Maximize Investment Returns With The Samurai Method

Maximize Investment Returns Using The Samurai Method

If you want to maximize investment returns, you should consider The Samurai Method to investing.

We know that if you want to make at least $100,000 a year, all you've got to do is find enough work that will pay you at least $50/hour for 40 hours a week for 52 weeks. I'm personally always gunning for $100/hour because San Francisco is expensive.

But what about maximizing your investment returns in a risk-adjusted manner? Given we know how to optimize our hourly income, all we have to do is apply the same principles to investing.

By slicing portions of our investment capital up, we're better able to allocate our capital for potentially higher returns. This is The Samurai Method to investing. 

Maximize Investment Returns With The Samurai Method – Farming Out Capital

The biggest deterrent to investing is laziness. Many people are too lazy to spend the due diligence necessary to get educated about investing. They'd much rather spend hours reviewing the latest iPhone features than read company research reports.

As a result, they just dump their entire portfolio into several expensive mutual funds or index ETFs, regardless of platform risk or better investment opportunities elsewhere.

You should see yourself as the portfolio manager of your entire net worth. You've got various pieces that all fit together to achieve your financial objectives e.g. real estate, cash, CDs, fine art, stocks, and bonds. It's important to follow some sort of net worth allocation framework so you don't blow yourself up when things turn sour.

For the investing portion of our net worth, I think we can do a better job optimizing returns by allocating our money through various channels, including building your own portfolio.

Another consideration to think about is farming out some of your investable assets to an algorithmic advisor like Personal Capital, which charges 0.89% or less. If time is valuable, and ETFs and portfolio construction are a commodity, then having someone invest for you at a low cost is a good move. Your time is better spent making money elsewhere.

Farming out capital across various platforms is exactly what multi-billion dollar college endowments and wealthy family offices do. There's no reason why you and I shouldn't do the same. Especially since access and fees are so low thanks to the rise of financial technology companies.

The Samurai Method To Maximize Investment Returns

Let me share the three pillars to my investing methodology. One day, your investment returns might be greater than your day job income. If and when that time comes, you can really start to take things down a notch.

1) Know your base case return scenario. 

In other words, what investment can you make where you are guaranteed to get the stated return and principal back. The main risk-free investment is the 10-year government bond yield, which is currently yielding ~2%. The US government isn't going to default. If it does, the world is coming to an end due to a zombie apocalypse and money will be the last of your worries.

The other risk-free rate of return is a long-term CD guaranteed by the FDIC up to $250,000 for individuals and $500,000 for married couples. A 7 – 10 year CD so happens to yield roughly 2% – 2.3%, which goes to show you that the market is efficient.

2) Decide on your desired rate of return.

You can choose the risk-free rate of return. But that's only if you've amassed a large amount of capital where the risk fee rate of return provides enough for you to live a comfortable life.

For example, if you've accumulated $5 million by age 60, perhaps you can comfortably live off $100,000 a year in retirement. Due to taxes, you would withdraw at 3%.

You've likely only got 40 more years left to live, so the math works out fine.

But if you're like most people still looking to amass their fortune, you require a higher rate of return than the risk-free rate. With inflation running at close to 2%, if you just invest in a 10-year bond, you'll end up just running in place. If you're younger, you've got more time and earnings power to overcome possible losses, which over the short-term are inevitable.

At my current stage in life, I've accumulated enough so that a 2% return on my financial nut will support a decent lifestyle. However, for me, it's not quite enough to feel absolutely worry free. I need $10 million in investable assets to generate my ideal $200,000 annual income risk-free.

Unfortunately, I'm not there yet, which is why I take risk to generate a greater than 2% rate of return. My target return is 2X – 3X the risk-free rate, or a 4% – 6% annual return. For those of you in your 40s and 50s, I suggest following this similar mantra of singles and doubles instead of home runs.

3) Allocate your investable capital like a Samurai.

Once you've decided on your desired rate of return based off your risk tolerance, it's time to allocate capital in the most efficient way possible. Instead of just dumping everything into an asset allocation split based on ETFs and index funds, consider narrowing down each investment.

Press when the risk-adjusted returns are much higher than your desired rate of return. Your goal is to beat your annual bogey by as much as possible without taking more risk.

