The Truth About JPMorgan’s $2+ Billion “Hedge”

58 | By Shah Gilani

Yesterday, Saturday morning, I was strolling by JPMorgan Chase’s Park Avenue office building in Manhattan. It was 11:40 am, and I was returning from a long walk from my midtown hotel down to Chelsea (it was definitely “a Chelsea morning” in NYC… thank you Joni Mitchell).

I hadn’t planned to walk by their office building; I didn’t even know where it was. But there I was, rounding 48th Street on Park Avenue, when I saw the JPM sign. I thought, how ironic, I’m in New York, appearing on FOX News yesterday talking about the debacle at JPM, and here I am serendipitously walking by their office building.

But it gets even better.

There was no one on the street, which is pretty unusual for New York. I was looking at the barricades in front of the building and imagining that they must have needed them on Friday, when the press and public must have been surrounding the building on news that the bank had just admitted losing $2 billion (actually it’s $2.3 billion and counting) on a hedge position.

I was thinking, poor CEO Jamie Dimon. And how ironic; he’s been publically deriding the Volcker Rule as being stupid and unnecessary, and now he’s the tempest in the teapot (which is what he called rumors about his London office’s rumored losses)…

When who else should get out of a shiny GMC chauffeured “black car” but Jamie Dimon.

Amazing freaky impossible as it was, I as just standing outside JPMorgan on Park yesterday, when out of his chauffeured black GMC ride steps Jamie Dimon in an untucked polo shirt and tennis shoes. I smiled at him and thought, “What are the chances of that happening?”

He was wearing a maroon-and-blue stripped polo shirt (untucked), blue jeans, white tennis shoes, and a long face. We were the only two people on the sidewalk, so needless to say, we made eye contact. I smiled at him and was so tempted to ask him sarcastically, “Jamie, why the long face?” But, of course, I didn’t. I simply smiled at him, and he looked through me, as if I wasn’t there, or was someone from the press who he wanted to make disappear.

I was really struck by this chance encounter. And I thought, what are the chances of that happening?

Then it hit me. Chances were pretty good. After all, where else would he be on this Saturday but going into the office to deal with the mess his bank was in?

And that’s when it really hit me. What were the chances that his bank would have lost more than $2 billion (and counting, did I say that earlier?) on a “hedge” position?

Oh, the irony of it all. Chances aren’t always just chances. Sometimes they are meant to be… because some things aren’t by chance; some things actually are what they are.

So, am I surprised that Jamie’s little bank lost $2.3 billion (and counting, did I say that?) on a hedge position? NO. It’s hubris come home to roost. Pride before the fall… and all that.

Here’s what you don’t know.

(And am I guessing here? Yes, but, not really guessing guessing. I kind of know, because I’ve kind of been there and done that. No, I’ve never lost $2 billion, or even $1 billion. But I did run the hedging operations for one of Britain’s largest banks… many moons ago. So, I know a little about what goes on at big banks.)

Trust me – that’s probably what the head trader told the risk department at JPM when he put on the Big Trade – the hedge position that the bank put on wasn’t a hedge at all. It was a bet designed to make money that was designed to look like a hedge. Which only was ever going to be called a “hedge” if they lost money on it. Otherwise, no one would have noticed that they made a ton of money on the position. It would have been buried in their financials as some income thing from something that was what they do that makes them oh so good at what they do. Did I say hubris?

Oh, I keep digressing. I’m sorry.

Here’s What Happened at JPMorgan

The idiots at the bank wanted to hedge against European credit exposure that they had.

They are idiots because the money that’s shepherded by the Chief Investment Office (some $379 billion, yeah, that number is right) is money that the bank has and hasn’t lent out, or technically is “available” to play with. And instead of parking it in U.S. government bonds (Citi has $293 billion of the same float and has 87% of it parked in “governments”), they parked a lot of it in Europe’s crappy credit markets.

Something about looking to pick up some yield, they’ll eventually come out and say. No, never mind, they’ll never admit that.

So, they get nervous and tell the CIO to hedge their European credit exposure.

That’s not stupid. What is stupid is that they put on a giant trade in an illiquid part of the markets (derivative spreads… it will come out, I’m sure. They were playing the spread between junkie credits and good credits) with, guess who? Hedge funds and a few banks.

Why is that stupid? Because here’s how trading really works.

