A business goes bankrupt when it is unable to meet its payment obligations when they fall due, that is, bankruptcy is caused by a shortage of cash. However, a shortage of cash is not necessarily related to profitability. In fact profitable businesses can go bankrupt, while companies making losses can have substantial cash.
Cash is king, but what is cash flow and what is the difference between profitability and cash flow? What are the sources of cash and how do we improve cash flow?
What is cash flow
Cash flow is the difference between cash coming into the business (cash receipts, inflows or sources of cash) and cash going out of the business (cash payments, outflows or uses of cash). Cash flow is thus positive (a net inflow/ source) if receipts are greater than payments or negative (a net outflow/ use) if receipts are less than payments.
Profit versus cash flow
Sales (selling) less expenses (purchases) = profit or loss.
While, cash receipts less cash payments = cash inflow or outflow.
The difference between a profit or loss and a cash inflow or outflow is essentially a difference in timing.
We will use a simple example to illustrate this concept.
If you buy a cool drink for R7 and sell it for R10 then you have made a profit of R3. If this cool drink was sold for cash then you would receive payment of R10 from the buyer. However, if the cool drink was sold on credit/ account you would not receive any payment at the time of the sale, but would hopefully receive payment sometime in the future. In both cases the profit is the same (R3), but the timing of the receipt of cash is very different.
Sources or uses of cash
There are 4 sources or uses of cash:
Cash inflow or outflow from the primary business operations or trading activities of the business, that is, through the buying and selling of products or services.
2) Changes in working capital
Working capital consists of current assets (stock/ inventory and debtors/ accounts receivable) and current liabilities (creditors/ accounts payable). An increase in stock and receivables is an outflow/ use of cash, while an increase in payables is an inflow/ source of cash and vice versa. When stock/ inventory is paid for, it affects cash flow, but it only affects profits when sold.
3) Investing activities
Here we primarily refer to capital expenditure and investments in operational fixed assets (motor vehicles, equipment, machinery, etc.), although investing can also include investments in shares or other financial assets.
When assets are bought there is an outflow of cash and when the assets are sold there is an inflow. Investing activities affect cash flow when paid for, but are charged against profits over the useful life of the asset in the form of depreciation.
4) Financing activities
Finance or capital is typically raised from a combination of shareholders equity and loans. Raising equity or loans will result in an inflow of cash, while the repayment of equity (including the payment of dividends) and loans (both capital and interest) will result in an outflow of cash.
Cash flow from operations is derived from the income statement, while changes to working capital, and investing and financing activities are reflected in changes in the balance sheet figures from one period to the next.
Improving cash flow
Ironically cash flow is not necessarily improved by an increase in sales. As sales increase a business needs more capital and ties up more cash in inventory and receivables, and often fixed assets. The rate at which a business can grow is largely determined by the amount of capital it has to support this growth. When a business grows too quickly it will burn cash and thus have a negative cash flow
Cash flow can be improved by:
- Reducing costs and expenses → if costs are reduced you pay less and thus use less cash,
- Reducing assets → a source of cash and improves cash flow,
- Improving processes and efficiencies → reduces costs, assets, re-work, waste, scrap and delays/ waiting thereby improving cash flow, and
1) Reducing costs and expenses
Costs can be divided into fixed and variable costs.
Fixed costs remain unchanged irrespective of the level of production. Examples include depreciation (essentially the cost of fixed assets), leases, rental, insurance, rates and taxes, and certain salaries.
Variable costs change in proportion to the level of production. Examples include raw materials, labour and sales commission.
Fixed costs are often linked to the level of fixed assets. Although the level of fixed costs and assets is often a function of the industry, companies can still choose between more capital equipment (fixed cost and asset) or more labour (variable cost). This choice should be based on which option is more productive and has the lowest cost.
It is difficult to reduce fixed costs and assets in the short term, however, since companies with high levels of fixed costs and assets tend to be more risky than those with lower levels, the objective is to keep fixed costs as low as possible.
Purchases of inventory or raw materials
Purchases are the biggest cost for most businesses. Retailers and wholesalers purchase inventory, while manufacturers purchase raw materials.
To reduce the cost of purchases:
- Develop relationships with your key suppliers and discuss your specific needs with them.
- To prevent outages and to test prices, ensure that you have more than one supplier for most items, especially your key and expensive items.
