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Construction Spending 2016 – Midyear Summary

Summary 2016 Construction Spending


Total Construction Spending for July reached a seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) of $1.15 trillion, level with June which was revised upwards by $20 billion or nearly +1.8%. Monthly spending always gets revised in subsequent months. This year every month but May, which remained nearly unchanged, has been revised upwards, by an average of +1.4% and as much as 3.4%. Monthly values are subject to revision for two months after the first release and once again in May of the following year.

This plot, Construction Spending vs New Starts Cash Flows, shows actual spending (SAAR) by sector through July 2016 and projected trends of spending out to July 2017.


Previously I wrote that we should expect a short duration downturn in spending occurring between January and March. The expected monthly spending cash flows that would be generated from uneven new starts over the last two years indicated that a slowdown in spending would occur during the first quarter 2016. As it turns out, first quarter spending was much stronger than expected, averaging $1.17 trillion SAAR, primarily due to outstanding results in February and March for residential spending. But then April and May experienced significant declines, dropping to an average of only $1.14 trillion SAAR, down almost 3% from Q1. Now with June and July spending both up 1% from the April and May lows, it looks like we may be past that short duration downturn.

Total Construction Spending year-to-date (YTD) through July is up 5.6% over the same seven months 2015. Spending slowed in April and May from a 1st quarter average of $1.17 trillion that reached close to a 10 year high and falls just 4% short of the all-time high. However, it must be noted, that compares unadjusted current dollars, values of all dollars current in the year spent.

When comparing inflation adjusted constant dollars, all dollars adjusted to the same point in time, we can see 2016 spending is still 18% below the 2006 highs.


Total spending YTD through July is slightly ahead of what I predicted back in December, but it’s slightly below what I expected for May, June and July . I expect 2nd half spending to average above $1.2 trillion SAAR, but slightly lower than I originally forecast.

I’ve revised my 2016 spending forecast down slightly to total $1.190 trillion, up 7% from $1.112 trillion in 2015.

How does actual spending YTD compare to my prediction at the beginning of the year?

  • Total predicted YTD through July $638.2b,  actual YTD $647.7b (+$9.5bil, +1.5%).
  • Residential predicted YTD $245.1b,  actual YTD $259.2b (+$14.1bil, +5.8%).
  • Nonresidential Bldgs predicted YTD $236.9b,  actual YTD $228.1b (-$8.8bil, -3.7%).
  • Non-building Infrastr predicted YTD $156.2b,  actual YTD $160.5b (+$4.3bil, +2.8%).

Where are the revisions?

The single largest reduction in spending is in Nonresidential Buildings Manufacturing. Although there are other variances, that could account for the entire revision downward. Predicted construction starts for Manufacturing was lowered by nearly 35% after the initial start-of-year forecast was made.

Non-building Infrastructure spending increase is being supported by a 20%+ increase in power, which I didn’t expect. New starts for power projects have increased more than 20% since the initial forecast.

Residential construction had unusually large gains in February and March, almost all of that in residential renovations, offset only partially in April through July by declines mostly in new single-family housing.

Here’s my revised 2016 spending forecast based on YTD spending and new construction starts through July, compared to my prediction in December 2015.

  • Total predicted Dec 2015 $1,206.2b,   July 2016 $1,189.9b (-$16.3bil, -1.4%).
  • Residential predicted Dec 2015 $473.8b,   July 2016 $481.8b (+$8.0bil, +1.7%).
  • Nonresdntl Bldgs predicted Dec 2015 $439.2b,   July 2016 $410.9b (-$28.3bil, -6.4%).
  • Non-bldg Infrastr predicted Dec 2015 $293.2b,   July 2016 $297.3b (+$4.1bil, +1.4%).

Spending and construction starts are often confused by some analysts who refer to starts data as spending. Starts represent total project value recorded in the month the project begins. To determine spending activity, starts values must be spread out over the duration of the projects. Spending is dependent on cash flows each month generated from all previous construction starts. Cash flows expected based on Dodge Data construction starts are indicating a return to growth in spending in the 2nd half 2016. (See chart above Index Actual Construction Spending vs New Starts Cashflows).