If I know your position, and you have a huge position on, and I’m on the other side of it along with a bunch of my friends (after all, we’re all friends trying to make money on Muppets, and this time the bank itself was the Muppet puppet), I’m going to do what I have to do to get you to cry “uncle.”

I’m going to mess with your position.

I know what it is. I know it’s illiquid. I know I’m not going to let you out of it, because I’m on the other side of it and no one else wants to take your stupid, illiquid position off your hands.

Are you starting to get it?

The London Whale, Bruno Iksil, the head trader on this beauty of a trade, got into a position that he couldn’t get out of, and the boys on the other end played him like a patsy.

I’ve done that before. It’s fun… and very profitable.

JPM ain’t done losing money on this trade. I’m guessing that it’s going to cost them another billion or two to unwind this gem, maybe three. I am so laughing and so jealous that I’m not on the other side of their stupid trade.

This whole thing, the whole “chance” thing doesn’t have anything to do with chance. Things happen for a reason.

As far as JPM losing a few billion, it’s nickel and dime in the big picture of their earnings clout. Actually, I think the stock is close to a “buy” here. I’m thinking about taking on some JPM stock and adding to it, as it might drop another 10% to 20%.

But that’s just me. I like my chances.


58 Responses to The Truth About JPMorgan’s $2+ Billion “Hedge”

  1. Gul says:

    Unfortunately the adage, “The Bigger they the Harder they Fall” does not apply to JPM because of their political clout in Washington, D.C. (District of Corruption). They will come out of this unscathed and some will have his head on the chopping block and it will not be JD.

    • kev says:

      Yes, they have political connections, as do all corps, but when push comes to shove, their “friends” will not fall on their sword to protect them. The facts will dribble out, killing them slowly, but there will be more made public and JPM will become the symbol that dems will attack and repubs will run from. this stock won’t be a good buy until after the next election.

  2. Nigel says:

    Calling from London, just to say it’s a sunny day today, and it will get even sunnier when JP Morgan’s silver position plays out shortly. How could you contemplate buying JPM before the share price really goes into freefall??!!

  3. jrj90620 says:

    This looks like a major loss but compared to the size of this bank,it’s not a big deal.I was watching the Nightly Business Report and Bove(expert on banks) discussed the loss,still recommends the stock and estimates they will make $18 Billion this year.So,instead of earning $20 Billion they will only earn $18 Billion.Not a big deal,in my opinion.Everyone makes mistakes in investing and takes losses.Nothing new here.Move along.

  4. Bruce says:

    I like how our thinking has changed over the decades.

    We used to think in millions…then billions and now trillions when it comes to “big money”…so what’s a couple of billion here or there?

    …man, have times changed!

    • ed schmauder says:

      I certainly agree with you–it used to be millions on everything and now everything is billions.



    • gynnis says:

      Yes, Let’s not forget that they are short 100+ days of silver production. If that trade goes sour, life will get very interesting.

  6. Stephen says:

    Wonder if JP would take a billion dollar chance on me? Who am I? Oh Im a nobody but my potential is !!!!!!??????? Mmmmmm let me know will give you my acc details ……… 🙂

  7. Spartacusstoo says:

    Fun story and experiience I would say. That said, we must all doff our hats…moment of silence…and rmember all trades have two sides and of course one side always takes it in the shorts.

    That’s trading, so what then is the big deal?

    I think the big deal is that there is worry, big worry in the derivative hedging markets and this little fubar acts as a wake up call for all concerned as we all know the Euro cum US crisis has not only not as yet played out, but soon will with massive losses to be borne and of course the big banks are going to get hit…no avoiding it. So what this is is a political hot potato for both the FED and the white house. I will be waiting anxiously to see what kind of soap box drama FOX can make out of it.

    In the end and for the moment this is good comic strip stuff.

  8. bob paglee says:

    The real question is whose money was it thay lost (and may be continuing to lose) on this bad bet? Deposited money held in trust for a big union pension fund? Small deposits by widows and orphans? Dimon’s personal savings account?

  9. GIUGLIO says:


  10. spreadoption says:

    A big question is how much we taxpayers are threatened, or feel threatened, by this event as another TBTF scenario. To JPM it’s otherwise just another day at the office, albeit a rough one. In any case, Jamie knows that Washington has his back. But if the public does feel threatened enough to kick up a fuss, then we’ll get another sacrificial lamb, probably somebody with a French name we haven’t heard of yet. Goldman knows how to play this game; so does Jamie.

