Joe Biden’s strategy for the US economy is the most radical departure from prevailing policies since Ronald Reagan’s free market reforms 40 years ago. With plans for public borrowing and spending on a scale not seen since the second world war, the administration is undertaking a huge fiscal experiment. The whole world is watching.
If Biden’s coronavirus recovery plans are vindicated, they will demonstrate it is possible to “build back better” from the pandemic and that advanced economies have been overly obsessed with inflation for the past 30 years. It will put government back at the heart of day-to-day economic management.
If the plan comes off, it will show that unnecessary timidity in recent decades has let millions suffer unnecessary unemployment, starved many areas of opportunities for improved living standards and widened inequalities.
But if the strategy fails, ending in overheating, high inflation, financial instability and the economics of the 1970s, the US experiment of 2021 will go down as one of the biggest own goals of economic policymaking since François Mitterrand’s failed reflation in France in 1981.
Biden’s $1.9tn borrowing and spending plans have not been dreamt up on university campuses but are the result of a delicate political balance in a divided Congress. Any new stimulus figure much lower than the planned 9 per cent of gross domestic product risks losing more votes from Democrats than it would gain from Republicans. “This is what he can get done when he has razor-thin majorities to deal with,” says Professor Kenneth Rogoff of Harvard University.
The new administration is making the case that the stimulus plan is an extension of the “high-pressure economy” Janet Yellen advocated in 2016, when she chaired the Federal Reserve, which was a response to the insipid recovery after the financial crisis. The administration believes that this is the best way to ensure a full recovery from the Covid-19 crisis with few lasting scars. Now with Yellen as Treasury secretary, “act big” is the new slogan and the US economic policymaking establishment is on board.
Jay Powell, the current Fed chairman, stressed last week the need for “patiently accommodative” monetary policy, signalling that the US central bank was in no mood to take away the punchbowl by raising interest rates before the party got going.
The plans have left economic forecasters in a quandary. The IMF and OECD have recommended looser fiscal policy to aid the recovery, but not so far on the scale planned by the US. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office forecasts, which included only the final Trump stimulus in its latest forecasts, already expected the US economy to grow sufficiently fast this year to regain the pre-pandemic level of output by summer. It also expected the US economy to recover all of the lost ground from the Covid-19 pandemic by 2025 with no permanent scars. If former president Donald Trump’s stimulus plans were sufficient to make up the lost ground, the question is what an additional stimulus of 9 per cent of national income will achieve.
The CBO has not yet given its view, but academics and private sector economists are increasingly taking a stance. Consensus Economics reports positively that independent forecasters have raised their expectations of US economic growth for 2021 and 2022 with barely any additional inflation.
Ellen Zentner, chief US economist of Morgan Stanley, argues that the high-pressure economy will raise US output by the end of next year almost 3 per cent above the level that she had pencilled in before the coronavirus crisis. She assumes the Fed would not seek to rein in the rapid growth rates. The contrast with the 2008-09 financial crisis is striking. In the decade after that crisis, the US economy, along with almost all other advanced economies, did not manage to return to the pre-crisis path of output.
In the halls of academia, the vast scale of the US experiment is much more controversial and has created shifts in allegiances within the economics profession that few could have predicted even a month ago.
There is little surprise that Paul Krugman, the economics Nobel laureate, would support the Biden plan, arguing that there was only weak evidence for the theory that low unemployment rates raise wages and then inflation. This view, he said, was “mostly wrong”, leading to policy being overly “constrained by the fear of a ’70s repeat”.
But his support for the Biden plan is matched almost as fully by Rogoff, who became famous during the global financial crisis for warning of the dangers of high levels of public debt. He says “we are in a different world today”, with much lower interest rates and a highly partisan politics. “I’m very sympathetic to what Biden’s doing,” Rogoff adds, even though there was a long-term cost to additional public debt and a risk of higher inflation. “Yes, there is some risk we have economic instability down the road, but we have political instability now.”
Among those looking enviously across the Atlantic are Europeans who worry that the eurozone will once again fall short of the US in terms of policy action and results. Erik Nielsen, chief economist of UniCredit, says that with the EU fiscal support around half the size of that in the US, Europe is now “frozen with fear”, which is likely to lead to “another three to five years of European growth underperformance relative to the US”.