- Regularly test prices to ensure you are getting the best possible price.
- If possible, take advantage of discounts on large purchases and early payment.
Also see Inventory Management and Payables/ Creditor Management below.
Labour is another substantial cost for companies, especially manufacturing companies.
The objective is to increase productivity by:
- Improving business processes,
- Establishing performance and productivity standards,
- Comparing actual performance with the established standards,
- Using bills of materials and job cards,
- Improving quality in order to reduce rework and scrap, and
- Ensuring staff are properly trained and qualified for the position.
The net result is a shorter, more efficient production cycle, which reduces costs, assets, re-work, waste, scrap and waiting thereby improving cash flow.
2) Reducing assets
Assets consist of fixed assets and working capital (current assets less current liabilities). Fixed assets include property, plant, equipment, motor vehicles etc. Current assets include stock/ inventory and debtors/ accounts receivable, while current liabilities include creditors/ accounts payable.
Fixed assets, like fixed costs, are difficult to reduce in the short term and are typically a function of the industry the business operates in.
With a view to reducing your fixed assets:
- Assess your level of vertical and horizontal integration in the value chain.
- Determine where the value is in the value chain.
- What assets in the value chain should you own and how do you control the other assets.
- Are there opportunities for outsourcing or sale and leasebacks?
- Consider leasing instead of buying.
Working capital management
The management of working capital is critical to a business. The objective of working capital management is to reduce the cash cycle.
Reducing the cash cycle is achieved by:
- Reducing inventory/ stock – reducing the time (days) between buying and selling inventory.
- Reducing receivables/ debtors – reducing the time (days) between selling inventory and receiving payment for the sale from your customer.
- Extending payables/ creditors – extending the time (days) between purchasing and paying the supplier for the purchased inventory.
In a best case scenario, you will be able to sell and be paid for the goods you sold, before you have to pay your supplier.
- Inventory management
Here we want to reduce the amount/ quantity and costs of inventory. Inventory costs consist of:
- Carrying or storage costs → rent, insurance, material handling, obsolescence, and
- Ordering and shortage costs → time spent ordering, paying and receiving the goods, transport, and loss of goodwill, sales revenue and production time.
There is an inverse relationship between these costs – carrying costs increase with higher inventory levels, while ordering/ shortage costs decline and vice versa. The goal of inventory management is to minimise the sum of these two costs.
- Sell old or obsolete stock → selling at cost would be great, but the objective is to get rid of the stock, even if that means selling below cost price, and to generate cash while reducing your holding costs.
- Reduce the production cycle → in manufacturing companies reducing the production cycle will reduce inventory levels since the time between purchasing the raw materials and selling the finished product will be shortened.
The ABC inventory management system
Divide all inventory items into 3 or more groups in terms of:
- Inventory value (usage rate x individual value),
- Order lead time, and
- Consequences of shortages
Here the logic is that a small quantity of inventory might represent a large portion of inventory value.
- Group A → consists of all high value inventories. Stock is kept to a minimum and all items are strictly monitored and tightly controlled. Precise ordering is important.
- Group B → items are of medium value and require a medium level of monitoring and control.
- Group C → inventory comprise basic, inexpensive items. These items are ordered in large quantities to ensure continuity of supply, while monitoring and control is not that important.
- Receivables/ debtor control
Controlling receivables (money owed by our customers) is the key to cash flow management in any business. First establish a policy which, amongst other things, covers:
- Who you grant credit to.
- How you assess the granting of credit.
- What your collection policy is.
- Request down and milestone payments.
- Invoice daily instead of weekly or monthly.
- Offer cash discounts to encourage early settlement.
- Closely monitor accounts taking swift action on overdue accounts.
- Payables/ creditor management
Extend payables (money owed to suppliers) by:
- Paying in terms of your payment terms → if terms are 30 days, don’t pay on 15 days.
- Delaying payment without losing supplier goodwill or trade discounts.
- Negotiating better terms with your suppliers.
- Communicating and establishing relationships with your suppliers.
When choosing a supplier → negotiate and base your decision on both the purchase price and the payment terms.
Cash discounts are usually attractive and if possible, it is worth taking advantage of them.