  11. Ray Southwell says:

    The issue is money.

    Money is a tool that should be used to increase our collective and individual productive power.

    Unfortunately, our culture loves money. We no longer care about true wealth of a nation, our productive power.

    It is only about making money. Banks produce nothing but understand how to make/create money, our perceived wealth.

  12. JimC says:

    Thank you Shah for the insight into trading warfare.
    I am retired now and like to look back on a happy, successful life.
    I never stepped on necks to get ahead and rather than fire anyone, I got my people promoted. I was always a muppett.
    I always saw the benefit in what I was doing and have always considered money earned at someone else’s expense to be dirty money.

  13. Glen Arthur Steer says:

    All that you have to say makes sense. The major difference between JPM and MF Global or anyone in Washington, DC is noted in the fact that Jamie Dimon is taking responsibility of the trading loss and is working over the weekend to make sure this remains an isolated incident.

    In business and in life people make mistakes. What typically happens, blame is re-directed and no one takes responsibility — this is not the case with JPM or Jamie Dimon. That is why the long face….. he is focused to resolve a problem that went wrong. That is why you are right that JPM is a buy. This is why I added to my JPM position on Friday and I will add to it again later next week. GS

  14. Ron says:

    You could write a book about what I don’t understand about high finance, but it doesn’t take a genius to realize something is seriously wrong when banks become more involved with complex paper shuffling, statistical analysis, algorithms, ultra-high speed computers, shady deals, and side bets than banking.

    Iceland dealt with it, something we are incapable of doing. Those banks who couldn’t keep their hands clean were nationalized, and their directors were imprisoned.

  15. Anony Mole says:

    More “panem et circenses”

    Something else must be happening in the financial world that is more systemic, insidious and corrupt than this petty problem the pirate Morgan has at the moment. Perhaps it’s to draw the eye from other manipulations, past and present, that the firm is into. Yes, silver comes to mind. But what else? The three Stooges, GS, JPM and MS are all in on cashing out on Fadebook. JPM continues to buy back billions of dollars worth of their own stock… Such a deal? Drive the price into the toilet and then gobble up as much as possible? Whatever it is, no one should trust whatever Dimon says, regardless of how ingratiating it sounds.

  16. Robert in Canada says:

    If US banks were forced to follow the same regulations as Canadian banks, JPM wouldn’t have lost all that money and the financial mess that US banks put the rest of the world into wouldn’t have happened.

    Canadian banks are forced to stay in the banking business and are not allowed to gamble and play games like US banks do.

    • Donald merritt says:

      What and stop all those politicians taking/getting “back handers”? NOTHING will change until they imprison those fiddling and on the “take” at the top and also able to change/bend laws.

    • Wavemaker says:

      “Canadian banks are forced to stay in the banking business and are not allowed to gamble and play games like US banks do.” But they can sell risky CHMC backed mortgages back to CHMC to prop up the asset side of the balance sheet at the Canadian taxpayer’s expense who is now exposed to $114 billion worth of risky questionable mortgages. Nice gig if you can get it.

    • Ed the Grocer says:

      I don’t think they can trade directly, but they can hold bonds as collateral and their investment houses certainly buy bonds and shares everywhere. They are also in the forex market as part of regular business An old story about six/eight years ago, one of the top brass at CIBC stated how easy it was to invest in China and how hard it was to get your money out again. It is always about how much risk you can take and is there someone you can blame.

    • Larry says:

      “Canadian banks are forced to stay in the banking business and are not allowed to gamble and play games like US banks do.”

      Isn’t THAT the reason the rules were put in-place (in the USA) so long ago to prevent ‘banks’ from gambling with their depositors’ money? So much for the Bush admin’s argument for ‘deregulation’ of the finance industry and “A rising tide lifts ALL boats”.

      What’s that sound? Nero on the fiddle? Well, at least the monuments survive – saw them in ‘Logan’s Run’.

  17. Joe says:

    Billions to play investment games with and nearly nothing lent to something constructive. All I want for Christmas is my own fractional reserve bank.