Spending Breakout by Sector

Residential  construction spending for July totaled a SAAR of $452 billion, remaining near level for the last four months. Residential spending YTD through July is up 6.5% over 2015. Spending slowed in April and May from a very strong 1st quarter average that reached close to a 10 year high. The current 3-month average is just 1% below the 1st quarter and is still at its highest since the 2nd half of 2007 but is 10% below the current dollar all-time high in 2006. I’m still expecting some upward revisions to June or July residential spending.

Residential spending just experienced the strongest three-year stretch of spending growth on record, up 60% in 2013-2014-2015. After taking out inflation, volume growth was only 31%, but that is still the strongest ever for three consecutive years. Spending growth in 2016 will reach only +9%. After adjusting for inflation that represents volume growth of less than +4%, the slowest in 5 years. New starts YTD (as reported by Dodge Data) although down from the 1st quarter, are still near post-recession highs. Starts from late 2015 and early 2016 will still be generating spending into early 2017. 2017 will repeat nearly identical to 2016. What we may be seeing is that it might be difficult to register another year of very high percentage growth in 2016 or 2017 because it is being measured against the 2015 10-year high. Another factor limiting very high growth may be a limited supply of labor to expand the workforce.

Total Nonresidential SAAR spending for July is $701 billion, down slightly from June, but monthly SAAR has varied only +/- 1% for the last six months. YTD spending compared to 2015 is up 5.1%. Nonresidential spending also slowed in April and May but is now up 1.5% from those lows. The current 3-month average is up slightly from the 1st quarter and is just 3% below the pre-recession 2008 current dollar high.

Nonresidential Buildings spending for July totaled a SAAR of $403 billion, down slightly from June but up 1.3% from the May dip. Spending YTD for nonresidential buildings through July is up 8.0% over 2015. The current 3-month average of $403 billion is up slightly from the 1st quarter but is still 9% below the peak in 2008.

Non-building Infrastructure spending for July fell to a SAAR of $289 billion, down only slightly over for the last four months. YTD spending through July is up only 1.3% over 2015. Spending began to slow in April and May and is now at the 2016 low. The current 3-month average is down 4% from the 1st quarter. However, spending on nonbuilding infrastructure reached an all-time high in the first half of 2014 and has remained near those highs through 2015 into the 1st quarter of 2016.


Public spending average for the 1st six months of 2016 is the highest since 2010 and is up 10% from the 2014 low point. YTD public spending is up 0.2% from 2015. All of Highway plus 80% of Educational makes up 55% of all public construction spending. The next largest markets, all of Sewage/Wastewater plus 70% of Transportation accounts for only 19% of public sending. All other markets combined make up less than 20%.

The biggest mover to total public spending this year is educational spending. Public educational spending is up only 4.0% YTD, but because it represents almost 25% of all public spending, it’s has a bigger net impact of +1.0% on moving the trend up than any other single public market. Public commercial spending is up 36.6% YTD but has only a 1% market share of public work. Highway and street is up 2.6% YTD. At 30% of total public that results in a net move of +0.8%. Office, public safety, power, sewage/waste disposal and water supply are all down YTD by a combined -5.3%. At a combined market share of 21% that nets a -1.1% reduction in YTD public spending.

Private spending is dominated by a 52% market share of residential work. At 6.6% growth that nets 3.4% growth in private spending. Several of the nonresidential building markets have high YTD growth (and/or a large market share of private work); lodging +30%, office +27%, Amusement +22%, commercial +10% and power +8%.  These five markets combined represent 29% of private spending and combined are up +15% YTD for a net impact of +4.4% to private work.

For a base of reference, here’s a few points in spending history.

Total Construction Spending

  • 8 years 1998-2005 up 77%
  • 3 years 2003-2005 up 32%
  • 3 years 2008-2010 down 30%
  • 4 years 2012-2015 up 41%


  • 8 years 1998-2005 up 133%
  • 3 years 2003-2005 up 57%
  • 3 years 2007-2009 down 60%
  • 3 years 2013-2015 up 60%

Nonresidential Buildings

  • 5 years 2004-2008 up 64%
  • 3 years 2006-2008 up 45%
  • 3 years 2009-2011 down 36%
  • 2 years 2014-2015 up 25%

Non-building Infrastructure

  • 7 years 1995-2001 up 56%
  • 4 years 2005-2008 up 60%
  • 3 years 2009-2011 down 8%
  • 3 years 2012-2014 up 19%


See this post for expanded details on Construction Spending – Nonresidential Markets – Buildings and Infrastructure

See this post for expanded details on Construction Inflation

Construction Spending vs Dodge Starts vs New Housing Unit Starts

Read my last few blogs and all of this is detailed, but this is worth a look.