Related: A Better Dollar-Cost Average Strategy For Investing

Investment Example Of The Samurai Method

I've already explained in a previous post how everyone needs to come up with an investing game plan to better deploy their capital. You've got to measure your cash flow, liquidity, and risk tolerance as you follow a methodical dollar cost averaging strategy.

The reason why it's important to always have cash on hand is because there are ALWAYS investment opportunities that come up (the same goes with real estate). One such opportunity finally came up in a Netflix structured note offered by my wealth manager at Citibank. With the bull market getting long in the tooth, I'm hesitant to put fresh capital to work without protection.

The offering is as follows:

Two-Year Callable Coupon Note on Netflix Inc. (NFLX) –  13% per annum contingent coupon paid quarterly. Coupon barrier is 65% of initial level (observed quarterly). Downside barrier is 65% of initial level (observed at maturity). 100% Auto-call observed quarterly after one year of issuance if NFLX is above the strike price.

Here's an example that explains the various scenarios.

Netflix Investment

Each valuation date is equal to one quarter paying a 3.25% coupon (13% a year). In order to make money on this Netflix investment, I've got to be positive enough to believe Netflix will NOT close down more than 35% before each valuation date to get a 3.25% quarterly coupon.

If Netflix closes up higher than -35% in each quarter, I will see a 26% total return after two years (8 quarters X 3.25%). I do not get to participate in the actual upside if it goes above the strike price. If Netflix closes down more than 35%, then I'm stuck with that exact percentage loss.

Long History With Netflix

I've been following Netflix ever since Reed Hasting, the founder and CEO spoke at my Haas School of Business commencement back in 2006. I'm a user, and an existing shareholder in my current after-tax portfolio. Netflix is still one of my favorite growth stocks. In other words, I'm bullish enough to be naked long (no downside protection). I just don't have a very big position.

The bear case for Netflix is that its growth rate is slowing in the US with already 40 million+ subscribers, it's terribly free cash flow negative, it probably has to raise capital, it's expensive, and it's losing money overseas as it tries to land grab.

The bull case is that Netflix already missed its 3Q results, is down ~20% from its highs, has price elasticity if it wants to raise its subscription price by 10-30% a month, and will eventually make money off international subscribers after it spends money gaining market share. Their ability to create successful homegrown shows such as OITNB and Narcos should create a very sticky user experience.

Small Netflix position in my Motif portfolio
Small Netflix position in my portfolio. Returns are YTD.

A 13% return with a 35% barrier is asymmetric and very attractive to me. 13% is also 6.5X the risk-free rate of return, and 2-3X greater than my desired rate of return of 4% – 6% a year. Given I'm willing to invest in this Netflix note with a 13% return if I received only 15% downside protection, I'm making a larger investment due to the 35% downside barrier.

Even though my current Netflix position is only $227.84, I've spent enough time following the company where I feel comfortable making a bigger investment. I've now carved out $40,000 in new capital (5.8% position in my “Unemployment Fund” started in 2012 after receiving a severance) in a Netflix note that I believe has a high chance of returning 13% a year for at least the first year. Always start small and work your way up to a larger position.

Maximize Investment Returns By Investing Purposefully

The point of this article is not to debate the investment merits of Netflix. It is to encourage investors to optimize limited capital for maximum risk-adjusted returns. Slicing up your capital in order to optimize returns is the same strategy as figuring out how to make the most per hour with your limited number of hours you desire to work a week.

It's the same strategy Henry Ford used in 1913 to create the assembly line for the mass production of an entire automobile. His innovation reduced the time it took to build a car from more than 12 hours to two hours and 30 minutes.

Don't let laziness or ignorance prevent you from allocating capital in an optimal way. Put your money to work either by yourself or with the help of a wealth advisor, digital or otherwise. 

There's always a place for cash. But if you're just holding cash because you haven't bothered to do any research or optimize your deployment of capital, then decades from now you'll have much less wealth than you really should have.

Different Investment Styles For Retirement

Investment Philosophies From Jack Bogle

Invest In Private Growth Companies

Consider investing in private growth companies through an open venture capital fund. Companies are staying private for longer, as a result, more gains are accruing to private company investors. Finding the next Google or Apple before going public can be a life-changing investment. 

