Lee Lowell’s “Instant Money Codes”

By Travis Johnson, Stock Gumshoe, March 30, 2010

“They Scoffed When I Said You Can Collect Instant Cash Just By Punching in My Simple “Money Codes”…

“But After 18 Months of Watching the Money Pile Up…”

That’s how the ad opens for Lee Lowell’s Instant Money Trader, a trading newsletter that gets pushed pretty heavily from time to time. It’s all about some kind of special codes that you can use to extract “instant cash” from the market every month. he goes on:

“To this day, I’ve never found a way to make money easier or quicker…

“I just do a little research, find the right code, punch it in and within seconds, the cash shows up in my trading account.

“Cash that’s mine to keep… and spend as I please.

“So, quite frankly, I was a little surprised to hear more regular investors weren’t using it.

“Why, after all, wouldn’t you want to pick up a few hundred dollars here… a few thousand there… when the money’s sitting right there for the taking?”

The ad goes on to describe the strategy some more, reassuring one and all that this isn’t some internet scam:

“Just exactly what are these people doing where they can go to their brokerage account, punch in a few numbers and have money show up in their account – within a minute?

“It’s important to know that people using this strategy aren’t buying stocks. Nor are they buying options, bonds, treasury notes, or actively buying any ‘investment’ at all.

“They’re not selling a product or service or getting involved in any Internet business.

“There’s no effort or special knowledge needed (though I’ll teach you everything I know)….

“Now I know what you might be thinking: ‘Lee, it can’t be that easy. Nobody just “gives away” cash.’

“Amazingly, they do.

“No ‘one’ person in particular, mind you.

“The money you get from punching in these codes comes from a big pool of people – everyone from ordinary investors to big institutional traders.

“And they’re happy to pay out the cash because they’re looking to make money on the deal too. (More on that later…)

“The big difference is: The folks who are paying you may or may not get their money back…

“But you keep the money regardless. In fact regulations require:

“Once you type in your code and the cash reaches your account – the money you get is yours to keep.”

I won’t bore you too much by sharing more details today — you can go read the ad here if they still have it online — but this is essentially just what he says it is: a relatively low risk, steady way to generate cash in your brokerage account. There’s no secret to it, though, and no free lunch — the strategy is selling options, and in this case selling put options.

If you’re unfamiliar with the basic concept, options are derivatives — they derive their value from the price of something else, in this case from a stock or ETF. A call option is a contract that you can buy or sell, giving the seller the right to buy 100 shares of a specific stock (or ETF) at a specific price (the strike price) on or before a specific date (the expiration date, usually the third Friday of the month of expiry). A put option, which is, I think, what Lee Lowell is talking about here, is the opposite — it represents the right to sell a stock at a set price on or before a specific date.

Most small investors (myself included) tend to be buyers of options rather than sellers — we buy put options for downside protection if you have a big position in some stock that you don’t want to sell, for example, or we buy call options to speculate on a stock moving higher. The advantage of options for buyers is that they can bring huge leverage to your portfolio — you can buy exposure to a fast moving stock for far less than it would cost to actually buy the stock.

Of course, the disadvantage for buyers is that most options buyers lose money (or at least, this is what I’m told — I have no way of telling if that’s really true). It stands to reason — many options contracts expire worthless, so if you want to speculate on Apple stock continuing its huge run and think AAPL will be over $350 by January it will only cost you $3 per share to buy a $340 Jan. call option … but you probably really know, in the “book learnin'” part of your brain, that the odds are good that AAPL won’t go up 50% in the next nine months, and that you’ll lose that $3.

So that’s where folks like Lee Lowell come in — they sell options to cater to those who want to speculate or buy downside protection. And from what I hear, Lowell and his compatriots, like Keith Fitz-Gerald with his Geiger Index, sell put options that are pretty far out of the money, for close-in months. So in the case of Apple, for example, they might sell the May $200 put option. This would mean that you’re betting on Apple either staying near the current price (it’s at $235 right now) or going up, which would mean that the put option should expire worthless and you’d get to pocket the money you got from selling that put.