Dodge Data Construction Starts cash flowed shows a predicted spending pattern.

Actual spending is shown to compare to the prediction.

For another residential input we have new housing starts. Here I’ve spread activity out from start to completion like a cash flow to get monthly activity. History compares to actual spending and future compares to Dodge New Starts cash flow.

The time flow of activity generated by housing starts is much more important than the monthly starts themselves. It prompts us to look at a much longer term trend of housing starts than just whether they have moved up of down in the last month or quarter.

Modeling for nonresidential buildings and non-building infrastructure appears more accurate than residential. It looks like my prediction of cash flow from Dodge residential starts needs to move 2-4 months to the left.

5-4-16 The cash flow plot for residential has been revised to use a different duration for SF vs MF vs Reno.

Starts Cashflows to 6-17 vs Spend 3-16

Housing Starts Workflow 4-16 SAAR


Residential Work Flow From Housing Starts

Housing starts can be erratic. It’s not unusual to see monthly housing starts fluctuate up or down by 10%, sometimes 20%. But what affect does this have on the flow of housing work? Not as much as you might think.

Although housing starts is in units, not dollars, we can create a “cash flow” to see how the new starts generate activity over future months. To see the flow of work I’ve created a simple time flow of starts to show the activity generated for new housing starts.

About 2/3rds of housing starts are single family units. These might have a construction duration ranging from 6 to 9 months. The remaining 1/3rd of starts are multifamily units. Those could have construction duration of anywhere from 8 months to 16 months and in some cases longer. For this simple analysis I’ve used a work flow duration of 2/3rds at 7 months and 1/3rd at 17 months. Varying the duration longer or shorter by a few months will not have a big effect on the outcome. It changes the slope of the growth rate but does not change the consistency of the growth pattern.

A time flow of housing starts shows growth rates of; 2013 +13%; 2014 +10%; 2015+12%. Actual construction spending shows growth of 2013 +19%; 2014 +14%; 2015+13%.

Housing Starts Actuals for Workflow 4-16

The chart above, “Housing Starts Monthly and Trend” shows the actual monthly starts values and a three month moving average. Monthly starts periodically peak and dip erratically.  Look at February 2015, the biggest dip in 5 years. The 1st quarter 2015 was down 7% qtr/qtr. But then notice it took less than 4 months for starts to come right back to the trend line and the trend remained intact.  2015 finished up 11%. This is how the monthly housing starts (# of units) data goes.

Housing Starts Workflow 4-16 SAAR


The “Work Flow” chart plots the actual work load out over time from the month the work started to completion. The total work flow in any given month is the sum of the work contributed from starts in previous months that have yet to be completed. Residential work flow has averaged +12% for the last 3 years. In 2015, growth was 14%. The very steep climb in early 2013 activity reflects work generated from the 28% rise in new starts in 2012, the largest % increase in new starts in 30 years.

Starts in any given month have only a small % impact on the slope of change in every succeeding month until completion. This is the same concept as cash flow. Construction spending in any given month is the sum of all the ongoing projects from all previous months.

This next plot shows the same workflow, only Not Seasonally Adjusted, so it shows the winter dips in activity and the steeper rate of growth during the more productive months. Although the average slope of growth is similar to the SAAR plot, this shows the real total work activity in any given month varies from that shown by the SAAR plot. However, it is not erratic like the starts plot, it is smooth and repetitive year after year.

Housing Starts Workflow 4-16 NSA

It would take a dramatic change in housing starts to significantly alter the progress of work flow and it would need to be a sustained change in starts. If a 20% decline is offset by an corresponding increase in the following month or months, then the future months of work flow will show little affect from the decline.

What Drives Construction Spending?


New construction starts drive construction spending.  For all the discussion regarding the monthly rise and fall of spending, most of the spending in any given month is already predetermined since two thirds of all construction spending in the next 12 months comes from projects that were started prior to today. This is commonly referred to as backlog.