1) Improving processes and efficiencies
Improving processes and efficiencies reduces costs, assets, re-work, waste, scrap and delays/ waiting, thereby improving cash flow.
As mentioned earlier in the article, an increase in sales does not necessarily improve cash flow. This is because, as sales increase a business needs more capital and ties up more cash primarily in inventory and receivables, but often also fixed assets.
However, without sales you don’t have a business, and you definitely won’t have a profitable business, since you will not have any revenues to cover your fixed and variable costs.
So what to do:
- Prepare a forecast of your expected sales and expenses → take into account cyclical trends. Remember that sales are a combination of selling price and the number of units sold.
- From the forecast, project your actual cash flow requirements and ensure that you have sufficient capital (cash) from shareholders and loans to meet your requirements.
- Target sustainable growth levels.
- Check your pricing and margins → how do your prices compare with your competitors and have your prices kept pace with your increasing costs?
- Implement regular price adjustments → especially if you are an importer and your input costs vary with the exchange rate.
- Ensure that you know:
} The cost of manufacturing or purchasing a product.
} The gross profit of each product.
} How many of each product is being sold.
} How much effort (time) is required to sell a product.
} Your top customers by sales and profits.
While each of these elements has been discussed individually, they are all intertwined and woven together so reducing or increasing one element will often impact on the other elements and have a ripple effect throughout the company.
How You Can Make Your Unit Trusts Work For You
How investing in unit trusts can help you build your nest egg while remaining focused on your business.
What should be an investor’s strategy when it comes to unit trusts?
A financial plan starts with clearly defining your objectives. It’s easier to get what you need when you know what you want. Unit trust funds are regulated investment vehicles that can meet the full range of investor needs. Once you know how long you want to invest, it becomes possible to narrow down to the appropriate set of options.
The key thing to get right is to take the level of risk appropriate to your needs. Taking on too much risk means that you may have less capital than expected when you need it. However, too little risk and you will eventually end up with much less capital than was possible. Generally, investors are well served with an investment in multi-asset funds (also called balanced funds) with a suitable risk budget.
These funds are diversified across all the asset classes and require less ongoing decision-making from the investor’s point of view and can be more responsive to a changing environment. This allows you to focus on building your business and getting on with your life while your nest egg accumulates over time.
South African investors are privileged to enjoy access to a vast number of unit trust funds, easily accessible via various investment platforms. The law of unintended consequences, however, can cause investors without a proper investment strategy to use inappropriate funds to address their needs. To ensure that a investor selects a suitable unit trust fund, the investment strategy should focus on the term of the investment, appetite for risk, as well as the possible future investment withdrawal requirements.
This could provide the investor with insight into the type of funds to include in the portfolio to ensure a desired future outcome. Investors must gain insight into the mandate of the funds considered, to ensure that the fund strategy is aligned with the investment strategy.
Dr Vladimir Nedeljkovic:
Investors today are exposed to a bewildering choice of unit trusts and other investment vehicles (ETFs, hedge funds, linked policies etc.), utilising different investment approaches (single manager, multi-manager, active, passive, smart beta…), and investing in various asset classes (equities, bonds, property, multi-asset/balanced). For non-professional investors, this choice may potentially prove paralysing.
One way to deal with this ‘paradox of choice’ (an observation that more choice often leads to sub-optimal decisions) is to focus not on the funds themselves, but on the actual needs motivating the investments. Every investor should, inter alia, reflect on the following questions: What am I investing for (a holiday, a car, my children’s education, retirement)? When will I need the money (is my investment horizon one year, five years, twenty years and so on)? How sensitive am I to investment losses (what is my risk profile? Am I prepared to risk ups and downs in my current investment returns for the potential higher returns in the future)? Only after answering these questions can the process of selecting the appropriate investment vehicles and strategies start.
Related: Equity or Property Unit Trusts?
How does this differ from other investment vehicles?
Each investment vehicle is associated with a unique set of rules. Before investing in any investment vehicle, it is important to understand the rules of the product. What stands out about a unit trust investment is the fact that the product is open-ended and that investors have access to their capital. In contrast to retirement investment products, no asset allocation restrictions apply, which makes the investment vehicle appropriate to address a vast number of investor needs.