  18. Gordon Shumway says:

    As long as We The Sheeple allow the structural corruption that is the Federal Reserve to continue, the Banksters will go right on privatizing their profits (to them) and socializing their losses (to us). A President cannot remake the system by himself, but his influence should permeate it from the top down. There is only ONE candidate with the moral fiber, an understanding of Austrian economics, and the energy to do this, and it ain’t Romney or another Bush. I speak, of course, of Ron Paul.

  19. Wayne says:

    Shah, this is just another example of why we need to reinstate the protective provisions of the Glass-Steagall Act and break up the big banks. When banks get so big that we (the taxpayer) have to bail them out for their stupid (or fraudulent) mistakes it is time to consider them a threat to the American public. I don’t know, and haven’t read whether JPM was using their money of depositor money to make these stupid trades. At any rate, if they continue to make these kinds of mistakes, you can bet at sometime soon they will come crying to the Congress for more bailouts.

    This should be a wake up call for Congress to do something to protect bank depositors from the stupidity of bank executives who are overpaid and not near as smart as they want us to believe. And in the wake of JPM’s gamble Congress may move to pass some legislation that is written by the bankers to circumvent any meaningful restrictions on gambling with depositor money. They make light of the fact that they lost 2.3 billion and counting (probably 4-5 billion when totaled), but that just shows the cavalier attitude they have toward depositor monies or shareholder monies. Will Congress still sit on it’s hands and allow the “Too Big to Fail” banks to continue to put the U.S. economy at risk?

    • RUSS SMITH says:

      Hey!, Wayne:

      Congress is well aware already and the term that’s used by these BIG BOYS in taking advantage of OUR money as collaterial is called intermedition” with several levels of operation based on multiples of leverage with the largest risks originating out of England @ like 100: 1. Many decades ago Dr. Frantz Pick, who is now deceased was once the world’s most renowned currency expert, in his book, The Triumph Of Gold, stated that the biggest business in America is corruption and he called US Treasury bonds due to inflation certificates of guaranteed confiscation. Our present investment world has made it very difficult if not impossible for us to remamin consistantly risk averse hasn’t it?
      I own gold shares & specifically instructed my broker to protect me from intermediation including offering to allow anyone to short my company using my shares as a backstop; while my brokerage would earn around 6% interest from the leasing of my shares to undermine my own share price. Business as they say is business! Please take note of this cumbersome misallocation of communication easily missed, unless we read every jot & tittle of our entire brokerage account forms before signing over permission for them to act accordingly without prior notification disclsoures with us. Risk today is everywhere and it is immenent, unless we structure our defenses accordingly with major due dilligence that aims to protect us in all directions.
      Good Luck To All:


  20. Jeff Eder says:

    To Robert in Canada from Jeff in Canada and anyone else interested;

    The official story in Canada differs from what actually occurred during the crisis from 2008 to 2010 three of Canada’s banks — CIBC, BMO, and Scotiabank — were at some point completely under water, with government support exceeding the value of the company. In March 2009, CIBC stood out for receiving support worth almost one and a half times the value of all outstanding shares.

    This is what our government was telling us during the crisis;
    “…we have not had to put any taxpayers’ money into our financial system in Canada, nor do I anticipate that we’ll be obliged to do so.”
    —Jim Flaherty, Minister of Finance

    “Without wanting to appear arrogant or vain, which would be quite un-Canadian…while our system is not perfect, it has worked during this difficult time, I don’t want the government to be in the banking business in Canada.”
    —Jim Flaherty, Minister of Finance

    “It is true, we have the only banks in the western world that are not looking at bailouts or anything like that…and we haven’t got any TARP money.”
    —Stephen Harper, Prime Minister

    The official story of the 2008 financial crisis goes like this: American and international banks got caught placing bad bets on U.S. mortgages and had to be bailed out. But not in Canada. Through the financial crisis, Canadian banks were touted by the federal government and the banks themselves as being much more stable than other countries’ big banks. Canadian banks, we were assured, needed no such bailout.
    However, in contrast to the official story Canada’s banks received $114 billion in cash and loan support between September 2008 and August 2010. They were double-dipping in not only two but three separate support programs, one of them American. They continued receiving this support for a protracted period while at the same time reaping considerable profits and providing raises to their CEOs, who were already among Canada’s highest paid.
    In fact, several banks drew government support whose value exceeded the bank’s actual value. Canadian banks were in hot water during the crisis and the Canadian government has remained resolutely secretive about the details.
    There is a report that examines the nature and extent of government support to Canada’s big banks, estimated on the basis of partial information provided by Canada’s public institutions, and an analysis of the banks’ own financial reports. It shows which Canadian banks drew on government support programs, how much they drew, and for how long. It sheds light on information the government refuses to make publicly available and raises plenty of new questions in the process.