Of course, when you sell a put that the market believes is pretty unlikely to be “exercised” like this (that’s what it’s called when the buyer of an option “exercises” their right to buy — or sell, for puts — the underlying stock from — or to — the option seller), you don’t get paid that much. For that particular AAPL option, for example, you’d only get $1.38 per share for promising to buy the stock at $200 anytime before the May expiration. Options generally trade on blocks of 100 shares of stock, so for one options contract you’d get $138 (minus commissions) and take on the obligation to buy 100 shares of AAPL at $200 each if the shares happen to fall below that point before options expiration.

There is a cost, of course — your broker needs to know that you’re “good for it” and can in fact buy those 100 shares of AAPL (meaning, you have the purchasing power in your account to spend $20,000 for each options contract you sell. In some cases this can be done with margin, in which case you effectively put up other stock that you hold in your account as collateral, and in some cases the put options you sell will be cash-backed, meaning you actually have that $20,000 in your account.

So in one way of looking at it, you’re taking relatively little risk and in exchange you’re being paid $138. Nice, “free” income. But of course, if some horrid news about Apple comes out in the next two months, or if the market crashes and the stock gets clobbered, you’re on the hook — if the stock falls to $150 you still have to buy it from someone for $200, so in that case you’ve taken in $138 and effectively lost $5,000 ($50 per share difference for those 100 shares). That’s the underlying risk.

Selling put options as a way to buy stock is also something that a lot of folks do — and there are certainly cases where it makes a lot more sense than just posting a limit order in your brokerage account. If you were going to put a limit order in for 100 AAPL shares at $200 and leave it there, hoping to buy the shares at a price you think is a bargain, you might as well just sell the put option instead and get paid for your “limit order.” Of course, it gets a little more complicated if something awful happens — if you notice one night that Steve Jobs is looking extra sickly again and you no longer feel confident in the stock, you can just cancel your limit order, but if you wanted to back out of a put option you had sold you would have to buy it back to cancel it out, and if lots of other folks are also starting to feel sickly about the stock at that time you might have to pay more to buy back the option than you received when you sold it.

That’s the five-cent explanation — selling put options, whether “naked” puts that are sold on margin, or cash-protected puts that are sold with your cash balance ready to buy the shares if need be is not a way to get rich quick, but it can certainly be a way to steadily build up your cash … unless you happen upon a terrible stock that collapses overnight, as some have been known to do, and your year’s gains from selling puts may be wiped out (and more). You can read more of Lowell explaining this process (without as much of a sales pitch) here in an older series of articles, and this guy at TradeKing also does a nice job of succinctly explaining put sales (and the synthetic version of call options trading that gives you similar exposure).

And, of course, if you’ve got a way with words (or not) and want to throw out your two cents (or five, or ten), that’s why we have the friendly little comments box below — let us know what you think about selling options for steady income (and yes, if you’d like to chat about the more conservative covered call-selling strategy, where you own a stock and sell calls against it, that’s A-OK with me, too).

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ShowHide Comments (41)
    1. reuben
      Mar 31 2010, 01:47:56 am

      I have commented on this strategy before, and I expect I will once again have my head handed to me, but here goes. Selling puts is an excellent way to generate cash. But contrary to your statement, selling covered calls is not a "more conservative" strategy. The risk profile–the amount you stand to gain or lose vs the price of the underlying stock–is identical. In either case you must have funds to cover your risk–in the case of covered calls by owning the stock, and in the case of selling puts by an equivalent amount of cash or securities in your account. It is true that some brokers will allow one but not the other, but this doesn't change the identical nature of the risk. In addition, from the studies I have seen puts generally command a higher premium than calls, so you get a bigger "bang for the buck" with puts.

    2. StockGumshoe
      Mar 30 2010, 08:58:42 pm

      No debate on the risk profile from me — my statement is based largely on my experience that most covered call sellers do this to eke out more income from long-term stock holdings, and most put sellers I know sell “naked” puts on margin or fail to mentally account for the cash risk. The inherent risks may well be the same (I don’t know), but the behavior of many investors not always so.

