Please enjoy this transcript of my conversation with Howie Schwab, Lead Portfolio Manager for Emerging Markets Growth at Driehaus Capital. Transcripts for other episodes can be found here.
“In terms of how we invest, I think integrating and overlaying macro as well as behavioral components, not simply wedding ourselves to this bottom up, here's our specific template and it's time tested is really important.” – Howie Schwab
Howie Schwab is the lead portfolio manager for the Emerging Markets Growth strategy at Driehaus Capital. He is also a portfolio manager for the Emerging Markets Small Cap Equity and Emerging Markets Opportunities strategies, and he has also served as co-portfolio manager for the Driehaus International Small Cap Growth strategy.
Playbook: 20 Minute Playbook: Howie Schwab – Lead Portfolio Manager for Emerging Markets Growth at Driehaus Capital
Hello, and welcome to another episode of our 20 minute Playbook Series, where each week we sit down with an elite performer from iconic founders to world renowned investors and bestselling authors to dive into the ideas, frameworks, and strategies that got them to the top of their field all in less than 20 minutes. I'm Daniel Scrivner. And on the show today, I'm joined by Howie Schwab who manages more than 5 billion in emerging market growth funds for Driehaus which is a firm that's based in Chicago and where Howie has worked for the last 20 years. At Driehaus, Howie is the lead portfolio manager for the emerging market's growth strategy. And he's a portfolio manager for the emerging market, small cap equity and emerging markets opportunities funds.
In this episode, Howie shares why he thinks we're in the middle of a massive pendulum shift in demographics and capitalism that's been shaped by the last 40 years and what that means for the years ahead. He shares the mentors he's most grateful for and what he learned from each, the advice he'd give himself, if he could go back to the beginning of his career, and the most important lesson he's learned so far. You can find the notes and transcript for this episode at outlieracademy.com/107, that's 107. For more, you can find Howie Schwab on Twitter at HS underscore barn. That's HS underscore B-A-R-N. And you can learn more about Driehaus online at driehaus.com, which is spelled D-R-I-E-H- A-U-S. With that, let's dive into Howie Schwab's playbook.
Howie, thank you so much for joining me again on 20 minute Playbook. This episode is going to be a lot of fun, I think.
Yeah. No, thanks. Thanks for having me back.
Yeah, absolutely. So let's dive right in. I want to start first by asking about a recent fascination. And so I'm looking for something that's been intriguing you, something that's been standing out in your mind, or that you've been noticing in the world as something that you can't stop thinking about?
Yeah, so I mean, I think this is the crux of what you and I have spent so many hours talking about, but it is this sort of regime shift. And now I get the opportunity to introduce the metric that I forgot before, but even during the COVID period, this year, we've seen 75, as I was mentioning to you. Globally, we've seen 75 interest rate hikes, which is the largest.
In 2022. Yeah. Which is the largest percentage of net central bank tightening that we've seen in about 15 years kind of right prior to the GFC. And while 75 hike seems like a large number, when you contrast that with over 1000 net cuts since the GFC, and on top of that $23 trillion of QE, I think it's clear that we've sort of reached the end of 40 years of sort of policy omnipotence and kind of the golden era of the central banker and associated with that lower inflation, lower volatility. And much as we've talked about long duration assets and financial assets being literally the only place to invest and the kind of the counter corollary to that being either short duration or real assets. So I do think that tied in with the other things we've talked about, inequality, demographics, the debt burden in the country certainly are pointing towards a regime shift.
And I think really simplistically, we're hearing a lot of Wall Street commentators talk about is this the end of the 40 year bond bull market? But I think that's only really one component. And I think, honestly, it's almost like a corollary that goes along with the regime we've been in for 40 years. But I think the big, when you asked me why is it intriguing me? Like everybody, cognitively, it's very, very difficult to pull yourself away from how you've invested and those underlying variables that we've invested in for the last 40 years. And I think a lot of investors will struggle with that, and I'm not so sure that portfolios are well positioned for a shift in this regime.
No, I don't think so. Yeah. And just on bonds, I totally agree. I think that's probably the most uninteresting part of that regime shift story, and there's many other components of it that are frightening, intriguing, but yeah, the bond piece is relatively minor. I want to talk next about when you think about investing, what do you think are your superpowers and are those things that are just the way you're wired? Are those things that somebody taught you or you picked up? How do you think about what drives kind of out performance or what you're uniquely just really good at when it comes to investing?
