reserve to manipulate our economy and the US government does whatever they say. You can lay the blame for this recent debacle right at the feet of Greenspan. This man either new exactly what he was doing or he is a fool. I can't imagine he's a fool. Easy Al, just what this country needed. Why didn't the government step in and do something when everyone was greedily going long and pushing stocks to over inflated levels? Why didn't they stop the buying, why didn't they stop the bad lending? Were they all really clueless? I think not. They didn't step in then because it wouldn't have served it's purposes. It's always easier for a government to gain control when there's a crisis. Everyone's crying out for a savior. Yea, we need the government to do something, but we wouldn't have needed them to do something if they hadn't created the crisis in the first place. The American people should be in an uproar. These kinds of scenarios will only stop either when the people hold there elected officials (from the least to the greatest) accountable or the government has gained total control--we are closer than you think.

  • Report this Comment On September 20, 2008, at 3:55 AM, Xrat wrote:

    Dear ncjohnng,

    When one builds an overseas empire (financial or otherwise) it's not to benefit other countries. The idea was to make as much as possible, return it to the U.S., give as little as possible to 'Uncle Sam', keep as much as possible for the board and drop some crumbs for the shareholder. Either way the profits end up in the U.S.

    Unfortunately the 'fat cats' take the cream but when the rest starts to curdle.., cleaning up is beneath them. It's left to the workers to clean the mess that's left behind.

    A bail out is just going to teach them that once it has all beeen cleared they have a clean sheet to start over again!

  • Report this Comment On September 20, 2008, at 8:30 AM, petero1298 wrote:

    - buy and hold

    - you can't time the markets

    - the market will always come back

    - average down

    - we need to link the CEO's pay to stock price performance. This will better align management and shareholders' interest

    - Lehman

    - Merril Lynch

    - AIG

    - etc ... you get the picture

    - enough said

    Oh, I forgot. What my former boss once said to me.

    - "Have faith in your leaders. The future is bright"

  • Report this Comment On September 20, 2008, at 8:40 AM, petero1298 wrote:

    Let me get this straight

    Democrats are;

    - fiscally irresponsible

    - free spending

    - budget busting morons


    Republicans are;

    - paragons of financial virtue

    So by the time Mr Bush Jr. ends his Republican presidency

    - what's the size of our budget deficit again ??

  • Report this Comment On September 20, 2008, at 9:28 PM, thetacoman wrote:

    During the mid-90's, Bankers Trust tried to market to the public via member firms, an annuity product which used interest rate derivatives to insulate the equity buckets from market fluctuation. My objection, as a wholesaler, was the difficulty of valid daily pricing of the public product. Now, it took awhile, but finally it WILL BE PUT to the public, and because our interests will always be the greatest concern of the administration and congress - we really don't have to bother ourselves about pricing these assets. Sort of makes one feel like Alfred E. Neuman, doesn't it?


  • Report this Comment On September 20, 2008, at 10:46 PM, Unbelieverstill wrote:

    We can all complain and be angry because we should. But more than anything we need to change Washington.

    Our one and only chance is to vote out all of the incumbents in this election. Radical yes, but it sends a message that we the people really do want change and we want Congress and the President divorced from Wall street and the lobbyists.

  • Report this Comment On September 21, 2008, at 12:54 AM, ScottDAndersen wrote:

    What was the point of this article?

    It's all just speculation and commentary about speculation on what the form of the rescue plan will be. What purpose does it serve but to spread more rumor and misinformation.

    Why does the Fool publish this crap?

  • Report this Comment On September 21, 2008, at 6:13 AM, gldncowboy wrote:

    Is it wise to give 700 billion max at any one time (like there would be a second time?) with no legal review, no legislative review.


    I wouldn't even lend my neighbor 5 bucks the other day.....

  • Report this Comment On September 21, 2008, at 2:20 PM, Sleepymonk wrote:

    If we all just quit paying income taxes then it wouldnt matter what these elitist bankers wanted. read the constitution; only gold and silver are legal tender. since getting off the gold standard we have left ourselves open to this market manipulation nonsense. i believe in free markets; the u.s. has no free market, and that's the problem to begin with....these federal reserve policies act as a siphon to funnel money from the lower and middle classes to the wealthy and to wall street. go to if you would like to learn about the sensible monetary policy that was originally envisioned by the founders of this nation; they had more sense than the gang of criminals running our government now do. i totally oppose the bailout.