    3. Fred Sanchez
      Mar 31 2010, 03:06:19 am

      I am doing DD on Lee's system with the intention to subscribe,i understand how it would work and how " easy " would be to make contrarian bets….
      gold going up sell puts on GLD ,50 days and 6 to 10 strike out,i can see how it could make money but i do not fully assess and understand the implied risk,i also think that selling options could be more profitable that buying then…..i would like to find a blog where people write and share how are they making money in the market…..is a jungle out there!! find difficult to believe that every body is fibing….I used to make good money "riding the charts" in the early days of FAS and FAZ i did well and had lots of fun then they made it too expenssive…..and i lost my cool and find very difficult to pull the trigger and even more diff. to carry a profit of more than 8k….yes place to talk/write about this experiences, can you help? Thanks Califa

      • DoctorG
        Nov 8 2015, 07:53:58 am

        Selling options, either puts or calls is a good way to generate income.
        ROI is much better in a cash account then IRA. FOR EXAMPLE on 11-08-15 if sell the AAPL DEC 4th 115 put option the premium is $103
        the delta is .21, so you have 21% chance of being assigned. 79% chance of success.
        In the cash account the margin required is is $1921, and in an IRA the margin required is 11,500. ROI for cash account is 64% per year or 5.3% per month. In an IRA the ROI is 10.7% per year year or .8% per month.
        What I have done on the stocks the fail in my cash account is make a move to sell down and out to break even. If this trade went wrong I would sell 2 puts in Jan at about 108 or some number close enough to cover my loss in December. I would still make my profit
        Or I let them get assigned and sell call options at the money to get rid of the stock. I make money all three ways. If you have time to watch these trades you could get out of them when you see the stock divert from its expected path. I have seen my cash account go from
        31,000 to 39,500 in 4 months. If it keep growing at this amount it will be up 82%. SVXY is my best winner. I sell these when the market takes a dive. Don’t sell puts over earnings. I have seen the same video by Lee Lowell’s and I think I could benefit from his experience and save my time researching. If I did not have a full time job I would just research it myself. I am currently trying to develop a retirement strategy. I like gumshoe because then I find out if they are another Stansberry scheme. Good luck.

    4. Leo
      Mar 31 2010, 11:56:24 am

      I think that that Lowells ideas are to use this strategy with onlt "good, solid companies.". Companies one would not mind owning at a "cheap" price. You have to sell multiple option contracts to collect a decent amount of premium. This also requires more capital
      in your account in order to cover the sale of the puts. I think it's a good strategy, just understand risks, be willing to set aside a portion of your portfolio for the strategy and have an EXIT strategy if you don't want to own the stock.

    5. Don
      Mar 31 2010, 12:26:14 pm

      lets face it if you're selling puts on expensive companies like AAPL you really need to buy matching number further down say the 150's just to lower your margin requirement and as another pointed out define your risk. I did a May put spread the other day with a 67% roi.
      I like those types of plays

    6. Chris
      Mar 31 2010, 02:00:12 pm

      I've subscribed to this product since last summer and have sold probably a dozen positions. None have been exercised.

      Lowell will generally recommend far out of the money strikes at prices that are unlikely to be reached, and frankly if they were I wouldn't mind owning the stock at that price. Looks for strikes in the 15-30 range, time until expiration of 1-3 months and the premiums have ranged from .25 to 2.00. He looks to buy back the position once 75-80% of the premium has been captured. Has only recommended S&P 500 stocks so far. Given the strike, premium collected, time until expiration and required margin to put on the position the annualized return of any given trade is usually in the 35-50% ballpark.

      Not many recommendations over the past couple months other than to buy back a couple positions, though there was a new one March 30. Lowell looks for pullbacks in the market, and generally in up-trending stocks, to increase volatility which increases the premium.

      I am very pleased with the service so far.

      • ash
        Jan 20 2015, 06:18:36 pm

        If i was to sell a far out of the money put option, the options that have a longer time to expiry say for example 1 year or 2 years have a much higher premium value. Wondering if it would make sense to sell these versus ones that expire in 1 -3 months. Any experience, suggestions on this.

        • 3984 |
          Travis Johnson, Stock Gumshoe
          Jan 21 2015, 08:47:34 am

          That’s true of all options — they have a higher premium value (sometimes called “time value) if you go further out in time. That’s because of the much higher uncertainty and risk you take on if you go out a year or two and promise to buy a stock at a set price (which is what you’re doing when you sell a put option) than if you only go out a month or two. Every day brings a new opportunity for a stock to go up or down, and if you go out a year or more you’re taking on the risk of at least four quarterly earnings reports (maybe terrible ones, maybe great ones) or other news that could drive the stock down, or big changes of sentiment coming that could drive the entire market down. Terrible things can happen in a short period of time too, of course, which is why you have to be prepared to fulfill your end of the put option contract and buy the stock at that price, but over a longer period of time the possible outcomes are even less predictable and the risk premium you’ll be paid to absorb negative outcomes is higher.