I think it's keeping an open mind and kind of retaining a certain malleability, which not being too dogmatic in what you're trying to do. And again, having strong convictions held loosely, as we talked about previously, I think that's important. I think along those same lines being... When I say competitive, I think it's sort of fixation or being more irritated by your losses, net net than sort of celebrating your victories and having this constant yearning for sort of how do we get to the next level.
And lastly, going along with the first question, particularly today, maybe more than ever between the variables behind this regime shift, plus what technology has done in terms of shaping investments, whether it's passive or potentially the crypto sort of web through younger generation. I think it's really important that you sort of have that flexibility of mind because there's just a... This industry's littered. The history is littered with firms who were on top of the world and achieved obsoletion more or less within a decade. LTCM being the most notorious.
Yep. And that seems to happen very often around regime shift times where effectively people are unable to decouple from past behavior, past ways of looking at and understanding the world, and I think move to a new model of doing that. Which also just to be super fair, makes sense. It's enormously difficult to try to change your emotional wiring, your mental wiring. But I think that's a requirement if you want be a successful investor across market cycles and regimes.
Yeah, absolutely. And then again, we've talked about this as well, but in terms of how we invest, I think integrating and overlaying macro as well as behavioral components, not simply wedding ourselves to this bottom up, here's our specific template and it's time tested is really important. And macro and behavioral, as you might imagine, are a bit more abstract and a bit more fluid. So that requires a certain mindset and some people really embrace that. And some really struggle.
Yeah. I want to ask next about what mentors or figures shaped your approach to investing the most. And this can be, I imagine obviously 20 plus years at Driehaus spending a lot of time with Richard, the founder of the firm, I'm sure he was a wonderful mentor. Are there, whether it's him or other people, what mentors and figures have shaped your approach to investing and just have shaped you?
Yeah. I mean, start off by just saying, I completely agree. It's something that I wish I had more of is mentorship, and I've quoted Stan Druckenmiller a few times, but I think he has a quote, something to the extent of, if you have a choice between a paycheck and a mentor, take the mentor. And I absolutely agree. I mean, it's something that we could never get enough of. So yeah, I think Richard, just because I started at Driehaus out of school and was able to work for Richard Driehaus at the time he was six months removed from being named by Barron's as one of the top 20 investors of the preceding century. There's a lot of insights that I received from working with him. But I think the main takeaway is really where he emphasize investing as an art as much or more than a science.
And that kind of goes along with the flexibility and malleability. And he, to his credit, didn't ding me at all for the fact that I was sort of a liberal arts graduate with minimal financial skills. And I think that's actually been a point of success for me, but it took me a while to realize. I think also Richard, despite the fact that he, again had accolades, had been named by Barron's, had plenty of money, was extraordinarily competitive, which is a trait that for better or worse, I shared with him and really was very much against apathy or complacency. And again, I think to be a great investor being fluid, but also having this hunger and passion and sort of really a hatred for losing. I mean, I've always said I think it's more important that you hate losing rather than love winning.
I think they're two distinct things. And I think I already possessed that, but he reinforced ways that he influenced me was more about... I think really he instilled a sense of a confidence in doing things differently and being different. And he certainly, was an eccentric individual himself, but I think also seeing that you need to be sometimes a little left or right of center to be a great investor. And so I think those things rubbed off. I think beyond that, we talked about this earlier. Maybe it's not a mentor in the conventional sense of like, hey, we work together, but reading books and I think reading a number of the narratives and quotes that Stan Druckenmiller has come out with. There's such an abundance of things to read.
And particularly, I think his mindset and the way that he also kind of approaches the markets and talks about liquidity, or I love his quote about basically, he says great investment managers need to focus... The ones that he knows have focused on their failures and requires a huge dose of humility. Yeah, I think there's a lot of lessons you can learn from reading about the great investors, getting access to interviews or newsletters or full books if that's what it takes.