The pattern of spending does not follow the pattern of new starts which can fluctuate dramatically.  It follows the pattern developed by the cashflow from all previous starts. Data for new construction starts is sourced from Dodge Data & Analytics. Cash flow is developed independently.  Here’s a much simplified example of cashflow: a new $20 million project start is to be completed in 20 months, therefore we expect this project to generate $1 million of spending every month for the next 20 months.

This plot is an Index, so the ratios of starts and actual spending show the relative volume of each of these three major sectors as compared to each other.

Index Spend vs Starts 2012-Feb2016


Nonresidential buildings new construction starts were elevated for 16 out of the last 24 months. Starts were strong from February through July of 2015. A slowdown occurred in the second half of 2015 but the last four months have been gaining slowly. It looks like the backlog of elevated starts will keep spending rising at least until the end of 2016 before we see a slight dip in spending.

75% of all nonresidential building spending in 2016 comes from projects that were started between early 2014 and the end of 2015. Each month, new starts generate only 4%-5% of monthly spending. As we start the new year, backlog accounts for 95% of January spending. We know a lot about spending within the next few months, but what we have in backlog for December at the beginning of the year from previous starts accounts for only 50% of December activity. We will add about 4-5% more to December backlog from new starts each month this year.

Five out of six times in the last 18 months that nonbuilding infrastructure new construction starts jumped 25% to 50% above the running average it was due to massive new starts in the power sector. Some of these projects are worth several billions of dollars.  While this causes new starts to fluctuate wildly, these projects sometimes take four to five years from beginning to completion, so the cash flow is spread out over a very long period, therefore spending does not experience the same magnitude of monthly change as starts.

80% of all nonbuilding spending in 2016 comes from projects that started from mid-2013 through the end of 2015. New starts each month generate only about 3% of monthly spending.

The average of residential starts for the last three months is higher than any time since 2007 when residential starts were already on the decline by 24% from the previous year. The volume of residential starts predicts that spending should be higher than it is currently. This could mean that some starts have been delayed. Or, it could be because residential starts have the shortest duration, they may be the most difficult to predict spending from starts.

55% of all residential building spending in 2016 comes from projects that started between late 2014 and the end of 2015. New starts each month generate almost 10% of monthly spending.

(6-5-16) RE: a discussion related to a decline in nonresidential permits suggests nonresidential spending will decline. Yes, but at what rate? Permits are directly related to new construction starts. Since every month of new starts has an impact of only 4-5% on nonres spending in every following month for the next 20-25 months, then a 10% drop in permits in a single month would cause only a 0.4% to 0.5% reduction in spending in each of the following 20-25 months. It would take a prolonged trend of declining permits and therefore declining new starts to really see a dramatic decline in spending, and then the greatest effect would be well out into the future.

Construction Spending – Reports of It’s Death May Be Greatly Exaggerated

Is activity climbing or declining?  Will costs go up or down? Will we have a winter slowdown? Where are the markets headed? I read an article this morning that stated “momentum is losing steam.” Is it?

I’ve been gathering Construction economic reports for comparison and I see some predictions for 2016 that frankly are only about what I’m predicting for 2015. To be fair, there are reliable predictions that indicate growth similar to what I predict. When data was available for two thirds or better of 2015 total activity there were still predictions for how specific markets would finish the year that varied by as much as 20% to 30%. In one instance the year-to-date actual through September has already exceeded the year end estimate from one firm. Surprising, once that much actual year-to-date information is in hand that there could be that much variation.

And how will markets perform in 2016?  Here’s a few examples from a variety of sources; educational, healthcare, lodging and manufacturing all have more than one estimate for 2016 growth in the range of 0% to 4%, values that would not keep spending growth up with inflation, meaning volume would actually decline. My estimates for those markets are all 10% or higher. Variations of 10% to 15% in growth are common in the data.

So, here’s a few comments on predictions and on what to expect.

Unless something Earth-shattering happens, there is a select set of monthly data that statistically predicts the yearly outcome for total spending and market spending, within +/-1.5% for a smaller data set and within +/-1% for a slightly larger data set, but you have to wait longer to get that larger data set. It failed once in 14 years, by 1/2 of 1 percent. The same analysis can be performed individually for markets and sectors.  The potential variance increases for some markets to about +/-3%.