One of the most interesting funds I'm allocating new capital toward is the Innovation Fund. The Innovation fund invests in:

  • Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning
  • Modern Data Infrastructure
  • Development Operations (DevOps)
  • Financial Technology (FinTech)
  • Real Estate & Property Technology (PropTech)

Roughly 35% of the Innovation Fund is invested in artificial intelligence, which I'm extremely bullish about. In 20 years, I don't want my kids wondering why I didn't invest in AI or work in AI!

The investment minimum is also only $10. Most venture capital funds have a $250,000+ minimum. In addition, you can see what the Innovation Fund is holding before deciding to invest and how much. Traditional venture capital funds require capital commitment first and then hope the general partners will find great investments.

Manage Your Wealth Meticulously

In order to optimize your finances, you've first got to track your finances. I recommend signing up for Empower's free financial tools so you can track your net worth, analyze your investment portfolios for excessive fees, and run your financials through their amazing Retirement Planning Calculator.

Those who come up with a financial plan build much greater wealth over the longer term than those who don't!

Retirement Planner Personal Capital
Is your retirement on track? Here's my personal results.

Maximize Investment Returns With Real Estate

Real estate is my favorite way to achieving financial freedom because it is a tangible asset that is less volatile, provides utility, and generates income. With real estate, you can earn a steady rental income while enjoying potential capital appreciation. 40% of my net worth is in real estate today.

Thanks to real estate crowdfunding, we can now invest in real estate passively and with great diversity. My two favorite platforms that are free to sign up and explore are:

Fundrise: A way for accredited and non-accredited investors to diversify into real estate through private eFunds. Fundrise has been around since 2012 and has consistently generated steady returns, no matter what the stock market is doing.

CrowdStreet: A way for accredited investors to invest in individual real estate opportunities mostly in 18-hour cities. 18-hour cities are secondary cities with lower valuations, higher rental yields, and potentially higher growth due to job growth and demographic trends.

I've personally invested $810,000 in real estate crowdfunding across 18 projects to take advantage of lower valuations in the heartland of America.

My real estate investments account for roughly 50% of my current passive income of ~$300,000. Always look to build as much passive income as possible to achieve financial freedom.

31 thoughts on “Maximize Investment Returns With The Samurai Method”

  1. Hey!

    Thanks for the post. This article really got me thinking about what processes I use for investing if I even use any at all. I’m a fairly new reader so you may have already written about this but I am curious about what process you used to pick the stocks inside your motif portfolio. What do you look for as far as P/E, technicals, finacials, price/book, etc.? I’ve been eager to get into real estate but don’t have the required capital for my area yet so I’ve been all in stocks and ETFs. Any blue print or list of process for analyzing/picking stocks would be greatly appreciated as it could be repeated over and over.

    Thanks for the help!
    Jeremiah Johnson

  2. Hi Sam,

    Well, if I am maxing out 401k, 457, and both of our IRAs, though we have yet to buy a house, and we are sitting on cash to act as emergency fund and or to use to buy a property, how can I get into some motif or Better or wealth front, or PC for that matter, when the employer (the State of CA) contracts with Aon Hewitt and now Charles Schwab?

    I guess I feel like their management of my money is not efficient enough for me, or is not performing as well as I would like. Actually, the PC value measure shows that the fund I hold with USAA is the most fee intensive…it is an international fund. I am finding it difficult because I feel locked in with these various companies who offer a value prop, as does the PC, better, and wealth front folks.

    I understand that I am not tied to Usaa for Ira , but what about the employer sponsored plans like 401k and 457? Currently, I am using their managed service and they rebalance periodically for me based on my inputs for risk tolerance and seemingly with taking into account my other investments outside of their management. Given my money is now split, I cannot, for example, get into the PC world as I am short on the initial 100k (and most def. short real estate, which further precludes my jumping off).

    I guess I have a lot of questions…am a noob at investing and planning, but am very committed to becoming wealthy, if not now, certainly by the time we retire.

    Real estate in my southern Oregon beach town is sketchy. In Brookings, folks are upside down since 2008 and are wishfully thinking when it comes to their prices. I think you’re right that it is clear the market is slowing…I see only negative trends on the Zillow zestimates etc… I am inclined to wait just a wee bit longer on the real estate plunge.

    Now, cars are my weakness,so I will not even go there…it is perhaps the only area that I actually spend money somewhat freely. Yes, I know, huge mistake. Alas, it is a hobby and an indulgence.