Yeah. I think said another way, to be a good investor, you can't spend all your time patting yourself on the back. It really is like looking in the mirror warts and all, and assessing what's gone well, but spending as much time, if not more time, obviously on what's not going well or what you're missing or what could be improved, because I think there's always as well too. I think that's something I feel like every year I have a new awareness of that there's just more things to be good at, more things to know, more things to refine. I want to ask next, if you have a favorite quote or anecdote about investing, and this can be a serious quote or anecdote. I know we talked about a couple so far. It can be a hilarious one like Warren Buffets, one of my favorite quotes from him, "You never know who's swimming naked until obviously the tide comes out." Do you have a favorite quote or anecdote about investing?
I mean, I just mentioned the Druckenmiller quote about great investors and how they obsess over their failures. So I think that's one. And it really ties in. I mean, I'll use a quote from Richard where he would laugh as he said it, but he would always kind of look at you and just say, hey, if you don't want to win, don't worry. You won't. And I think what he meant by that again, was that, hey, this industry takes a lot of hard work. To your point, you have to look in the mirror. It's emotionally draining at times. And for those who have seen the Last Dance about Michael Jordan. Yeah. I watched him obviously growing up, but some may have walked away from that series thinking, well, what a jerk?
I mean, to me, it just gave me all the more respect for him because to be as great as he is and was, and you could see to this day. He's talking about games, and regular season games that he played 30 years ago, where he's clearly like foaming at the mouth. And you can tell he wants to get out in the court. I think you need to have that instinct because investing in a lot of ways, it's sort of like the gladiator. You're up against people who are just as smart as you, and oftentimes better resourced. And even when you're right, you can be wrong. And when you're wrong, you can be really wrong. So it's sobering.
Yeah. Yeah. You can be right today in two times as wrong tomorrow.
Portfolio and investments and decisions.
Like the David Tice story when he was short AOL for whatever it was, one or two years, and finally took it off. And then six months later, the stock imploded. So was he right? Or was he wrong? I mean, he lost money, so I guess the presumption is wrong, but his thesis was right.
Yeah. Yeah, it's a challenging business to be in. If you could go back to the start of your career and whisper some advice, words of wisdom, maybe just even reminders in your ear, what would you say to your younger self? So kind of take us back 20 plus years ago when you were first joining Driehaus, what would you tell yourself then? And you maybe even in college?
Well, I think, leave more time for that kind of unstructured creative tinkering that we've talked about before, especially if you're trying to really apply yourself and work hard. It's very easy to get caught up in the day to day. But what you find is that oftentimes the best investment decisions are actually what seem to be the most logical or straightforward. And part of that is just zooming out and getting whether it's going up on a mountain for two days, or just exercising an hour a day or meditation, something that allows you to kind of free your mind because... And it's only been exacerbated in the past 20 years since I entered the industry, but there's just so much noise and so much data information coming at you, and I still struggle. But the ability to remove yourself from that somehow is important.
I think loosely related to that, cast a wide net and read a variety of opinions, topics, subjects. A big mistake I made in my first five to 10 years of investing was to become sort of enamored with these doomsday type of commentators who would just make such compelling arguments that guys like Marc Faber, who wrote the Gloom Boom and Doom Report. And I think it's fine to read those authorities, but make a conscientious effort to offset those with somebody equally positive or bullish. I mean, a lot of people belittle Tom Lee, but he's generally been right for the past several years. And so, read him along with somebody more cautious, I think builds your network is something that I never really had an appreciation for networking. And I kind of frowned upon it initially, but I think there's different, networking doesn't necessarily have to connotate trying to find an angle to grip some money.
I think it's more about just having a variety of people that you can bounce ideas off of and talk to and get different perspectives. And that's truly invaluable. So I think those are... I go back to myself to really value all of those things. And I think lastly, it's really difficult, especially when you're young. I mean, not for everybody, but if you are somewhat humble and you're not sort of an egomaniac, learning to sort of have convictions without being a jerk is actually requires practice. It's difficult. So trying to like, I think I mentioned earlier discussion, being somewhat embarrassed initially that we used behavioral finance Driehaus. And then I was talking to my friend who had worked closely withstand Druckenmiller. And he started to sort of corroborate and agree with me and express that was essentially the tools that they used as well. I was like, oh, but I needed somebody to reassure me of that.