  • Report this Comment On September 21, 2008, at 5:33 PM, billbailoutbill wrote:

    Bailouts should be incremental and should be attached to strict conditions that make the financial institutions and their managers PERSONALLY RESPONSIBLE. If there is a BAILOUT it should take the form of a HOSTILE TAKEOVER. The institutions should be torn apart and reorganized in smaller units with their wealth stripped away.

  • Report this Comment On September 22, 2008, at 12:46 AM, beaconps1 wrote:

    Isn't this a re-incarnation of the superSIV with government money? Although it might make some investment bank balance sheets look better, nothing has changed. These are still highly leveraged operations with business models that require growth, the flow of money, to support the leverage. The water behind the dike continues to rise and Paulson is running out of fingers. If Paulson is not including a floor for housing by stemming defaults, nothing will change. Same old supply side approach, loosen credit, build confidence, leverage debt and everything will work out.

    Moving money from one pocket to the next and collecting a fee is not sustainable, nor is borrowing and spending, nor is selling the same movie over and over and over. That leaves making beds at $80 an hour to support economic growth. A balanced economy is more than money. It takes a village.

    The old fashion idea of adding value and owners (stockholders), the lenders (bond holders) and workers sharing a small profit is out the window. Now money is made by the Quants with CDOs squared or elite upper management making self-serving decisions.

  • Report this Comment On September 22, 2008, at 11:09 AM, RaulChapin wrote:

    Comparing the investment bankers and boards of directors of financial institutions to a boy who burns the house is delusional. The creators of this mess have more knowledge of banking that anyone in this forum. If there was a fire, it is not a kid doing it; it is arson by a fire specialist!!! So never mind saving this one house. Get the felon and save every other house he would have burnt to the ground!!

    I had the opportunity to chat with the chief legal advisor of Bancafe in Guatemala a few months before it went pop (much like the USA banks are going now) and the topic of the legal minimum margin came up. I asked him why there was so much trouble about supposed deposits runs. The maximum a bank can lend in Guatemala is 80% of its deposits and I doubted more than 20% of the people would go and take their money out on hearsay, further more the bank could borrow against the good mortgages and real state assets it had to provide liquidity for the remaining 80% and repay when the money came back.

    His answer was short and simple. If we abided by the banking law, we would not make money.

    Less than 3 months later Bancafe (the 3rd largest bank in Guatemala) went bankrupt, short after, Bancomercio went bankrupt, three other banks had to quickly merge and Citibank bought another two.

  • Report this Comment On September 22, 2008, at 11:14 AM, RaulChapin wrote:

    gldncowboy: You would not lend your neighbor $5... is that because you knew the risk was to be assumed by you? How about lending your neighbor MY $5, receiving interest on it. Being loved by him as a good friend... and getting reelected as neighborhood president?

    That is more like the bail out :-)

  • Report this Comment On September 22, 2008, at 1:20 PM, Dilacu wrote:

    In addition to bailing out big financial companies the government should have been helping families avoid foreclosures and it wouldn't have cost it much money: all it had to do was pay off the bad loans and let the homeowners borrow money from a government fund at an affordable fixed rate. The government would have gotten its money back with interest and families would not have to move into their cars or rentals. I think the government is lame for not doing this.

  • Report this Comment On September 23, 2008, at 12:56 AM, RHSteele wrote:

    Man am I glad that I've been an expat for the last fourteen years and don't pay federal taxes. With leadership like this steering the U.S. ship, I may never go back.

  • Report this Comment On September 25, 2008, at 12:26 AM, realitycheck13 wrote:

    Your Tax Dollars at work.

    Looks like the United States isn't going to worry about hitting $10 trillion in national debt. They're going to skip 10 and go straight to $11 trillion in debt with what the government is planning on spending with these so called bailouts.

    Welcome to the socialist, with a tinge of communism, United States of America. There's just no other way of looking at it now that the government owns 80% of AIG, has paid $30 billion to save Bear Stearns, what may end up being $800 billion for Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, banning short selling for a short time.  Just in case that wasn't enough the government is planning on....

    continued at

  • Report this Comment On September 25, 2008, at 4:12 PM, navinajmera wrote:

    Managing the "Bailout Inc."

    If bailout is a foregone conclusion then at least it should have some checks and balances included in it. Here's muy thoughts:

    Paulson - CEO of Bailout Inc.

    Us the Taxpayers: Shareholders

    Board of Directors: Six chosen by Democrats in Congress and six Chosen by Republicans by open voting every year. Any decision over $1B to be approved by majority vote of the board with Paulson as a tie breaker.

    Monthly/Quarterly/Annual Progress Reports: To be made public and audited by GAO and one of the big three accounting firms.

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