Investor strategy is not defined by the vehicle used to implement the plan but by your needs. The primary benefits of investing in unit trusts over other options relate to transparency, investor-focused regulation and liquidity. All the fund managers offering unit trusts have to disclose detailed information about funds in a standardised and comparable format (think objectives, risks, approach, fees and past performance).
This information is always just a Google search away for all funds. Unit trust managers have a statutory duty to act with skill, care and diligence in the interests of their investors. If you want to change providers, you can do so at will, with your money back in your bank account in a couple of days, in nearly all cases without incurring direct exit or switching costs.
Collective investment schemes (CIS) are investment products allowing multiple investors to pool their money into single portfolios. Long-only, standard unit trusts were the first CISs to be offered to investors in South Africa (today there are other collective investment schemes available, such as Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs), hedge funds, and so on). With collective investment schemes, each investor has a proportional stake in the CIS portfolio, based on his or her contributions. They are, therefore, suitable for investors who do not have the time, money or expertise to make direct investments into the market.
What research should an investor do before choosing the right unit trust investment for their investment goals and risk appetite?
When selecting their investments, investors often try to time the market and focus only on the funds with the best recent performance. This can lead to overall suboptimal investment performance. Research shows that due to reversion to mean, the best performing funds over one period are more likely to underperform over the next one. In contrast, investors should start with defining their desired investment outcomes (discretionary or compulsory, time horizon, return targets, risk appetite) and, in conjunction with a financial advisor, select the fund managers and funds that have the highest chance of satisfying those outcomes.
The textbook answer will be to define an investment strategy and then to evaluate the different implementation options by researching the 5Ps (philosophy, process, people, performance and price). This can be a tedious and time-consuming task, so many investors choose to delegate this decision to an advisor. Others short-hand the process by relying on well-known managers with a proven investment track record or alternatively to have no manager at all and putting their faith in the efficiency of markets by investing in a passive fund.
The key issue is finding a partner that you can trust to look after your interests in what is in essence a multi-decade undertaking with an uncertain outcome. As an aside, the debate between active and passive managers is fairly noisy and very public. It is important that you have a good filter to interpret the information you find online. Active managers try to beat the market, while passive managers attempt to replicate the market return. Both sides will point to the power of compounding to support their case. A difference of just more than 1% in the rate of return achieved can add up to 50% to the value of your capital at retirement. Passive managers will emphasise price as the key evaluation metric, while active managers will emphasise value (defined as the after-fee return received by the investor). At Coronation, we have a high conviction level that value will continue to trump price over the long term.
Related: The Truth About Unit Trusts
As a starting point, it is important to gain insight into the investment philosophy of the management team of the funds considered. Investors must understand the objectives of the funds. This would definitely require them to do some research on the fund manager considered. There are a number of risk measures that can be analysed. Be careful to not focus only on the ‘winners’ as historic performance is not always a true reflection of possible future outcomes. Spend some time to understand your own investor behaviour, specifically focusing on your tolerance for volatility, and your need for a certain outcome. Once you have done this, you will be one step closer to knowing which type of fund would suit your needs.
What should investors with a low appetite for risk consider?
In general, such investors should consider money market funds or balanced funds with a lower percentage of equity holdings.
The most important question you should ask yourself is whether your risk appetite (your willingness to take risk) is aligned with your ability to take risk. If your investment portfolio is more conservative than is necessary, you are likely to incur a significant opportunity cost in the form of foregone returns. Investors who need both income and growth from their investment portfolio (i.e. most retirees) and investors wanting to fund near-term or medium-term commitments are the investors who typically face the most significant risk constraints.
Retirees need balanced portfolios with some form of downside protection against extreme market events, which would typically be described as medium or low equity balanced funds in the unit trust context. Investors with near-term objectives should consider managed income funds.
I am always tempted to have a conversation with risk-averse investors about the fact that shying away from assets perceived to be risky can actually cause them to increase the risk of not reaching their long-term goals. This is especially true after taking into account the effect of taxation and inflation. However, I have respect for the fact that not all investors feel it necessary to take on risk in an effort to generate additional alpha in their portfolio.
This type of investor will benefit from funds with a low-risk classification, consisting mainly of interest-bearing instruments. Care must be taken, even within the funds classified as low-risk, as there are instances where short-term shocks are still experienced within some of these funds, especially in the case of rapidly increasing interest rates.
What should investors with a high appetite for risk consider?