Yeah. You needed to hear it from somebody else. I mean, I think all of those points, except for the tinkering one are incredibly related where it's just one, expose yourself to many different ideas and perspectives. You can do that through reading. Make sure you're reading a balanced diet, I think, as you said before, which I love. But yeah, it's the same point of, I think, networking and I think you said it really well. It's not around networking quote unquote to raise more dollars. Do X, do Y, do Z. It's about networking to meet great humans, because I think if you are around great humans, if you're constantly spending time with people that you're impressed by that think differently than you, I think you're only going to get better. I think you're only going to get sharper.
No, that was an incredible answer. If you can... I think the next question I was curious to dig into, and this is a really difficult one, so sorry for kind of lobbing this your way, but if you had to distill down your investing philosophy into just a few words, what would that be? And doesn't have to be just a few words. You can kind of expand on that, but just what is your kind of overarching philosophy and approach?
Yeah, so, so I mean, I think we emphasize quite a bit, like we talk a lot about second derivative and inflection points. And I think it kind of goes along with the idea that markets are fluid and cognitive biases been proven for a reason. People have anchoring biases or recency biases, where they are really hoping to cling to some recent data or a pattern and extrapolate that out in the future. And while that's certainly meaningful, obviously if it were that easy, everybody would be able to invest. So really paying attention and kind of being hyper focused on those second derivative changes is I think really paramount for us. And in our case, we predominantly focus on earnings, changes to earnings and the income statement, but it's really applicable to whatever area you would like. I think integrating the macro as well as the behavioral dynamics, overlaying those on top of a bottom up driven philosophy is unique.
It requires some more work and effort and skillset, but I think that gives us a differentiated process as I've discussed sort of ad nauseum. Yeah, I think having that macro understanding and capability not to mention having some ability to observe the market in an era where I think policies are this pendulum is shifting pretty aggressively. I think those three pillars integrated together correctly are really powerful. And lastly, it seems silly to have to say, but just working hard. I think a lot of, not say everybody, but I think a lot of people, this idea of like we have the perfect template and a process, to me that ends up becoming pretty static if you really believe. And we've seen investors who, I think value investors are just as smart as growth investors, and we talked about this.
So back in 2010, when they'd had their first kind of bad 12 months in a decade, I'm sure most of them said, look at the last decade by the dip, we believe in what we do. We still believe in intrinsic value. And they just weren't willing to acknowledge that the Fed had basically the referees had completely changed the rules of the game. And so, yeah, I think having that flexibility and working hard at that is, and it kind of ties in with the tinkering and the flexibility and everything else, but that's really important. But yeah, I mean, I love to use the sports analogy of like, if you were a coach and you have a team, and you're just going to say, hey, these are my best five players. And we're putting them out on the field, no matter what. I guess let's say the best 10, because it's probably football or soccer, no matter what, irrespective of the conditions.
And then you're another coach who says, well, of course, if the dimensions of the field are different or if it's raining or if it's cold or if my opponent is fast or pointing is slow, of course, you're going to change your strategy or yeah, it'd be absurd not to. And yet when you think about how people invest who just are so dogmatic, and they see that as a badge of honor, I think it's a massive mistake because you're just essentially saying I'm going to put the same nine guys on the baseball field, irrespective of all these other variables. And it makes no sense. It's lazy.
Yeah. I mean, to use another sports analogy, I guess it would be like a quarterback that doesn't adapt to different games and just shows up at every game plays the same way. And it's just like, this is just the way I do it.
Yeah. What's hilarious is if that were to come across in an interview with a quarterback, everyone would immediately be like, this doesn't make any sense. And that quarterback would be gone. But in the world of investing, a lot of people show up as that quarterback game after game, after game, after game.
Yeah, exactly. Yeah, if the guys in the game, that's your point. If your guys shows up, and the other team's stacking the box with 10 guys and just keep running the ball every single time. And yeah, the idea of not adapting is just strange to me.
Yeah. Yeah, I agree. But it is something that clearly is not uncommon, which makes one wonder.
Yeah, it does. It does.
The next one I wanted to ask about is a book, article, or paper that you love that you think more people should read. And I'm trying to make this as open as possible and just kind of have you share something fascinating you've read recently, something fascinating you read a while ago, that you keep thinking about. And that just really, you're like more people need to read this.
Yeah. So I've mentioned Stan Druckenmiller a handful of times. Not sure I got the title right. But there's an interview with him that's years old now where he speaks, I think, at the called the Lost Tree Club, or we can clarify.