    Anyway…I love the blog. Religious reader…would love to someday spend an hour or two with you by phone.



    1. Hi PbinSF,

      You should be able to deploy capital with Motif Investing or Wealthfront if you don’t work at a financial institution. These are after-tax investment accounts. The key is to start small while building knowledge and familiarity before working your way up.

      Hope all is well in Oregon! Gotta love no state taxes there. You may be interested in checking out my 1X1 financial coaching services in the future. Otherwise, glad to have you continue to read and share!



      1. Thanks Sam, I will do. I do love OR for its lack of sales tax. I commute just over the border to Crescent City and retreat with CA pay. Doing the estimated tax thing in OR.

        I guess I am still not quite to the level of after tax investing. Given I am maxing out all these pre-tax things (and another one with the 457 that I don’t hear folks talking much about, that is 18k per year to max it out), alongside 401K and 2x IRAs, what would be a good target for after tax investing? Given I am on the CALPERS pension program (to be vested after 5 yrs in, I have little less than 3 now), I feel like I am really socking away the cash…dont want to be “short” life now!

        I guess I need to rethink things some and look at my car addiction if I want to go more in to the market…that and I think we are in for a huge correction soon…my pre tax portfolio is well diversified and ready…but perhaps I can wait for going in longer on a stock motif or something similar…must educate myself now more…

        Thank you!

  3. Hi,
    The note you’re describing sounds very interesting but most of them generally charge high fees and are a cash cow for banks and private wealth departments.
    The Netflix note is simply a put selling. You’d be better off selling 65% puts on netflix every quarter over the next 2 years, no?

    1. For the Netflix note, the return of 14% based on the criteria is what it is. The fees are baked in. If the fee was higher, the return would be lower.

      Like so many things, you can do it yourself. Or you can choose to have someone do it and be more efficient with your time elsewhere.

  4. BeSmartRich

    I am always scared of investing in tech companies. Can’t really pull triggers as P/E is mostly not supportive. That may be the reason why I don’t make a jackpot at all. Haha. Thanks for sharing!



  5. When you say that your target return is 4-6%, does that mean you would sell out of a stock position if it were to go up that much? I’ve always found it difficult (although a nice position to be in) when I purchase a long term stock play that rapidly increases. For example, I purchased XOM when it reached $70 in late August. I had every intention to hold for a long time, but in 2 months I’m up more than 20%. How do you handle these situations (and not my stock in particular)?

    1. No. My overall target return for all my assets is 4-6% a year. I use that as a benchmark when allocating slices of capital.

      The ideal scenario is to hit 4-6% returns every year and never sell. But that’s why I will rebalance my portfolio at least once a year. That’s when you can rebalance your +20% positions if you wish. But again, you’ve got to do your research and compare earnings expectations, market outlook, etc to what the market is currently expecting and make your own decision.

  6. i’m an avid reader of the blog.

    i’m surprised that this post hasn’t caught more attention. this is one of the most important questions that everyone faces. do they put a set amount of their paycheck in the markets every month? what happens if they receive a lumpsum inheritance or bonus? do they average it out? over what period of time? so many questions… who ends up making this decision? the wealth manager? people themselves?

    unfortunately, i have a bad habit of not using this samurai method when it comes to investments. i see a bunch of cash in my trading account, and often go all in, trades, rather than making certain allocations over time. this has resulted in very heavy losses, especially with margin.

    really appreciate your sharing this insight. it really makes sense and i wish there was an easier way to control my trading/investing as the “buy” and “sell” buttons are so easy to push online, and once you’re out of the money, you tend to buy more to try to “average down”.

    it’s just so boring to see cash sitting in the trading account. it’s almost like a natural high trading, but it is basically akin to playing the slots…

    1. Hi Jay, thanks for reading. The reason why this topic is not more popular is because investing is hard. People want easy.

      One of the hardest things is to just sit on your cash and really be patient for a golden investment opportunity. It’s the same thing with once you buy an engagement ring, you want to propose ASAP.

      It’s very important for everybody to figure out their target returns and Invest accordingly, rather than blindly invest in anything and everything.

  7. I love managing my own portfolio. Not only has it been fun, it has been very rewarding these past two years. I always try to keep Sam’s advice in mind “everyone thinks they are Warren Buffett in a bull market”. I would feel a bit overwhelmed only investing in individual stocks though, so my 401k and IRA are in only index funds. Index fund are easy to set on autopilot.