Lined up on the other side of the argument are several economists who have been hitherto the most vocal supporters of public borrowing and spending. Larry Summers, a former Treasury secretary who was one of Barack Obama’s leading economic advisers in the aftermath of the financial crisis, has spent much of the past decade warning about “secular stagnation”, the view that advanced economies were stuck in a semi-permanent rut and needed more stimulus. But now that stimulus is on the cards, he has warned it has gone too far and is likely to trigger “inflationary pressures of a kind we have not seen in a generation”, which would also limit the “space for profoundly important public investments”.
Olivier Blanchard, former IMF chief economist who ignited the global fiscal stimulus debate in 2019 with his presidential address to the American Economics Association, accepts that he is known to be supportive of higher public debt. Nevertheless, he warns that Biden’s “$1.9tn programme could overheat the economy so badly as to be counterproductive”.
Some economists fear these sceptical voices will dissuade Europe from adopting the fiscal stimulus they think it needs to recover fully from the pandemic. Adam Posen, head of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, worries that fiscal conservatives in Europe will seize on any rise in inflation or signs of waste in the programme. “Delivery of good results doesn’t generate the same groundswell as a conservative warning,” he says. “I’d hate for [the Biden plan] to get a bad reputation abroad.”
Supporters of the plan, especially those looking at it from an international perspective, have worked hard to justify the scale of the fiscal stimulus. Core to the argument for “going big” is the evidence of the past decade that countries have much more room for economic growth and lower unemployment before there is any inflationary pressure. In the US, the unemployment rate fell to 3.5 per cent in early 2020 before the pandemic, its lowest in 50 years, without any sign of inflation rising.
The European Central Bank has struggled to raise inflation close to its 2 per cent target, leading many to think there has been insufficient fiscal stimulus. This suggests economists and policymakers have persistently underestimated the output gap, the economic concept that estimates the degree to which economies are functioning below a level that would keep inflation stable.
Robin Brooks, chief economist at the Institute of International Finance, which represents the world’s largest financial institutions, has run a campaign on what he calls “nonsense output gaps”, especially in southern Europe, estimated by the IMF and others. He says there was always more scope for expansionary fiscal policies without inflation and that the low output gap estimates have prevented growth and prosperity, further undermining countries’ public finances.
“Output gaps are a key input into whether and how much overheating we might get,” he says. While he believes the US debate on overheating is appropriate, Europe can afford much more stimulus without inflation. If it continues along existing lines and does not follow the US, he says: “Europe will get a repeat of sluggish recovery after the financial crisis.”
Alongside the potential for larger output gaps, another defence of big stimulus is that government spending, particularly on investment projects, can itself raise the speed limits of economies before they generate inflation.
If the Biden plan can demonstrate it has generated more capacity for higher and greener future growth rates, that would be the holy grail of government intervention, says Mariana Mazzucato, professor of economics at University College London. Do it right, she says, and there are huge benefits available.
“You’re not just flooding the system with liquidity, but reaching the real economy and creating a stronger industrial base,” she says. “That’s the kind of thing we want to see — expanding capacity and preventing inflation.”
The arguments in favour of the Biden stimulus plan are not disputed by most of those who have expressed concerns, but they say its size at up to 14 per cent of gross domestic product, including the stimulus signed into law by Trump in December, is simply unwarranted and might undermine the argument for using fiscal policy to help economies recover from the pandemic.
Jason Furman, former chair of Obama’s council of economic advisers, says the new administration is entirely justified in seeking to test the level of the output gap and the potential level of GDP that did not generate inflation. “The idea you test potential by year after year throwing logs on the fire is incredibly compelling, but that’s not the same as spending over 10 per cent of GDP in one year,” he says.
Few would worry about inflation rising to 3 per cent or even temporarily a bit higher, he adds, but the Fed would have to react if there was a sustained bout of inflation.
One danger cited by many economists is that if inflation becomes ingrained in an economy it can be difficult and painful to eradicate, with central banks having to raise interest rates and cause a recession and unemployment to bring it back down. If Krugman is right that the link between unemployment and inflation has become weaker, there is a fear that any action by the central bank to lower inflation will require a lot more unemployment than in the 1980s and 1990s to bring it down.
While some inflation is certainly seen as a benefit of the reform, helping to grease the wheels of a modern economy, there is also a debate whether inflation was, in any case, about to rise. Manoj Pradhan, founder of Talking Heads Macroeconomics, is concerned that the short-term inflationary dynamics of the Biden plan will combine with longer-term upward pressures on prices that will come from an ageing population consuming more and producing less.