Link to that. I'll link to it in the show notes for everybody.
Yeah. And I just think that's sensational. And again, and part of the reason I admire him is because he thinks kind of like we do, or maybe we try to think like he does where macro matters. He acknowledges that liquidity is really what drives markets. And throughout the interview, you just get a sense of how malleable his mind is and how he's this great revered investor. But to me, very different from someone like Buffet. He's pretty open about how flexible he can be and the mistakes he's made and how he is willing to reverse from those. Again, he's this quarterback who's adapting on the fly all the time and probably audibling 10 different signals at the line of scrimmage. So I think that's a great one. And I think tying in with the kind of behavioral, it's not a great title for a book, but it's called Richer, Wiser, Happier, which I may have recommended to you, but that was really enjoyable.
Just was published last year, my good friend, John Cheshire had recommended to me because I never would've picked up the book given that title otherwise. And it just profiles nine or 10 investors that have very differentiated mentalities or mindsets. And so I found it fascinating because it's not as much about the investment approaches or philosophies as it is about the psychology and the mindset. And just even one, just to give you an idea, an anecdotal story.
I remember there's one firm where, which I don't disagree with them, and yet I'm guilty of is that Bloomberg can be addictive. And so they needed a Bloomberg they felt as part of their firm, but they placed the Bloomberg terminal at a kid's desk, like a five year old child desk, so that it was extremely uncomfortable to sit kind of hunched over on the ground. And they said you could last maybe 10 minutes, maybe 15 tops. And it was a strange psychological way of doing this, but they were able to constrict the amount of time that they were on the Bloomberg. So I think those two are both great.
Yeah. And you definitely turned me on to that Lost Tree Club interview. And it was a PDF I found, I think you might have sent it to me. So I'll find that again. I'll make sure we link to that in the show notes for this. You'll be able to find that at outlier academy.com, if you click on this interview and go to the show notes. But it's definitely one of the best things I've read in the last year. And yeah, just to kind of say it again. I think what I really appreciated was he's obviously been enormously successful. He's very open and transparent about what went well, what went poorly. He's just almost like an open book which is wonderful, and he's just full of wisdom. And he's taken a really unique approach.
And a lot of it is what's great about the interview too, is it's not do this, do that. Here's what, here's the rule, here's that rule. It's very much just, here's how I think. It's an outline of how an incredible investor approaches it at the highest level, which is, I think wonderful. I want to ask two more questions. The next one is we're going to take a little bit of a left hand turn. And I want to ask if there's a tiny habit or practice that has had the biggest positive impact on your life. And this can be any dimension, just something that you started doing more regularly, you incorporated into a habit or a practice that has been great for one reason or another.
Yeah, I think, I mean yeah, it's pretty obvious answer to me, but it's something that I'm still sort of building upon. I haven't perfected, but yeah, I think it links or syncs up with the premise of this creative tinkering and the ability to provide yourself the time to really structure your thoughts and escape this hyper frequency of data and headlines and news and the emotions that come with that. So, yeah, it's meditation which I, and a number of my teammates began doing over a decade ago. It was recommended to me by someone after it was becoming pretty clear at a young age that I wasn't managing my stress of trying to oversee a fund for the first time, particularly well. And coincidentally, the Transcendental Meditation Center of Chicago was literally the building next door.
So I quickly ran out of excuses for not trying and was skeptical. But then yeah, it's not a panacea, but have been really kind of flabbergasted at how helpful it can be, especially if practiced correctly, which again, I don't always find time to do. And similarly, yeah, I think exercise, which advice I've gotten from some other people, but making sure that you do spend at least 30 to 60 minutes a day outdoors. I mean, outdoors in an open space I think is even better for your mental state, but even if it just implies getting into the gym for 30 minutes, something where you can focus on you and your wellbeing. And although I do listen to podcasts often if I'm biking or at the gym that relate to work, you certainly have the option there. And at least you're not tethered to your screen and surveying the news of the day. So I think those two things are important.
Yeah. It's amazing. Two totally different ways to basically disconnect, like unplug this constant feed, even just in your own mind that your own mind's just constantly is running wild with ideas or thoughts or I don't know, concerns. Last question, what is the most important lesson you've learned so far in business and life? Another super wide open one.
