Euro zone price discounting drives growth in activity

By Jonathan Cable

LONDON (Reuters) – Price discounting drove growth in all of the euro zone’s major economies in March, helping business activity increase at its fastest rate for nearly a year, a survey showed on Tuesday.

New orders came in at their fastest rate since May 2011 and the survey found that companies have now been cutting prices for three years, although not as sharply in March as before.

Nevertheless, the Markit survey provided some welcome news for the European Central Bank (ECB) just weeks after it embarked on a trillion-euro asset-purchase program.

The private sector in Germany, Europe’s largest economy, grew at its fastest pace in eight months and although it also increased in France, the pace of expansion slowed.

Italy’s service industry returned to growth, fuelling hopes of an economic recovery there after years of on-off recession, and Spain’s expanded at its fastest pace since August.

“France is lagging behind a little bit but the others are doing pretty well. It just shows that quantitative easing was working even before the ECB bought a single bond,” Soctiabank’s Alan Clarke said.

“It’s vindicating the ECB for what it is doing.”

Official data showed euro zone consumer prices fell again in March as expected but that the decline was the smallest this year. Industrial producer prices declined by less than expected in February from a year earlier.

“Encouragingly for the ECB, there was further evidence in the services survey that deflationary tendencies are easing in the euro zone,” IHS Global Insight’s Howard Archer said.

Markit’s final March Composite Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI), seen as a good indicator of growth, stood at 54.0, a touch below the preliminary estimate of 54.1 but well ahead of February’s 53.3. A reading above 50 implies growth.

The financial information firm said the PMIs pointed to first quarter growth of 0.3 percent, slightly less than the 0.4 percent predicted in a Reuters poll taken last month. [ECILT/EU]

Price-cutting also helped drive up service industry activity at its fastest pace in eight months. The March services PMI rose to 54.2 from 53.7, just below the flash 54.3 estimate.

With recovery gathering steam and confidence growing because of the ECB’s QE program, service companies were at their most optimistic since May 2011. The business expectations sub-index came in at 64.8 compared with February’s 64.1.

Sentix research group’s index tracking morale among investors and analysts in the euro zone climbed to its highest level since August 2007 this month as they took heart from the European Central Bank’s bond-buying program.

(Editing by Louise Ireland)

Surprise! Euro shows signs of life vs. U.S. dollar

The euro is making a comeback, surprising trash-talking traders who had been predicting it would soon hit parity with the U.S. dollar.

It traded as high as $ 1.10 Tuesday, bouncing back from a 12-year low of $ 1.05 last week.

The euro’s mini-surge is due almost entirely to Europe’s economy finding its heartbeat again after the eurozone barely dodged a recession last year.

“Signs of improvement in the European economy and the weight of money flooding into European equity markets … has triggered a savage correction,” explained strategist Kit Juckes from Societe Generale. “Many of the euro short-sellers are running for cover.”

Fresh data from Markit on Tuesday showed that business activity in the eurozone grew by the most in nearly four years in February. The euro moved higher immediately after the release.

Related: China’s factories slump amid growth concerns

Traders have been betting against the euro and buying the dollar for the last few months based on a combination of three factors that “are clear, and almost universally embraced,” according to Juckes.

1. Expectations for further improvement in the U.S. economy.

2. Expectations for an upcoming rate hike from the U.S. Federal Reserve.

3. Expectations that the European Central Bank’s money-printing program will severely devalue the euro.

But now expectations are shifting a bit — or, at least — hitting a pause.

Investors are widely forecasting that the Fed’s rate hike plans will move at a tortoise’s pace instead of hare-style speed, said Juckes. This is slowing the strong dollar rally.

Related: Europe is on sale for American travelers

Chief economist Simon Smith from FxPro also points out that foreign exchange traders are now coming to terms with the limitations of the ECB’s stimulus program, which is scheduled to wrap up at the end of September 2016.

“The initial euphoria surrounding [the ECB’s stimulus program] in the eurozone has died down,” he said.

Related: Japanese stocks are one fire

But don’t expect this euro rally to continue indefinitely. This should be viewed as a market correction.

Many expect the U.S. dollar and euro will eventually hit parity over the long run, possibly by the end of the year.