“Even before [Biden announced his plan], the US looked like an inflationary place anyway,” Pradhan says. And what happens in the US tends to get exported, he adds. “Fiscal policy has led the stimulus and if inflation becomes acceptable in the US, it gives a green light to the rest of the world.”
Economists of all persuasions also worry that the Biden plan, with its heavy emphasis on sending cheques to families, is poorly targeted and not nearly as focused on improving the potential for future growth as they would like. Randall Kroszner, former Federal Reserve governor and now deputy dean of the University of Chicago’s business school, says the heavy fiscal stimulus in response to the pandemic is appropriate, but the debt created does have a cost.
“It does have to be paid back by future generations so it is very important to make sure there is a return to that spending,” he says.
If that was not difficult enough, others warn that Europe cannot simply ape what America is doing, partly because it does not have the same access to finance and partly because there is more scepticism that it is possible simply to “build back better” just by borrowing and spending.
Robert Chote, the recently departed head of the UK Office for Budget Responsibility, says the outlook for fiscal policy outside the US is likely to focus less on the stimulus debate and more “on the severity of any long-term scarring of the economy — which is hard to estimate with any confidence”.
He adds that the public finances are more complicated than thinking about stimulus. Governments, for example, would soon need to consider raising taxes, especially if they “feel the need to spend a permanently bigger share of national income on health and social care after the pandemic than before it, to build more resilience into the system”. These structural public finance questions will not go away easily once economies have recovered.
For now, however, all eyes are on the huge stimulus numbers coming from the US. Its new government is planning to borrow and spend and Yellen has called on the rest of the G7 to follow suit. As Rogoff says, the experiment is likely to be global. “If it goes wrong for the US, it goes wrong for everybody.”
PACE Releases Guidance for Circular Economy Transition in Five Sectors | News | SDG Knowledge Hub | IISD – IISD Reporting Services
The Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE) Secretariat has released five publications that outline how the electronics, textiles, food, plastics, and capital equipment sectors can increase their circularity. Comprising the ‘Circular Economy Action Agenda,’ the reports serve as a rallying call for businesses, governments, researchers, consumers, and civil society to work together.
Each publication outlines the objective for a circular economy and what circularity in that particular sector looks like, the impact on people and the planet if those objectives were to be achieved, the barriers that stand to hinder implementation, and actions that can optimize the sector’s transition towards a more circular economy.
The report, ‘Circular Economy Action Agenda: Electronics,’ authored in partnership with Accenture, notes that less than 20% of electronics are collected and recycled, despite the raw materials within e-waste being valued at approximately USD 57 billion per year. A circular economy for electronics, the report explains, would see products use more recycled and recyclable content, designed for longevity and collected for recycling when they are no longer suitable for use. However, barriers include, inter alia, production systems that depend on virgin materials, lack of industry-wide standards for circular design and inconsistent regulatory regimes, and lack of knowledge on the hazards wrought by e-waste.
The report’s ten calls to action to accelerate the transition to a circular economy for electronics include, inter alia, incentives for designing circular products, enabling easier sourcing of recycled content, increasing market demand for circular products and services, setting up effective collection systems, and encouraging customers to take back their electronics once they are no longer useable. For each call to action, as also done in the other four publications, the report outlines where governments, financial services institutions, consumers, and civil society actors can start.
Of note is a cross-cutting call to action to enable efficiency and transparency in compliance and responsible transboundary movement. It cites the relevance of the Basel Convention, which prohibits illegal trade and dumping of hazardous waste as end-of-life electronics are often classified. PACE recommends that competent authorities to the Basel Convention team up with trade ministries, private sector actors, and standard-setting institutions to develop certifications and “green lanes” for environmentally sound management of e-waste.
Used textiles trade should be managed with targeted efforts to ensure environmental benefits.
The report, ‘Circular Economy Action Agenda for Textiles,’ also produced with Accenture, flags that people throw away apparel worth an estimated USD 460 billion each year, and that the textiles industry consumes roughly 215 trillion liters of water annually. Recycling textile waste, the report notes, can unlock up to USD 100 billion per year, as well as natural resource and chemical use reductions.
The report envisions a future where inputs for textiles are safe, recycled, or renewable; where textiles are kept in use for longer; and where textiles are recycled at the end of their use, rather than incinerated or landfilled. Barriers to achieving this vision include high price sensitivity in the fibers market, short trend cycles (e.g. fast fashion), undeveloped collection and sorting infrastructure, and blended fibers and chemical additives that compromise the quality and safety of textile recycling.