The Dodge Momentum Index and the AIA Inquiries index are leading indicators to potential future work.  They foretell activity in the Architectural Billings Index (ABI), which is a leading indicator to new construction starts. New starts provide the future cash flows for spending.

Spending in any given month is the sum of how much can be put-in-place generated by the cash flow from each of the project starts that got booked in the previous year or two, or three for long duration projects.  For the next month the unknown amount is only about 3% or 5% that will be generated by new starts in the most recent 30 days.  The remainder is already booked. Two months out the prediction includes 6% to 10% uncertainty, and so on.

Expect a winter slowdown. It’s not because of the weather. There may be additional repercussions if we experience severe weather, but the slowdown is predetermined because very large starts that got booked from a year to two years ago are reaching completion and dropping out of the monthly spending. Starts can be erratic.  This causes periodic fluctuations in monthly spending.  It’s normal.

Also what may not be apparent is what happens due to the difference in seasonally adjusted (SA) and not seasonally adjusted (NSA) values. Readers most often track the changes in SA values, but spending is generated from cash flow and cash flow is generated from the NSA values. Differences can be huge.  As an example, August starts with an SA of $300bil produce 50% more actual NSA dollar volume to cash flow than February starts with an SA of $300bil. This may cause erratic spending patterns.

Residential spending will slow several percent to a low point in February before resuming upward momentum to finish the year stronger than 2015. Periods of low start volumes need to work their way thru the system and this produces growth patterns with periodic dips.

Nonresidential buildings will slow only moderately in the next few months before we see 15% growth through the middle of the year, only to see another slowdown late next year, leading into a considerably slower 2017. Office new construction starts in 2015 are up 50% from 3 years ago, educational up 25% over same period. Manufacturing starts are down 70% in 2015 and that is still at the second highest ever recorded. Total spending is still strong in 2016 at 10% growth. Major contributions appear from institutional work in educational and healthcare. Office and manufacturing still provide very strong support to growth.

Infrastructure projects spending will decline for the next six months due to the ending of massive projects that started 24 to 42 months ago. There will be large advances in spending midyear before we experience another slowdown later in 2016. I’m currently predicting spending will grow less than 2% in 2016, held down by a 10% drop in Power the second largest component of infrastructure work.

Mixed within the three sectors above are Private and Public spending. Residential is about 98% private and makes up about 50% of all private work. Along with manufacturing and large portions of power, commercial/retail, office and healthcare makes up nearly 90% of all private work.  Private growth is the sum of the parts, predicted at 10%+ for 2016. Public work is all or a large portion of highway/street, educational, transportation and sewage/waste. Along with small contributions from water and a portion of power, these markets comprise 80% of all public work. Again, the sum of parts shows growth at 8% in 2016.

From the middle of Q1’16 to the end of Q3 we will register an annual growth rate of 20%, but due to the dips at the beginning and the end of the year total 2016 construction spending growth will come in at 11%. Construction spending momentum is not losing steam. We are seeing the affect of a few years of erratic growth patterns and a shift from commercial to institutional work.

Spend ALL 2014-2016 PLOT 12-1-15


Housing Starts > Look a Little Deeper

October housing starts released Nov. 18th didn’t come in as expected. The annual rate for October is  1,060,000 new starts vs 1,191,000 in September and 1,079,000 in October last year.  BUT look a little deeper than just one month.

The last 4 months of starts have been pretty high, averaging 14% higher than the previous 4 months and 16% higher than the same 4 months last year.

Take a look at this chart. Monthly starts periodically peak and dip erratically.  Look at February 2015, the biggest dip in 5 years.  But then notice it took less than 4 months for starts to come right back to the trend line and the trend remained intact.  This is how the monthly housing starts data goes.

So don’t get too alarmed over one month of data.  Now if this downward trend were to continue for several months, go ahead get concerned, but  that hasn’t been the pattern.

Housing Starts Plot Oct 15

Claryifying Housing Starts Numbers

This can be a confusing set of housing numbers and I thought needs some clarification. Doesn’t help any that I misquoted my housing statistics in Joe’s interview.  Here’s the correct numbers.

Joe Weisenthal interviews me on Bloomberg TV

New Housing Starts (# new units started) from U S Census.