    Please read the report by The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

    • Ed the Grocer says:

      Two questions
      Were our banks seriously buried in European CDS business and was the very quiet bailouts/backings a result of nobody wanting to speak out loud and create even more panic while we waited for the CDS to kick in.
      I have the impression that it was Chretien that started the move towards large amounts of debt?

  21. RUSS SMITH says:

    Hi!, Patrons Of Wall Street Insights & Indictments Et Al:

    Many decades ago the Elder J. P. Morgan appealed to OUR US Congress with this interceeding assertion, when he said: “Only gold is money; all else is debt!” Enough said?


  22. Kevin Donnelly says:

    Goldman Sacs and JPMorgan were reputed to be on the hook for $6B to $8B
    on the Greek debt debacle.What was that outcome.

  23. Phil Steinschneider says:

    The US was the first country to establish an official deposit insurance scheme in 1933.

    That was a response to what event?

    The First Great Depression, of course.

    And what’s one of the things that caused the Second Great Depression?

    Depositors insurance was used as gambling insurance (among a lot of other things, of course).

    All we need to do is eliminate FDIC insurance on all deposits. In that way, people would start paying attention to where they deposit their money. Or, deposit insurance should be provided by private entities and not the government.

    Why don’t we let the free market work?

    If Glass-Steagall had never been instituted in 1933 and then repealed in 1999, I seriously doubt the derivatives we have today would exist in their current form—if at all.

    Reinstating Glass-Steagall just allows it to be repealed again down the road. Who wants to have that on their conscience?

  24. Jeff Eder says:

    To Robert of Canada

    In “To Big to Fail” by Andrew Ross Sorkin on page 447 he refers to the Royal Bank of Canada buying insurance against Morgan Stanley’s going under. Even to this day our Banks are still trading in derivatives and involved in other risky financial enterprises.
    One of the posters mentioned the glass-steagall act which was basically designed to separate investment banks (higher risk to depositors) from the commercial banks (less risky to depositors). One thing important to understand is that the bailout money is created out of nothing (Entries into a database) by lenders of last resort (e.g. U.S. The Federal Reserve), which continues to inflate the American Dollar, which our Canadian Dollar is so intrinsically linked.

    Jeff from Canada

  25. conn says:

    That was not a GMC he got out of but Americas Rolls Royce ,A CADILLAC , a tiny 2 billion loss maybe his next car will be a GMC.

  26. Sparky Santos says:

    If JPM, or any of its greed-driven, over-leveraged, mismanaged, and too-big-to-fail peers, make money, they boast about their performances and base their absurd bonuses on same. And if they lose their shirts taking ridiculous risks – essentially gambling – they get bailed out.

    How many times does this have to happen before the average Joe understands this despicable but nonetheless cast-in-concrete business model?!

    But hey, with an ounce of luck here, perhaps Jamie Dimon will be the proverbial Fall Guy the Obama Administration will honor with some widely-publicized pre-election prosecution.

    Stay Tuned …

  27. John R Huttner says:

    I do not envy the folks that have to sort this out .Nationalizing is too good for them. Sometimes I think we need to be more like our Asian neighbors…. you know prison or the firing squad for serious offenders.LOL

  28. Maverick says:

    Seems to be some common sense missing here:

    Banks are in the business to lend money, not risk it in fancy, derivitive/arbritrage trades…..

    How mnany individualt are trying to re-fi (or get a 1 mortgage on their home) yet here we have a classic case of ‘ignoring ‘the little guy’ at the expense of a ‘humongous loss’ with more probably coming………Fire all these bozos!!!

  29. Helmut says:

    I have the same question as Hans – speculation is a zero game, what is lost by one must be won by another. With your contacts, Shah, can you find out who is squeezing JPM into the corner? I would be surprised if Goldman’s weren’t in that pack. Jamie must be dying for pay-back, if he gets the chance. This is better than watching wrestling.