      • Jose T. Mercado
        Jul 29 2015, 02:37:14 pm

        Thank you for your encouraging and supporting comments. I just recently purchased my
        subscription and have yet to do a trade. I keep wondering and perhaps worrying about
        whether or not I really understand the complete risks. Sales people only tell a would be
        buyer what is good about a sale (used car salesman like). Please feel free to comment further. Thank you.

    7. Anonymous
      Mar 31 2010, 07:17:58 pm

      The margin requirements vary, but for most stocks that you want to sell put options for, the margin requirement is: (20% of strike price + price of option minus the amount it is out of the money) OR (10% of the strike price + price of the option). You also have to get your broker to upgrade your account to a Level 3 options trading account.

      So, if you sold puts on a stock at strike price Y, the current price of the stock is Z (Z greater than Y), and the option premium is X, your margin has to be (.2Y + X – (Z-Y)) OR (0.1Y+X), whichever is greater. This is the minimum amount of uncommitted cash that has to be in your account to place the trade. In some cases, the margin amounts are higher. For example, to sell options on AIG, the minimum margin is 50% of the strike price + option premium minus the amount it is out of the money.

      During the last 12 months, this strategy has worked spectacularly for me. I have had a couple of near-disasters with highly volatile companies like Garmin that have very attractive premiums, but move by 20-25% sometimes, even when not around earnings. When that happens, an option that wasn't in-the-money sometimes gets in-the-money, exposing me to the risk of a margin call and to being forced to buy the stock. Remember that when you sell an option, being in-the-money on that option is a bad thing, since the guy you sold it to can exercise it, and sell you shares at a price higher than its current market value.

      When I am at risk of either facing a margin call or the options going in-the-money, I typically then roll the options forward, i.e., I buy back the near-month option and sell a further-out month option at a lower strike price so the new option is now out-of-the-money. I've been lucky in recent months that in no situation have I eventually had to buy the stock even after I have rolled the option forward.

      As the market starts to look increasingly stretched, I am also buying protection by buying options on securities that trade inversely to the market (such as SDS).

      I have been lucky so far, but have no real confidence that this strategy will work forever until it has been tested in a nasty bear market.

    8. advantedges
      Mar 31 2010, 04:56:46 pm

      The premiums on most put or call options are not very attractive on most "good solid companies," (word choice from one of the posters above.
      When we find that situation, the volatility has been reduced, which may favor put selling. But beware! This market, as any other, can turn … As far as Apple is concerned, my price target for buying the stock has been under 190, (last purchase 182). Then it makes it easy to sell calls on the stock. If the price catches up with you, simply roll the option out – – say to July. Meanwhile, don't forget to protect your gain. The Option Zone suggests that one should consider the AAPL April 230 puts @ $4.65 or the May 220 Puts @ $6.25. Those prices are definitely subject to change!

    9. Sydney
      Mar 31 2010, 11:29:11 pm

      Don't bother subscribing and giving Lowell your money. He outlines this (naked put selling) in his book:

      "Get rich with options : four winning strategies straight from the exchange floor" / Lee Lowell.

      Your local library should have it.

    10. Wonz
      Apr 1 2010, 01:27:25 pm

      I second Sydney's comments, before subscribing to lowell's newsletter, read his book first. I have and I now sell options on the Australian market, not as big or liquid when compared with the US but if you look closely enough, you can find some juicy trades even when they are way out of the money, with options trading volatility is great for the buyer most of the time but can also be great for the seller if he times it right (much harder to do) that's why I only follow 2-3 stocks I really like. My strategy for the last 6 months has been to stick with the sectors I am bullish on (gold, energy, agriculture) and pick the best stocks in those sectors. My last trade was on lihir gold, sold 4 call contracts with a strike price of 3.25 when the stock was trading around 3.00 after I had bought them at 2.75. The stock is now sitting at over 4.00 after a bid by newcrest mining. As you can see while I will most likely make a profit at the end of expiry I have also put a limit on the profit I can make.