Be mindful of the investment term. I cannot emphasise this enough. Short-term investments should not include assets associated with volatility. If you have a high appetite for risk, give your investment portfolio sufficient time to digest the fluctuations in the value that can occur from time to time. In addition to this, I would also encourage investors to be mindful of the fact that the stock market is not a place in which we play with money. It requires knowledge, patience, and an ability to distinguish between the noise that occurs in the market from time to time and facts that actually play a role in the valuations of shares. Having a high appetite for risk is sometimes your biggest asset, but it can quickly turn into a liability if not managed correctly.
Take enough risk, ensure you diversify across local and international assets and stay the course despite temporary disappointment with investment outcomes. The past few years have been unusual, as equity markets delivered lower returns than expected. Losing faith in shares would be the wrong lesson to draw from this. Periods of weaker return typically coincide with fundamentals that are supportive of better future returns. Those that remain committed tend to do better over time as it is notoriously difficult to time markets. Also make sure that you maximise the tax breaks available to investors. Use your R33 000 annual tax-free investor allowance to invest in long-term growth funds, which will be described as high equity or flexible multi-asset funds.
Vladimir: Investors with a high-risk appetite tend to focus on equity funds, high equity balanced funds, as well as flexible funds and funds providing offshore exposure, depending on their circumstances. Such investors might start looking further afield, into RIHFs (retail investor hedge funds) and similar vehicles.
How much of an investor’s portfolio should typically be in unit trusts and why?
This depends on circumstances. Unit trusts are suitable as the sole investment structure for that portion of your balance sheet invested in listed assets. While entrepreneurs will always be tempted to go all-in to support their business ventures, it makes sense to diversify risk into a more diversified portfolio of investments. Creditor protection is also an important consideration. Holding your unit trusts via a retirement annuity fund may be a suitable response to this risk management need.
This is difficult to answer without having a full picture of the circumstances of the investor, but that percentage is likely to be high, if one combines direct discretionary investment into the unit trusts with the indirect exposure via retirement vehicles.
This information is not advice, as defined in the Financial Advisory and Intermediary Services Act 37 of 2002. Collective investment schemes (unit trusts) are generally medium to long-term investments. The value of participatory interests (units) or the investment may go down as well as up. Past performance is not necessarily a guide to future performance. Collective investment schemes are traded at ruling prices and can engage in borrowing and scrip lending. The collective investment scheme may borrow up to 10% of the market value of the portfolio to bridge insufficient liquidity. The Managers do not provide any guarantee, either with respect to the capital or the return of a portfolio. Different classes of participatory interests may apply to portfolios and are subject to different fees and charges. Any forecasts and/or commentary in this document are not guaranteed to occur.
7 Things Every Entrepreneur Should Know About Managing Cash In The Business
Every entrepreneur needs to know how to prepare for cash, manage it effectively and mitigate fraud.
Cash is complicated. It can’t be tracked properly, it opens up avenues for fraud, it gets stolen, and it is difficult to manage. It’s also an unfortunate reality that, in South Africa, cash payments and transactions are both inevitable and essential. So how can the entrepreneur overcome the challenges of handling cash? Here are seven ways…
There are many ways to manage payments in the market today. You can Snapscan, you can Zapper, you can EFT and you can use an app to send money from a wallet to a mobile number. The problem is that none of these options recognise the fact that cash is still the leading method of payment in most markets. So, to really accommodate cash, the entrepreneur needs to look to digital solutions.
You can still physically collect cash, but digitise the transactional information so that you can easily identify the transaction and reconcile the cash collector.
2. Protect the consumer
Ensuring that every cash transaction is tracked digitally means that you are protecting the consumer if the cash or transaction are lost. There is always the question – how can you service your customers post-payment without proof on your side? Ensure that your cash transactions are audited and accounted for to ensure you can recon accurately.
3. Don’t be a target
High collection points – those points where a lot of cash is collected and held – tend to become targets. Try to avoid putting your business in line of sight by using tools that can either limit the use of high collection points or that can alert the relevant security authorities if a theft occurs. Again, it comes down to digital tools to monitor, track and alert the right people at the right time.