    There are always unicorns out there like Sam says. If I was not looking for unicorns this year my return would be 2% in a sp500 index fund, but through some luck and exposure to risk I am sitting pretty on 31%. Granted, it is easier when you are investing smaller amounts ($50k-$200k). But like Sam says, we are using limited capitol to get maximum returns. One day I will get out of the “grow the nut” phase and get into preservation mode like you, Sam! :)

    1. It’s always good to be conservative and die with too much, rather than too little:

      Only planning for 20 years based on the median make life expectancy of 80 at 60 is unwise. You can gift $5.3 million tax free as an individual.

  8. Wealthfront looks interesting. For anyone that uses it, are you happy with the returns? How does it compare with other financial advisors? Also, can get an invite please? The extra savings on $5,000 would be nice. Thank you.

    1. You can just sign up here and get the first $15,000 managed. It was $10,000, but they’ve recently moved it up to $15,000. But I would first just answer the questionnaire and see whether you like the portfolio they come up with first before allocating money.

      I really want everybody to do their investment homework before deploying capital. Know the risks and rewards, and run a proper framework.

  9. Hi so a couple of dumb questions :-) :

    1. Wealth front manages $10k for free but I would still have to pay the fee expenses related to the mutual funds it recommends, correct?

    2. I have some liquid that I kept because of uncertainty but now things are more certain so I’m comfortable deploying it, lol. So given the DOW is over 17,000 again and I don’t want to buy “high” what is an effective deployment strategy?

    1. Like Sam posted earlier this year: it is important to have a game plan. The best deployment plan would have been to develop your investing game plan and buy when the market was dipping in Aug-Sep. Unfortunately hindsight is 20/20 and everyone gets comfortable investing in stocks after a big rally.

      I would say the best plan moving forward is develop your investing game plan and stick to it. Whether that is investing consistently or taking advantage of the market dips is up to you. Personally I like a mix of both. I’m always maxing my 401k + IRA using simple index funds and buying individual stocks in my taxable accounts. I love managing my own portfolio, but I do put a LOT of time into the due diligence (financial statements and company/management review).

  10. Dominic @ Gen Y Finance Guy

    Interesting Structured Note.

    One of these days you will have to join the dark side and play in the options space to create your own “structured note.”

    What are there fees associated with these structured notes?

    1. The fees are baked into the return of 13%. When the offering was first issued, the range was 13% – 15%. During the final day of pricing. The actual pricing was actually 14%.

  11. What do folks think of whole life or adjustable comp life policies that allow you to add extra cash to juice returns as an investment vehicle to leverage an insurance company’s long term bond portfolio? I see they project roughly 7% annually over a 30 year period. My main concern is the loan mechanism needed to tap the funds in retirement. Any thoughts?

    1. Hard to say. I think the general rule is to just buy insurance for insurance purposes, and not use insurance as an investment vehicle unless you have way too much cash flow.

      Don’t buy a Ferrari watch. Buy a Ferrari car.

    2. The idea behind indexed universal life insurance policies is interesting, but always seems to fail to execute. A big problem is who would benefit from the structured policy. The idea of life insurance mixed with stock returns, downside protection, and tax benefits should appeal to older folks. The problem is: as you get older your insurance premiums start to sky-rocket since you are more likely to die. If your premiums start outpacing your contributions, it will eat into your principal without you even knowing it (unless you are diligently checking).

      A lot of people signed up for universal life policies in the 90’s with ‘projected’ 7% returns, but once they neared retirement their policies had no money for them to withdrawal. They weren’t informed enough to take the ever increasing premiums into account.

      Just a portfolio of stocks will work better for a young person, since they don’t need downside protection near as much. The increasing premiums for aging policy holders is huge price to pay for insurance and downside protection when you can find it elsewhere. Why use a life insurance policy for retirement, when it is meant to replace an active income? It is a cool idea, but the increasing premiums really destroy the foundation of using it as a retirement vehicle.