View this article on CNNMoney

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Expat rates: fixed savings suffer from base rate doldrums

Banks have been cutting the rates on their euro-denominated accounts

Base rate is now in its seventh year at 0.5pc and shows no sign of rising, making life as difficult as ever for savers.

But at least they can stop worrying that base rate has further to fall. Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, said last week that it would be “extremely foolish” for the bank to cut rates further to try to combat low inflation caused by the fall in oil prices.

However, there is still no sight of a rise in base rate this year experts are pencilling one in for 2016 at the earliest.

As a result, some expat fixed savings rates have dropped. Permanent International ( permanent-bank.com ) has cut rates on its one-, two-, three- and five-year fixed rates as well as reducing rates on its less than one-year deals, but only for euro-denominated accounts. It has also launched new issues of its 15-month and 18-month fixed deals, but at lower rates than before.

The biggest cuts at Permanent affect its two-, three- and five-year fixed rates. It was paying 2.03pc fixed for two years but is now paying 1.69pc. For three years, before March 16 Permanent was paying 2.06pc but for new savers now the rate is 1.67pc. And for five years, Permanent was paying 2.11pc: now the rate is 1.64pc.

Permanent’s euro-denominated fixed rates have all been cut; they now go from 0.2pc fixed for three months on a minimum £100,000 (previously 0.4pc) to 0.79pc fixed for five years (before it was 1.17pc) on £20,000 plus.

The new issues of its 15-month and 18-month fixed deals are 1.6pc and 1.7pc respectively the previous issues paid 1.7pc and 1.85pc.

Santander both its Isle of Man branch ( santander.co.im ) and its Channel Islands-based private bank ( santanderpb.je ) has cut rates on its one- and two-year fixed rates and has withdrawn its three-year fixed rate deal.

Santander was offering 1.1-1.2pc as a one year fixed rate and now is paying 1-1.1pc. The two-year rate was 1.4-1.5pc and is now 1.25-1.35pc. The three-year deal, yet to be replaced, was 1.75-1.8pc. For both deals, the lower rate is paid on £500-£199,999 with Santander’s Isle of Man branch and £50,000-£199,000 with the private bank.

Even after the cuts, the two-year Santander deals are competitive although beaten by the reduced Permanent two-year fixed deal at 1.69pc. The Santander one-year deal of 1-1.1pc is beaten by at least three other providers with the top rate 1.45pc offered by Nationwide International ( nationwideinternational.com ).

These changes make the recently-launched three-year fixed rate of 2.2pc from Skipton International not five years, as mistakenly stated in the previous Expat Rates column look particularly good for those wanting certainty for a longer time period ( skiptoninternational.com ).

Even if base rate starts to go up next year, it is unlikely to climb dramatically, so it is reasonable to expect the Skipton deal to remain competitive in the future.

No early access to the money in the bond is allowed, so do not put your money in unless you will not need to get at it earlier.

• Britannia International has now completed its closure procedure. Last year the Isle of Man based bank announced it was to shut as its parent bank, Co-operative, decided to concentrate on its home market by closing it.

It has now written to the few remaining customers who have not moved their money away telling them their accounts have been closed.

Any remaining balances have been moved into a segregated account scheme, which will become effective on March 17. If you do have money that is now being moved into the segregated account, you need to contact the scheme administrator, Appleby Trust (Isle of Man) Limited, 33-37 Athol Street, Douglas, Isle of Man IM1 1LB.

GLOBAL MARKETS-Greek pledge and cautious Fed soothe investors

* Euro set for best week in over two years

* U.S. stocks set to open higher on weakening dollar

* Brent set to rack up third weekly price drop

* Greek yields fall after Athens’ assurances (Updates prices, adds U.S. stocks)

By John Geddie

LONDON, March 20 (Reuters) – The euro headed for its best week in more than two years on Friday while yields on low-rated bonds fell as investors welcomed the Fed’s caution on rate hikes and a reform pledge from Athens that could avert a cash crunch.

Illustrating the problems low inflation is causing for central banks looking to normalise monetary policy in countries such as the United States and Britain, oil was set to rack up its third consecutive weekly price slump.

Futures showed Wall Street set to open 0.3 percent higher, with stocks on course for their best week in a month, as a Fed-induced weakening of the dollar gave a boost to U.S. exporters.