4. Teach your customers
It’s one thing to invest into a bevy of tools and services to protect your transactions and consumers, another to let consumers make any number of silly mistakes. Teach your customers about fraud, potential risks, things to look out for and trust. They shouldn’t hand over their cash without the collector using the right tools or app and should be wary of any transaction that doesn’t have these protections built in.
5. Test and adapt
Invariably, those who want to commit fraud are equally committed to doing so. They will find loopholes and gaps that allow them to take advantage of you and your customers. Your best bet is to constantly test and adapt your systems, to build metrics in-house that measure inconsistencies and report back on any issues.
People are very creative and will find a way of helping themselves to cash that isn’t theirs.
Cash is expensive to manage so find ways of negotiating better deals with banks so you get the best fees. Cash-in-transit is expensive, but often necessary when it comes to large cash deposits.
7. Invest in a payment solution
Digital payment solutions aren’t always possible, but try to employ one that is easy to use and that can be gradually introduced to your customers. Adoption may be slow – it can take years to achieve low cash/high digital payments – but it will benefit you and your business in the long term.
5 Cash Management Tactics Small Businesses Use To Become Bigger Businesses
Reaching your highest potential as a business owner depends on maintaining positive cash flow.
You may have heard the phrase “Cash flow is the blood that keeps a business alive.” This couldn’t be truer, as consistent positive cash flow can help a business owner pay expenses, invest in new opportunities or grow a business.
Fortunately, as small-business-owner optimism remains high, most owners expect a healthy cash flow this year. The January 2018 Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index found 77 percent of small-business owners rated their company’s cash flow as very good or somewhat good over the past 12 months, up from 73 percent in November 2017.
To help with managing cash flow, here are five tips you should consider:
1. Spread out your payments
Paying all your business bills at the same time rather than spreading them out can drain your disposable income and leave you at risk of not being able to pay your creditors and suppliers if an unexpected expense occurs.
Instead, try paying your bills closer to the due dates and negotiate with your vendors to see if you can extend your payables to 60 or 90 days.
Also, be sure to pay your most important bills, such as rent and payroll, before paying less important bills.
Check with your vendor to see if you can receive discounts for paying any bills early. Remember to pay all your bills before the due date to maintain a good credit standing.
2. Collect payments quickly
Another way to improve cash flow is to incentivise customers to pay early by offering discounts.
Other techniques for collecting payments quickly include requiring deposits from your customers when taking orders and offering online payment options.
Thanks to advancements in technology, there are multiple ways for your customers to complete quick and efficient transactions with your business. One example is electronic billing, which allows for you to customize invoices and set up automatic payment reminders for customers.
3. Establish a strict credit policy
It’s important to be wise about extending credit as a business. A non-paying customer can be a hefty expense to a small-business owner.
Establish a written set of standards for determining who is eligible for credit, and enforce those standards rigidly.
Also, be sure to require a credit check for all new customers before extending credit and monitor your accounts to identify late payers early so you can offer them a variety of payment options. These options might include a credit card charge or a payment plan.
4. Align your payroll cycle with your revenue stream
Some businesses, such as restaurants and retailers, generate daily revenue and can more easily cover the expense needed for weekly payroll.
For others, such as manufacturers, this could be a challenge, and you may benefit from paying employees less frequently, provided applicable wage laws allow you to do so. Refer to your state Department of Labor for pay frequency information.
5. Plan ahead for cash shortages
Expect the unexpected. Typically cash flow will vary, and unexpected expenses will occur even for established businesses.
Keeping a rainy day fund with three to six months of basic operating expenses in a reserve can prepare you for slow periods and emergencies.
Another option is to use a business credit card or business line of credit to pay for everyday expenses and help bridge gaps in cash flow. Be sure to monitor your expenses with online banking and monthly statements.
Related: How Amazon Is Keeping It Lean
One important tool for planning ahead is a cash flow forecast, usually a one-year prediction of how cash will move in and out of the business. This helps business owners evaluate how profitable future sales will be, and provides an overview of what needs to be done to reach your goals.
In its simplest form, a cash flow forecast should show where cash balances will be at certain points in the future so you can anticipate and prevent cash shortages. To get started, organize your payables and receivables on a spreadsheet to see where money is coming and going.
Ultimately, reaching your highest potential as a business owner and being able to serve your customers effectively depends on maintaining positive cash flow. Following the tips above may help keep your business financially strong and position your company for success.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
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