The ten calls to action to accelerate the transition to a circular textile economy include incentivizing and supporting textiles’ design for longevity and recyclability, encouraging behavioral shifts, guiding new business models, increasing efficiency and quality in textiles sorting, and making the recycled fibers market more competitive. The authors note that (re)used textiles sent overseas can deliver environmental benefits, but it remains unclear how much imported textiles are actually reused, rather than downcycled or disposed of. Accordingly, a call to action emphasizes that the used textiles trade should be managed with targeted efforts to ensure environmental benefits and help preserve local industries, in part through matching countries’ desired levels of import and export.
The report, ‘Circular Economy Action Agenda for Plastics,’ also by PACE and Accenture, projects plastic packaging volumes to more than quadruple by 2050, to over 318 million tons per year. A circular economy for plastics, the report notes, starts with eliminating unnecessary plastics and shifting from virgin materials to recycled or renewable ones. Highlighting that just 14% of plastic packaging today is collected for recycling (and that an even lower percentage is actually recycled), several of the report’s ten calls to action point to a need for incentivizing reusing—and eventually recycling—plastics, in part through better-functioning collection systems and strategically-planned sorting and recycling facilities.
Fragmentation of the plastic waste trade globally can contribute to uncertainty around investments in reverse logistics and recycling infrastructure.
The report calls out fragmentation of the plastic waste trade globally as a barrier to a circular economy for plastics, which, beyond disincentivizing plastics’ collection and transport, can also contribute to uncertainty around investments in reverse logistics and recycling infrastructure. One of the calls to action outlines how actors can strategically plan sorting and recycling facilities in compliance with trade regulations. The call to action references the Basel Convention’s Plastics Waste Amendments, which came into effect in January 2021, to enhance control of transboundary movements of plastic waste.
The report, ‘Circular Economy Action Agenda: Food,’ developed by the PACE Secretariat and Resonance, notes that a third of all food is currently lost or wasted, despite the fact that 800 million people do not have enough to eat. The report highlights the value of a regenerative food system that goes far beyond the current production regime where 75% of food is derived from just 12 plant and animal species. Rather, a circular food economy would recycle the nutrients in food byproducts to make textiles and animal feed or drive innovations. Less than 2% of nutrients are recycled today.
The report calls for a transition to healthy diets based on regenerative practices that avert food loss and waste hotspots. Additional calls to action include reframing wasted food and byproducts as valuable resources, rather than trash, and facilitating secondary market development for these inputs. Nineteen barriers identified include perverse incentives such as ecologically harmful agricultural subsidies and lack of finance or assistance to more sustainable production methods, as well as poor coherence and logistics such as cold chains and proper storage.
The report, ‘Circular Economy Action Agenda: Capital Equipment,’ by PACE, Accenture, and Circle Economy, covers long-lived buildings, machines, and infrastructure, which consume 7.2 million tons of raw materials annually. A circular economy for capital equipment, the report notes, would primarily see products designed with reuse rather than recycling in mind, and delivered though “product-as-a-service” models that go beyond one-off sales. Calls to action, similar to other sectors, include incentives for circular product design, servitization, increasing end-of-use product return, and responsible reverse logistics systems, among other recommendations. One barrier of note is that some public organizations are not allowed to trade with private parties, which prevents capital equipment from being returned for refurbishing or reuse.
PACE notes that over 200 experts from more than 100 businesses, governments, and civil society organizations have contributed to the development of the Action Agenda. PACE was created in 2018 by the World Economic Forum (WEF). It is now hosted by the World Resources Institute (WRI). [Publication: Circular Economy Action Agenda: Electronics] [Publication: Circular Economy Action Agenda: Textiles] [Publication: Circular Economy Action Agenda: Plastics] [Publication: Circular Economy Action Agenda: Food] [Publication: Circular Economy Action Agenda: Capital Equipment] [PACE Circular Economy Action Agenda Landing Page]
Economy on track for 'very strong' bounce in late 2021 | RENX – Real Estate News EXchange
“We are not out of the woods yet.” However, the end of the pandemic appears to be in sight, the commercial real estate industry has more data about potential lingering fallouts and when the recovery begins, it is likely to be strong and fast.
Those were key takeaways from Tuesday’s opening presentations at the virtual RealCapital conference, where CBRE’s Paul Morassutti and CIBC World Markets’ deputy chief economist Benjamin Tal provided overviews of the industry and economy.