  30. Robert Flanders says:

    Banks should be boring repositories of hard-earned cash, and not speculators
    in the financial markets.

    Or as a good banker at Northern Trust told me years ago, “You put your money in our bank, and you TRUST you’ll get it back”.

    Leave the speculation to Goldman and Lehman, er, that’s right, Lehman’s gone now.

    This is another outrageous example of hubris at the large banks.

    Where oh where are the feds?

  31. derek williams says:

    This is just another reason why our IRS continues to gain the power to cage the ‘little guys.’ If we’re busy fearing them taking our hard earned cash. there’s no time for us keep our eyes on the bigger problem “Pirates of Wall Street.”

  32. Dan says:

    Is it possible the loss of a corporation is paid by the shareholders/taxpayers eventually but is gained by some individuals related to the corporation?

  33. Alejandro F. Merigo R. says:

    Gain a few and loose a few more, that’s the name of the game, give and take the punch. But when its done on a deliberate scale of miss use of funds, somebody will have to pay, and that’s called white collor crime and punishable by law.
    No wonder they are under full investigation. But their is a full story in the works, or has memory already blurred the crisis in 2008/2009? and still the markets suffering from it and beyond the US of A.
    Just look at the mess the spanish are in, 20 times more grave than Greece due to their “private debt” and miss management by many local companies and their “supreme” banks, such as Santander and BBVA’s, loosing their underpants in the process. That has to hurt badly to anyone and however high they may feel. We the underdogs pay out and loose, they come out the winners….! Where is justice?

  34. Brian Riordan says:

    I imagine that Ted Butler and Ed Steer will be smiling and laughing along with you. They’re probably jealous that they didn’t get to be there with you Saturday morning to see Jamie Dimon scramble into the office to put out his fires.

  35. SimonP says:

    What I want to know is, whose money did they lose?
    And what right did they have to play risky games with it?

  36. Kell Petersen says:

    Wise-fools and wise-psychopaths playing poker creating nothing other than lining theirs pockets and causing misery for others. Make no mistake either Government start to meets its intervening task in a mixed economy or sanitizes the financial sector to what banks task are in a mixed economy. Otherwise the wise-fools and wise-psychopaths in Central Banks and financial sector, will destroy the political economic model of western democracies. The underlying problem of course is ignorant and complacent voters accepting government failure thus the hodgepodge. For instance the countries in Europe that joined the Euro model without prior political and fiscal integration –as any oxymoron set up to fail. Why not continue the march of stupid and lead of Robert Mundell at Columbia let’s make a monetary NAFTA union between Canada, United Sates and Mexico. I am sure that would render another Nobel Price from the Swedish Central Bank –“stupid is as stupid does ” Copenhagen May 14, 2012. Kell Petersen

  37. EndTheIllusion says:

    I do not believe that the “rogue trader” is the cause of the losses for JP Morgan Chase. We keep hearing this “rogue trader” story over and over again and something smells fishy here.

    My take on this is that the “London Whale” is simply a diversion for the masses. The real losses here are the result of the the fact that the International Swaps and Derivatives Association, ISDA had to declare that Greece actually had defaulted. (The ISDA had no choice because if they did not declare it a default, then there would be no reason for anyone to ever purchase another Credit Default Swap.)

    So, since JP Morgan Chase has been identified by the Comptroller of the Currency as as one of the 5 banks holding 95% of the industry’s exposure to derivative contracts for a total of $30,000 BILLION, JP Morgan now had to pay on these contracts and that is why they are suffering from these huge losses.

    • Mario says:

      To EndTheIllusion
      Congratulations buddy! From all my heart! Sicerelly, no kidding.
      Among all this stupid bar talking, trying to guess what’a Hell went wrong there in the cave of James the Pirate Morgan, your explanation was the shortest, the most crystal clear and the most logical.
      You outdid even Shah ( who is still guessing )….
      Congratulations again!

  38. ricky says:

    What I wonder is what short bets JPM placed before loudly and conveniently announcing their 2 Billion losses, in an effort to recoup some of them in the ensuing 2-3 day market sell-off. Good time to short the S&P e-mini futures…thats for sure, and the entire banking sector ETF’s. And to top it off, Jamie comes out looking strong the way he dealt with it….priceless.

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