    3. In comparison, S&P 500 has returned 10.3% over the last 28 years. You can see my analysis and download the Excel here –

      I have had several insurance agents try to sell me insurance by giving me the same logic – in addition to insurance, you will have great investment returns. My counter argument is – ‘Insurance company will earn the same total returns as to a certain fund, a part of those returns will be used to pay insurance payouts in events of death etc, the remaining are paid out as investment returns’. So the investment returns cannot be more than the ‘certain fund’.

      Moreover, I believe that most fund managers do not bear the long term market returns – that in fact is the title of my post “Can you time the market”? I have calculated and compared the total returns for the following 7 scenarios:

      1 – Buy if 10% drop from high
      2 – Buy daily
      3 – Buy if 5% drop from high
      4 – Buy if falls for 5 sessions
      5 – Buy if falls for 3 sessions
      6 – Buy if gains for 3 sessions
      7 – Every 11th session (pay check)

  12. Sam,
    My guess is that you are probably worth around 3 to 3.5 million, wouldnt you make at least 300k a year just in properties alone? I am guessing a 10% of return in properties, obviously you dont want to have all your money in properties but hypotetically you can make 250k to 300k right now. At least thats my plan in 10 to 15 years.
    Cheers keep doing what you do best!

    1. Andy, don’t forget Sam is a practitioner of stealth wealth, what ever you think his net worth is based on the clues he has provided… it’s more. My guess is double what you posed.

    2. I definitely would not encourage anyone to have all the money invested in property. Property can be a real PITA with the wrong tenants, and has an ongoing carrying cost.

      I’m focused on my relatively liquid portion of my net worth e.g. stocks, bonds, CDs. I’ve taken The Samurai Method further by slicing up my net worth to have individual targets. So far the stocks and bonds portion, having a $10M target that will generate $200,000 a year regularly is my main goal. Then there is my real estate target, and then my risk-free asset target, side hustle target, online income target, and so forth.

      Maybe another good analogy is Google creating the umbrella company Alphabet to help find clarity and optimize individual business units.

      Regarding my net worth, $3 million would be crazy for an Uber driver to have! Only the most motivated, hustling person or writer who wants to write from experience and not pontification would drive with that level of wealth.

  13. That Netflix note does sound quite attractive. I started investing in structured notes several years ago and I’m glad I did so far. That is the riskier portion of my overall portfolio. I also have invested in mutual funds, ETFs, CDs, and P2P lending with Prosper. I use my Prosper account to act like a fund manager because I don’t use the automated investment features, I manually hand pick the loans that I want to invest in. It’s more time consuming that way but I like having control. I think it’s good to have some portions of one’s overall portfolio that is more automated and others that are more hands on. Great post, thanks!

  14. I have just recently started looking into “robo” advisors and have mostly been comparing Betterment and Wealthfront. I am curious as to the reason you have picked Wealthfront as the platform that you are going to try out. Both of their investing methodology is similar in the use of low cost ETF’s, automatic rebalancing and tax loss harvesting, but their asset allocation and particular investments are quite different.

    I have to say Betterment seems to have a much better user experience with their website. Their amount of international holdings has me holding back more than anything right now. I currently hold around 35% of my investing portfolio as an international Vanguard index fund. In their more aggressive allocations they have more international exposure than domestic.

    I’d love your thoughts or maybe even a full comparison of the two eventually.

    I’ve been following you for a couple years now and you are the only blog that I read every email I get! This is my first comment but I love the content you put out and I’ll try to get more involved in the discussions. Thanks for keeping me motivated!

    1. The portfolio that Betterment or Wealthfront or any other robo-advisor chooses will depend on the answers you input in their initial short questionnaire. It’s up to you to then agree with whether such a portfolio structure works for you, or whether you like the weightings changed in a certain way. For most people, it’s probably best to just follow the advice after honestly answering the questions about their risk tolerance, and then setting up an automatic contribution plan every time you get a paycheck.

      Wealthfront and Betterment have slightly different opinions on asset allocation. There is no strict rule to adhere to. But, there are sound logical reasons as to why X percent in stocks etc. Wealthfront is based in SF, as am I. I’ve spent more time looking at their platform than I have Betterment’s, which is based in NYC. Both do a good job mobilizing cash in a low cast manner. I just feel more comfortable going with WF more because I’ve gone through their whole platform, read a lot of their posts, and like their investment team like Burton Malkiel, from Princeton, and author of a Random Walk Down Wall Street. Nobody has ever reached out to me from Betterment.

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