European shares edged up while euro zone bond yields fell after assurances from Athens that it will submit reforms needed to unlock bailout cash. The ECB’s trillion euro asset purchase scheme was also in focus at the end of its second week.

“The outlook for European markets is better than it has been for years, and the risks now are largely political,” said Christian Schultz, senior economist at Berenberg.

Greek bond yields dropped 45 basis points to 12.10 percent, while Portuguese, Spanish and Italian equivalents were all down around 1-2 bps. German bonds — the euro zone benchmark — were flat at 0.19 percent, just above a record low.

The euro was 0.5 percent higher against the dollar at $ 1.0712, well below Wednesday’s high above $ 1.10 but leaving the single currency on track for its best week since January 2013.

“What’s been dominating the euro over the course of the last week has been the moves in the dollar. The FOMC announcement was, on margin, more dovish than expected,” said Phyllis Papadavid, senior global FX strategist at BNP Paribas in London.

The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 share index was up 0.3 percent at 1.601.42 points, having hit a new 7-1/2 year high just after markets opened.

The impetus gained from Wednesday’s dovish statement from the U.S. Federal Reserve has begun to ease, but European indices were supported by gains in the construction sector after Holcim and Lafarge agreed to new merger terms.

Asian stocks were broadly unchanged, with MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan up 0.05 percent after rallying 1.3 percent the previous day. It was on course for a gain of over 2 percent for the week.

The region’s decliners included shares in Hong Kong, Malaysia, South Korea and Thailand. Australian and Chinese stocks were among the gainers in a choppy session.

The dollar index was down 0.5 percent at 98.72 but still well above a low of 96.628 plumbed midweek. The index was on track for slight loss on the week after touching a 12-year high above 100.00 on March 13.

The dollar saw its biggest fall in six years against the euro on Wednesday, after the Fed’s dovish statement.

In commodities, Brent crude oil was down 1.3 percent at $ 53.69 a barrel, hurt by oversupply worries after Kuwait said OPEC had no choice but to maintain output levels.

U.S. crude was down around 0.5 percent, just above the six-year low of $ 42.03 a barrel hit earlier in the week.

(Editing by Catherine Evans)

Greek pledge and cautious Fed soothe investors

By John Geddie

LONDON (Reuters) – The euro headed for its best week in more than two years on Friday while yields on low-rated bonds fell as investors welcomed the Fed’s caution on rate hikes and a reform pledge from Athens that could avert a cash crunch.

Illustrating the problems low inflation is causing for central banks looking to normalise monetary policy in countries such as the United States and Britain, oil was set to rack up its third consecutive weekly price slump. [O/R]

Futures showed Wall Street set to open 0.3 percent higher, with stocks on course for their best week in a month, as a Fed-induced weakening of the dollar gave a boost to U.S. exporters.

European shares edged up while euro zone bond yields fell after assurances from Athens that it will submit reforms needed to unlock bailout cash. The ECB’s trillion euro asset purchase scheme was also in focus at the end of its second week.

“The outlook for European markets is better than it has been for years, and the risks now are largely political,” said Christian Schultz, senior economist at Berenberg.

Greek bond yields dropped 45 basis points to 12.10 percent, while Portuguese, Spanish and Italian equivalents were all down around 1-2 bps. German bonds — the euro zone benchmark — were flat at 0.19 percent, just above a record low.

The euro was 0.5 percent higher against the dollar at $ 1.0712 , well below Wednesday’s high above $ 1.10 but leaving the single currency on track for its best week since January 2013.

“What’s been dominating the euro over the course of the last week has been the moves in the dollar. The FOMC announcement was, on margin, more dovish than expected,” said Phyllis Papadavid, senior global FX strategist at BNP Paribas in London.

The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 share index was up 0.3 percent at 1.601.42 points, having hit a new 7-1/2 year high just after markets opened.

The impetus gained from Wednesday’s dovish statement from the U.S. Federal Reserve has begun to ease, but European indices were supported by gains in the construction sector after Holcim and Lafarge agreed to new merger terms.

Asian stocks were broadly unchanged, with MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan <.MIAPJ0000PUS> up 0.05 percent after rallying 1.3 percent the previous day. It was on course for a gain of over 2 percent for the week.