    11. Zao
      Apr 1 2010, 03:11:06 pm

      It is true that in more than 70% of the cases, the winner at the expiration of an option contract is the seller. The calculation of an option’s price take several variables into account in addition to the obvious underlying’s price variations. Some of them like the time remaining to expiration or the implied volatility of the underlying are influencing its price more than others (like the current risk free rate or underlying’s dividend). Therefore, when you sell an option, time is on your side since each day passing will reduce the price of the premium. It is also better to sell an option when the underlying’s volatility is high, you will hence cash in a “bloated” premium. The best case scenario to buy options will be when you expect a rising volatility in a short period of time (2 months max.). In that case, at the time of purchase, the volatility is not expensive and set to increase and the time value is still affordable. Also, the profit should be taken within the next 3-4 weeks max. otherwise you will need a lot more volatility to compensate the loss in time value. Remember: it’s all about your expectation about volatility! To summarize: You expect a rising vol. with an increasing underlying’s price in a short time span = buy a call. You expect a rising vol. with a decreasing underlying’s price in a short time span = buy a put. In all other cases, it’s better to sell options and cash the premiums!

    12. lanememory
      Apr 4 2010, 11:25:38 pm

      As in all cases with the above as well as other trading strategies the selection of the stock, option strike, and expiry combined with good execution and risk management (knowing when to exit), is critical. Thus, the vast majority lose money even when presented with the key to open the door to the room with the hen that lays the golden egg.

    13. Bobbo
      Apr 6 2010, 05:33:48 am

      Thanks, guys for pointing out the obvious — which I naively missed — that this dude's "method" is all about options — which I reflexively stay the hell away from …

      Sounds way too smooth when one fails to carefully consider the loss potential.

      And as one of you pointed out above, it ain't all that tough for most folks to read a basic book re. options and decide if they have "the right stuff" to deal with option puts.

    14. Racer
      Dec 31 2010, 07:56:38 am

      With my broker, I just give them a "Do not exercise" order and sell the option back. Make (or lose) $ without ever owning the stock even at expiration ( unless of course you plan to). It amazes me that simple stock market strategies get promoted as some kind of "secret".

    15. john
      Jul 10 2011, 11:55:21 am

      Please explain to me the difference between your stated"more conservative" covered call statement and selling puts-selling puts is absolutly no more risky than covered calls-its basically the same thing. Please explain or this shows you have no idea what you're talking about.

    16. Anon
      Jul 22 2011, 08:06:10 am

      Mr Lowell talks about Return On Margin (ROM). Spreads making about 20% ROM in less than a month.
      Keep buying the options Guys it feeds the sellers.

    17. Stephen
      Mar 4 2012, 10:59:00 pm

      Would it not make the best sense to buy his book, or learn about options, then track a Monopoly money account for a few months, and if you “get it” and are making money, then jump in? That’s what I plan to do. I remember back in the 80’s my broker used to do this for me weekly. Didn’t make tons of money, but never lost. Probably got me about $1,000 one year and I had a total of about $15,000 in my account. I know it works, but I don’t understand it … so I need to get educated.

    18. Wofe
      Mar 15 2012, 11:25:19 am

      Instant money system is fun to play with if you have about 20k and a margin account
      that lets you trade naked put options. I wouldn’t recommend purchasing the sytem
      unless you want something to play with. Your money would be better spent by
      putting it into regular equities. If I had all the money I’ve spent on trading systems, strategies, brokers, newletters, etc. I could have probably retired. I am not anti IMT
      just experienced. My biggest gain to date is in physical (I own it silver).
      Have fun and don’t get to burned.

    19. Sue
      Mar 18 2012, 01:36:57 am

      I saw Lee’s ad for Instant Money Trader today, 3-18-12, …subscription for $850, and if not satisfied within 60 days,then $765 returned.
      This way, Lee makes a minimum of $85 per subscription, if people cancel, and $850 per year, if they continue.
      Suppose 25 people sign up per month who cancel, he has made 25 x $85 = $2,125 from those cancellations that month. Just from the cancellations!

    20. Tony Tang
      Nov 21 2012, 05:14:23 am

      Lee Lowell stwategy is siwey. Yu need too pwenty of money, wike $100,000 to even make ane money at all. if yu sel option of say 31 cent, you make onwy $31, but have to have account size of tousands of dowaas for just this $31. Annd if you want tu make $310 for this option then yu have to have many moe money in you account, incwuding for most peeple using maagin. vewy siwy stwategy. unless yu bill gates, or waawen buffet.