  • 2012 & 2013 up 28% & 18%.  2014 up 8.4%. 2015 expected up 12.6% and 2016 predicted up 15%.
  • 2012 added 172,000 new units to total 781,000 for the year
  • 2013 added 144,000 new units to total 925,000
  • 2014 added   78,000 new units to total 1,003,000
  • 2015 expect 127,000 new units to total 1,130,000
  • 2016 predict 170,000 new units to total 1,300,000

It’s worth noting here that we would need to go back to 1992 to see another year where the number of new units started in the year exceeded 170,000 units. In the 1970s and early 1980s when total housing units started in a year were near two million units, we see growth years of 400,000 to 600,000 new units in a year. After 1984, only three times have we reached new starts over 170,000 unis in a year, 2012 being one of those years.  I anticipate we will reach that mark again in 2016.

Snip Housing Starts Sept 2015

New Residential Construction Starts $ from Dodge Data.

  • 2012 & 2013 up 32% & 27%.  2014 up 10%. 2015 expected up 16% and 2016 predicted up 16%.

In the following chart of Dodge residential Starts $ we can see the dollar volume of new residential starts stalled from about Q2 2013 through Q4 2013 and then again in early 2014.  That slowed spending.

Snip Constr Starts DDA RES Jan11 Aug15

Construction Spending

  • 2012 & 2013 up 13% & 19%.  2014 up <1%. 2015 expected up 13% and 2016 predicted up 18%.

The 2014 drop in spending is influenced by starts that occurred in the later half of 2013 and through 2014. New units starts monthly were low from May to September 2013 and then again in the 1st quarter of 2014. In the Housing Starts chart above, Jan. 2014 starts 3mo move avg are about the same as Jan 2013, showing the slowed growth. The result is spending dropped from Q4 2013 to Q3 2014. Since then new starts have resumed fairly strong growth and spending for 2015 is expected to finish up 16%. See the period from Aug’14 through Apr’15 when spending increase by 20% in 8 months. I think we will continue with 2016 repeating the same growth, although not without some dips in the monthly readings.

Snip Constr Spend RES Jan11 Aug15

Speaking to Joe’s point on when does this affect GDP, we can see in these charts that the actual spending gets spread out over time, such that any slow down, or in more recent data any acceleration, gets reflected later in the spending numbers, perhaps over the next 9 to 12 months for residential work.  Up to the current quarter where we see a dip in new $ volume of starts, prior to that we recorded 6 consecutive quarters of growth in starts.  After a flat year in 2014 we are poised to see residential construction spending contribute 13% growth & represent 36% of total construction spending in 2015. For 2016 I expect similar growth at a very substantial pace up to 18% growth.

Residential Construction – Not All Data Tells The Same Story

The latest New Housing Starts numbers were released today.  Residential growth is looking good and based on several inputs, I’m predicting an increase in residential construction spending next year.  But let’s take a look at the variance you might get when looking at different data sets.

All the data below represents residential construction growth for the period from January 2011 until current, the last 4 years 8 months

New Construction Starts in $ (by Dodge Data Analytics) +19%/yr

Snip Constr Starts DDA RES Jan11 Aug15

New Housing Starts (number of new housing units) +20%/yr

Snip Housing Starts Sept 2015

Total Construction Spending +12.5%/yr

Snip Constr Spend RES Jan11 Aug15

Volume (construction spending minus construction inflation) +7%/yr

Snip Constr Spend minus inflation RES Jan11 Aug15

The obvious first question is why don’t all the data agree?  Without a lot more information on housing that cannot be answered here, but there are a few reasons that can be considered as cause for variation;

  • the average size of housing units being built
  • the quality of the components built into the housing units
  • the cost to the contractor for the materials used
  • the cost of labor wages to build the housing unit

I’m sure there are other reasons to consider as this is not intended to be a complete list of what might cause variances between starts and spending, but it does highlight that starts does not give an exact indication of the growth in spending.  There is a fairly consistent growth rate in starts of 20%/year and yet construction spending in current dollars has been growing at only 12.5%/year.  Furthermore, a sizable portion of that spending growth is just for inflation.  After inflation is taken out we see real construction volume in constant 2015$ has been growing at only 7%/year.

I don’t have an answer to explain these variances.  I’m highlighting the data to show these variances exist and we can’t always rely on one data set exclusively.  Perhaps this will initiate a discussion as to why these data vary by so much.

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