The region’s decliners included shares in Hong Kong, Malaysia, South Korea and Thailand. Australian and Chinese stocks were among the gainers in a choppy session.

The dollar index was down 0.5 percent at 98.72 <.DXY> but still well above a low of 96.628 plumbed midweek. The index was on track for slight loss on the week after touching a 12-year high above 100.00 on March 13.

The dollar saw its biggest fall in six years against the euro on Wednesday, after the Fed’s dovish statement.

In commodities, Brent crude oil was down 1.3 percent at $ 53.69 a barrel , hurt by oversupply worries after Kuwait said OPEC had no choice but to maintain output levels.

U.S. crude was down around 0.5 percent, just above the six-year low of $ 42.03 a barrel hit earlier in the week.

(Editing by Catherine Evans)

Despite rally, trend toward weaker euro: Gartman

Read MoreDollar hammered amid Fed; euro at $ 1.10

In fact, in his newsletter Wednesday morning before the Fed’s statement, Gartman said if the euro got to $ 1.0875-$ 1.0925, he’d start thinking about selling.

The euro surged above $ 1.10 after the statement. The common currency’s one-day gain against the dollar was its largest since March 2009. It had dropped below $ 1.05 for the first time in 12 years earlier this month.

Gartman called the swift moves “amazing.”

“I’ve been trading foreign exchange for 45 years, and other than the …weekend after the Plaza Accord, I cannot recall a day when we saw that many big figures go flying by.”

The 1985 Plaza Accord was an agreement between the G-5 nations to depreciate the U.S. dollar against the German mark and the Japanese yen.

Read MoreDovish Fed whipsaws markets

—Reuters contributed to this story.

Euro/dollar shock forces rethink across world markets

* Scale of market shock is “hard to fathom”

* Some now forecast euro will slide below dollar parity

* Funds flood into European stocks

* U.S. firms exploit low yields to borrow in Europe

* U.S. M&A flows into Europe highest since 1970s

By Jamie McGeever

LONDON, March 11 (Reuters) – The euro’s accelerating slide towards parity with the dollar and beyond has caught investors and multi-national firms off guard, forcing scrambled revisions of long-range forecasts and a major strategic rethink across global markets.

The euro/dollar rate, which channels almost a quarter of the$ 5 trillion that flows daily through world currency markets, has been falling steadily for months, as markets factored in the European Central Bank’s 1 trillion euro stimulus plan which finally began this week.

This has coincided with the slide on energy markets. “It is hard to fathom the scale of shock being inflicted in slow-motion on global markets currently,” Gerry Fowler, head of global equities and derivatives strategy at BNP Paribas. “Twenty-five percent currency weakening and a 50 percent decline in oil prices in the space of seven months might be unprecedented.”

While the euro’s fall began in slow motion, its gathering speed this month has led to sharp swings across most asset classes while investors reconsider how capital flows across borders will pan out.

Only a week ago, Reuters polls showed a consensus among more than 60 currency strategists that the euro would appreciate to $ 1.12 in a month and then to ebb to $ 1.08 in a year.

Yet on Wednesday, the euro fell to $ 1.0560, its lowest in 12 years. Losses of more than 12 percent so far this year put it on track for its biggest ever quarterly loss.

Deutsche Bank said on Tuesday it now expects the euro to fall as low as $ 0.90 next year and $ 0.85 in 2017.

Conversely, the dollar index, a measure of the greenback’s value against six major currencies, is up 10 percent so far this year as the U.S. Federal Reserve gears up for its first interest rate increase in nine years, just as the ECB is easing by printing money to buy euro zone bonds.

This would mark the dollar’s best quarter since 1992 and fourth best since the Bretton Woods system of fixed exchange rates was abolished in the early 1970s.

The yawning long-term interest rate and yield gap opening up between Europe and the United States has been the driving force. All German government bond yields out to seven years’ maturity are negative and, remarkably, it costs Germany less to borrow for 30 years than the U.S. Treasury for two years.

Thirty-year U.S. government bonds are now yielding over 200 basis points more than German equivalents for the first time, more than twice the premium just a year ago.