    21. Ellis P Pascual
      Dec 13 2012, 02:52:54 pm

      I cancelled my subscription to Instant Money Trader 3 days ago. I didn’t receive an acknowledgement, to assure me that my cancellation was received. I didn’t know your subscription is into options which is a no-no to me. Please send me your kind response ASAP. Thank you

    22. Rob
      Apr 10 2013, 06:42:30 pm

      As someone who has never dealt with options as yet, can someone tell me what these ‘codes’ are, and their connection with options. Thanks!
      -Rob

      • Chris
        Mar 26 2016, 10:40:18 am

        I’m also curious. Lowell gives examples of 5-digit codes, but they don’t look like the typical “-1AAPLFeb152016Put100.5@1.16” codes generated by selling puts.

        • 3984 |
          Travis Johnson, Stock Gumshoe
          Mar 26 2016, 11:24:52 am

          There used to be different codes before they changed the ticker structure for options a few years back, it might be that he’s still referring to that.

    23. CORAL JOHNSON
      Apr 13 2013, 08:44:59 am

      The guy’s still pushing it. Sorry I don’t understand what he’s trying to do, even w/the above info. I won’t give just anyone my bank account and that sounds like what he’s after.

    24. Gigahoo
      Apr 15 2014, 06:51:13 pm

      I think the risk is like this:
      1. You are a conservative investor with 50,000 in bond and low risk securities and 50,000 spread about equally over 10 stocks at about 5,000 each.
      2 You buy only 10 $25 dollar puts corresponding to one of Lowells codes, for instant revenue of $250.
      3. Chances are your put is not call, so you make only 0.025 profits–miniscule to the portefolio.
      4. But if called on a typical $90 stock, you’re forced to buy $1000 shares, or $90,000.
      So you have to scramble fast and furious to sell all your securities, and now your portefolio is 90% in only one stock. Sure, your stock is relatively cheap, and of good qualiity, but you just took a wrecking ball to the conservative design of the portefolio, probably selling your other stocks are importune prices.

      5. All this for a 0.025 percent gain.

      6. In my opinion, this is nuts, even you have the money of a Buffet.

      Options have their place, but this is not it. I understand all this as very obvious and with minimal knowledge of options, and never traded them.

    25. ess333
      Jan 19 2015, 01:50:58 pm

      stock gumshoe, i love this site.
      this is my go-to site for all the tempting but too-good-to-be-true emails that i get.
      this site scatters the smoke and shatters the mirrors, and cuts right to the core.
      thank-you for providing this service.

    26. Josh
      Dec 10 2015, 03:58:21 am

      I’ve read his book and have made a considerable amount of money using the strategies he lays out. In the book he explains how to add risk management to the setups and never backs off the idea of using spreads that you are comfortable with. He shows how he analyzes the setup and why he uses each particular spread. The difference between this service and what he’s already laid out in the book is that with this service, he’s giving you his real time research and analysis for the current market, not just the strategy behind it.

    27. 17 |
      frankgr
      Jan 16 2016, 09:51:05 am

      I have found selling out of the money puts to be a great strategy in a generally uptrending or static market. I have a strategy I like for a downtrending market, too (like 2016 so far). It involves selling out of the money naked calls. It takes some looking to find sale prices that are worth the effort. As soon as the sale is complete, I put in a buy order for the underlying stock at the strike price. Should the call go in the money I will have automatically bought the stock at the price for which I will have to sell it (i.e., it is no longer a naked call), and I still get to keep the money I made selling the call. The main risk is when the stock price goes up above the strike and then back down — that condition just requires some diligence.

    28. 17 |
      frankgr
      Jan 16 2016, 04:16:12 pm

      I haven’t tried Instant Money Trader, but I do use a similar service, Income On Demand. I find it works quite well for low level steady income. One thing worth noting is that if you do get the underlying stock put to you, you can then sell covered calls on it and keep making money with until the shares get exercised, hopefully at a higher price than you paid, or you get an opportunity to sell profitably. This assumes things don’t go really, really bad (indicating you might not be cut out for this approach — picking solid stocks is the key).

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