It's probably an amalgamation of some of the answers I've given. Yeah, I think, I mean that open mindedness, I continue to emphasize is important because it requires work. I mean, even though I preach this, it doesn't mean that I practice all the time. And obviously, Dalio with his whole radical transparency concept, it's something that he hammers upon perhaps too much. But so I say embracing that, but also practicing that, which kind of to your point earlier of looking into the mirror can require a lot more thought and effort than maybe you anticipate. I'm sure, myself not excluded, a number of people believe that they're open to criticism or critical feedback. And the reality is, you I'm sure have witnessed too, is that people really are not. That's probably the biggest, I think the other which should go without saying, but is just working hard.
Yeah, I've encountered more and more people who really struggle with particularly new hires, but I don't know if it's generationally the sense of entitlement or this sort of need to contrast yourself with your peers. My peers have achieved X, therefore I should achieve X or X plus one, or how many people come in for interviews and explain to me the job that they want five or 10 years from now, which I fully appreciate and already understand that. But it's amazing to me how much one can differentiate themselves simply by professing, how much they want to do this job here and now. Or another way to put it is, would you take someone who can survive and is really resilient and adaptable. So theoretical person that earns their living sort of as the shell game person in New York City or on the streets, so to speak, and makes it each day through their own in intuition innovation.
And then finally, I think casting the wide net, which we've already talked about quite a bit, but I think that's which ties with being flexible, but really is ingrained in the practice of how do I challenge myself? How do I challenge my thoughts and something where if I were ever to have a theoretical firm of my own, what I really want to do is surround myself with individuals who I felt were smarter or more accomplished than myself, because what's better than being able to bounce ideas off people where you feel like they can lift you sort of up or increase the value of your ideas, as opposed to, I feel like a lot of people that want to be surrounded by "yes" people.
And in that case, if anything, you're just bringing yourself down. You're certainly not getting any value add from those around you. So I think you can do that in your professional setting. You can also just do it through your network or through even yeah, podcasts and literature that you're reading like we've talked about.
Yeah. So well said, I mean, I love that you brought up that being open-minded is active, which it is. It's incredibly active. It's not a passive thing where you just sit and say that you're open-minded. It is very much challenging your own assumptions. And something that I try to do, I'll just share one random little thing, which I try not to do. But something that I've tried to do over the years that's in line with this is, so I'll give a tangible example. There's a book I read probably for the first time, I don't know, eight years ago, something like that. And I'm going to totally butcher the title, but it's basically around how to double the profits of a business in 90 days. And clearly you can tell by reading that headline, it's very polarizing. When you read the book, there's both good ideas that completely make sense.
And there's stuff that seems really aggressive and stuff that I would not personally do. But the reason I wanted to read it was the book I could tell was incredibly polarizing whether I looked at the reviews or talked with people about it, and just a technique I've developed is leaning into that. So when there is something that's polarizing, as opposed to being turned off by that, being open to it and reading it at least open-minded. And then just trying to take out what's valuable from it without having this belief that I need to take everything. I don't have to take everything. I just have to take the ideas that make sense to me.
Thank you so much for the time, Howie. I loved all the points you emphasized and how many of your answers reflected other answers because it really is a couple of, I think, underlying really big ideas. Thank you so much for joining me on 20 minute playbook. This has been so much fun.
Yeah, Daniel. That was great. Thanks.
Thank you so much for listening. You can find the show notes and transcript for this episode at outlieracademy.com/107, that's 107. For more from Howie Schwab, listen to episode 104, where he joins me on our investor spotlight series to go deep on what it's like to invest in emerging markets around the world, including the good, the bad, and the ugly aspects. The biggest lessons that Howie's learned over the last 20 years, including some incredible stories from investing in China and Russia. We talk through Driehaus's unique culture and why they're so strong at the behavioral and macro aspects of investing. And we spend a lot of time talking through Howie's research that he's pulled together over the last five years into why we're in the middle of a massive pendulum shift away from capital and toward labor, how demographics and politics are a part of that story, and what it all means in terms of investment opportunities over the next 10 plus years.
You can now also find all of our interviews on YouTube, youtube.com/outlieracademy. On our channel, you'll find all of our full length interviews as well as our favorite short clips from every episode, including this one. So make sure to subscribe and get notified whenever we share new videos each week. Thank you so much for listening. We'll see you right here next week on Outlier Academy.
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