“There are not many places for investors to hide,” said Nikolaos Panigirtzoglou, managing director of global asset allocation at JP Morgan in London. “If high return is your objective, you need to take equity risk.”

EURO FLOW

The weak euro makes euro zone equities comparatively more attractive than U.S. stocks, initially by making them cheaper in dollar terms. Thereafter, investors hope European companies will outperform thanks to a more advantageous exchange rate for exporters outside the region, a trend that should become entrenched if the ECB’s stimulus has the desired effect of reviving growth and inflation.

The effects are already being felt. The S&P 500’s 1.7 percent slide on Tuesday pulled the index into the red for the year while the EuroStoxx 50 index of leading euro zone shares is up 15 percent on the year.

Inflows into European equities since mid-January have been a sizable $ 27 billion. But outflows in the second half of last year were $ 48 billion, suggesting the $ 21 billion gap means there is still “notable” potential for further inflows, according to Barclays.

A rising dollar eats into the overseas earnings of U.S. companies and makes U.S. exports more expensive on global markets. Even the White House has waded in, with Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Jason Furman saying on Tuesday that the surging dollar is a headwind for U.S. growth.

The evaporation of euro debt yields thanks to the ECB’s bond purchases, on top of the currency moves, is also encouraging a flood of U.S. firms to raise funds in euros instead of dollars.

So far this year U.S. corporate debt issued in euros has totalled 33.9 billion euros, according to Thomson Reuters data. That’s more than three times the 9.8 billion from the same period last year and the highest since the same period in 2007.

This trend could continue if the Fed raises rates. “It is highly possible that you could see more U.S. companies coming to Europe to issue debt simply because of the way interest rates are getting lower over here,” said Dennis Jose, director of global and European equity strategy at Barclays in London.

U.S. companies are also the engine of the biggest surge in merger and acquisition (M&A) flows into Europe since the 1970s.

These have totalled $ 73.4 billion this year, according to Thomson Reuters data, the highest year-to-date figure since records began in the 1970s. U.S. companies account for almost 40 percent of this that, more than doubling in value from last year to $ 27.9 billion.

(Reporting by Jamie McGeever, additional reporting by Lionel Laurent and Mike Dolan; editing by David Stamp)

FOREX-Dollar rallies to multiyear peaks vs euro, yen as cenbank moves eyed

* Euro falls below $ 1.07 for first time in nearly 12 years

* Dollar hits nearly 8-year peak against yen

* Expectations of mid-year Fed rate hike support dollar

* ECB QE program sends European yields, euro lower

* Greek concerns begin to return for euro (Recasts; adds comments, updates prices)

By Sam Forgione

NEW YORK, March 10 (Reuters) – The U.S. dollar hit a near 12-year peak against the euro and touched its highest level against the Japanese yen in nearly eight years on Tuesday, buoyed by the European Central Bank’s bond-buying program as well as expectations for a mid-year Federal Reserve rate hike.

The dollar index, which measures the greenback against a basket of major currencies, hit its highest since September 2003, while the euro fell as low as $ 1.06925, a level last reached in April 2003. The euro also hit 129.480 yen , its lowest since August 2013.

“The U.S. numbers seem to be supporting the Fed raising rates in 2015,” said Douglas Borthwick, managing director at Chapdelaine Foreign Exchange in New York, referring to recent U.S. economic data. He said last Friday’s strong U.S. jobs report for February was the “nail in the coffin” for the Fed hiking this year.

The launch of the European Central Bank’s quantitative easing operation on Monday drove European yields lower and weakened the euro. A research note from Deutsche Bank on Tuesday forecast that the euro would hit parity with the dollar by year-end, 90 U.S. cents by 2016 and 85 cents by 2017.

Against the yen, the dollar hit 122.040 yen – its strongest level since July 2007. The greenback also hit parity with the Swiss franc for the first time since the Swiss National Bank scrapped a 1.20 francs per euro cap on Jan. 15.

In emerging markets, the dollar hit 15.6452 pesos, its highest against the Mexican peso since at least 1989, and its highest in nearly 11 years against the Brazilian real at 3.1722 reais.

“What looked good with the Fed at zero rates doesn’t look good when the Fed starts tightening,” said Win Thin, currency strategist at Brown Brothers Harriman in New York, in reference to higher-risk emerging market currencies.

Renewed concerns about Greece’s finances also weighed on the euro. The dollar briefly pared gains after Bloomberg reported on Twitter that White House Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Jason Furman said the surging dollar is a headwind for U.S. growth.

The euro was last trading down 1.42 percent against the dollar at $ 1.0700. The dollar was mostly flat against the yen at 121.135 yen and last up 1.32 percent against the Swiss franc at 0.99895 franc.

The dollar index was last up 1.03 percent at 98.589.

(Reporting by Sam Forgione; Additional reporting by Anirban Nag in London; editing by Meredith Mazzilli, G Crosse and Richard Chang)

Spanish Price Plunge Echoes Across Euro Area

(Bloomberg) — Consumer prices from Germany to Italy and Spain signaled an easing of deflation risks in the euro area as the European Central Bank prepares to unleash quantitative easing.

In Italy, inflation was 0.1 percent this month, better than the minus 0.3 percent rate forecast by economists in a Bloomberg News survey. Data from four German states before national data later on Friday also showed improvement, while Spanish prices fell less than estimated.

Plunging oil costs have damped inflation across the globe, including in the U.S. and the euro area, where consumer prices fell 0.6 percent in January. While the latest data, along with an increase in oil from its recent low, may indicate the worst of the inflation slump is passing, the euro-region economy remains weak and lumbered with high unemployment.

More from Bloomberg.com: German Bunds Fall on Inflation Data; Euro Gains With Oil

“A bit better does not mean good,” said Ralph Solveen, head of economic research at Commerzbank AG in Frankfurt. “Unemployment will barely fall in many member states; output will not reach pre-crisis levels for another two to three years and much stronger inflation is not in sight.”

Prices in Germany fell 0.5 percent, according to the median forecast of economists in a Bloomberg survey. The data from the four states published earlier on Friday suggest the rate may be less negative.

More from Bloomberg.com: Why Department Store Sales Are Falling Off a Cliff

Spanish prices fell 1.2 percent from a year earlier after a 1.5 percent decline in January, which was the biggest since 1997. The Italian reading was the first above zero in three months.

Inflation Projections

The numbers will be closely watched ahead of euro-wide data due Monday that’s forecast to show prices in the 19-nation economy falling on an annual basis for a third month. Three days later, Draghi will unveil the ECB’s new inflation and growth projections, as well as provide more details on its large-scale asset-purchase program.

The ECB’s concern is the risk that consumers postpone spending in anticipation of declining prices. That’s what prompted the ECB to pledge in January to spend at least 1.1 trillion euros ($ 1.2 trillion) to avert a deflationary spiral.

More from Bloomberg.com: Italian Spread Shows Risk Premium Vanishing in Euro Area’s Bonds

“In an environment of weak economic recovery and subdued money and credit developments, risks were increasing that falling inflation expectations would feed back into weakening actual inflation,” Draghi told European lawmakers on Wednesday. “A more forceful monetary-policy response became necessary.”

Price Expectations

Economists in Bloomberg’s monthly poll forecast euro-area consumer prices will fall 0.5 percent this quarter and 0.1 percent for the year. That compares with the ECB’s inflation goal of just below 2 percent.

“The ECB has put a floor on inflation expectations with QE,” said Marco Valli, chief euro-area economist at UniCredit SpA in Milan. “But the pressure will remain on the central bank as long as inflation doesn’t move closer to the target. And that won’t happen this year.”

When the ECB revises its forecasts, it will also take into account the stimulus from falling oil costs, which are boosting consumers’ purchasing power. Economic sentiment in the region rose to a seven-month high in February, according to a report on Thursday.

In Spain, where the inflation rate has been below zero for eight months, lower prices are helping shift the direction of the recovery from exports to domestic demand. The economy grew at its fastest pace since 2007 in the fourth quarter, as household consumption jumped 0.9 percent.

Meanwhile in Italy, consumer confidence rose to the highest in more than 12 years in February. That may help Prime Minister Matteo Renzi as he struggles to pass reforms to kick-start an economy that’s failed to grow for more than three years.

To contact the reporter on this story: Maria Tadeo in Madrid at [email protected]

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Fergal O’Brien at [email protected] Jana Randow

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