Tal broke his analysis down into three time periods: The immediate economic impact, the second half of 2021 and the potential for longer-term economic “scarring.” The first two he summed up in short order.
“I believe we are already in the midst of a double-dip recession. The economy as we talk is basically shrinking by one or two per cent in Canada. This is the short term. It’s not great,” he said.
However, “I believe the recovery will be very strong. The second quarter, the spring, will be a transition period and then I am talking about a very strong second half.”
Tal predicted GDP growth of up to six or seven per cent in the second half of 2021. Because relatively few economic sectors have been affected by the pandemic — although those impacted have been hit deeply — he said a recovery can happen very quickly.
Pandemic’s economic impact deep but narrow
The hardest-hit sectors are mainly service-oriented. On the jobs front, those affected have largely been the lowest wage earners, meaning people with higher disposable incomes are banking money for better times ahead.
“The good news is the service industry is very quick to recover,” Tal noted, laying out the basis for his optimism long-term economic “scarring” will be minimal. “This is all about cash.
“For every dollar decline in wages, the Canadian government injected seven dollars into the economy. This is very important. This is the first recession ever where income actually went up. And it went up in a very significant way.”
That bubble of excess savings is about $90 billion and growing, he said.
“You increase your savings. You don’t want to do that, but you are forced to because you cannot spend. So your money is there, your income is there, but you are not spending,” he continued. “(People) are dying to go to a restaurant, but they are not willing to die to do so. So, they are waiting.”
One significant concern is a huge injection of spending into the economy could trigger inflation and higher interest rates.
“Inflation expectations are starting to rise,” he said. “I cannot talk about the economy rebounding by four, five or six per cent without saying that some inflationary pressures will be there.”
Tal called inflation “the No. 1 issue that will impact your business over the next three to four years” but said both the U.S. Fed and the Bank of Canada view it as a short-term issue.
“They are telling you ‘We are going to tolerate that inflation. We are going to allow that inflation to overshoot because we view it as a blip, we view it as a very short-term story’,” Tal said. He believes both central banks will employ strategies to control potential inflation on a longer-term basis.
When consumers do start spending that excess cash, Tal and Morassutti see changes coming to some current trends which affect CRE.
Housing: Sales to stay strong, rents to stabilize
On the housing front, where sales have remained strong despite the pandemic, they both expect rents to also quickly firm up.
“It is true that multifamily fundamentals in Toronto have weakened,” said Morassutti, the vice-chairman of valuation and advisory at CBRE.
“Rents are down and vacancy is up, mainly due to a glut of small condos being added to the long-term rental supply and the disruption to immigration and foreign students. For the most part, we view this as temporary.”
Tal said Canada is underestimating population growth because it is not counting residents repatriating from countries such as Hong Kong, nor is it tracking foreign students whose visas expired but have been allowed to stay under revised government regulations.
“I expect the supply factor in the multiresidential sector will ease and therefore I see some improvement and stabilization in rent,” Tal said. “We are starting to see it right now, also in vacancies.”
Home sales have benefited from the stratified economic impact. A significant group is “not touched financially by this crisis,” mainly in demographics which can afford to purchase homes.
“They are in position to take advantage of low interest rates and that is exactly what they are doing. And that is why the housing market is doing so strongly.”
Higher office vacancy “not cataclysmic”
While the work-from-home situation will continue to some degree, Morassutti said once things return to normal many employees will return to offices, creating shifts in both housing and office trends.
“The future is not binary, it is not one or the other, it is both. It is flexibility,” he said. “The issue is what would, say, a 10 per cent reduction in demand have on long-term vacancy? After all, the retail sector has been completely upended by the movement of just 10 to 15 per cent of sales to online platforms.”
In all of its office projections, Morassutti said CBRE sees vacancy rising. A 10 per cent reduction in office space demand could translate to a vacancy increase of up to 400 basis points, he said.
“Is the office sector becoming the retail sector? The answer is no. Here In Toronto, the real issue over the next few years is new supply. And this shouldn’t come as a surprise since too much new supply coming at the wrong time has always been the office sector’s Achilles heel,” he explained.
“I would also note that we added almost five million square feet of supply in Toronto in 2008 in the midst of the global financial crisis and another six million square feet beginning in 2013 and quite frankly, the market outperformed virtually all vacancy forecasts both times.
“Is it concerning? Yes, of course it’s concerning, but it is not cataclysmic.”
Vancouver and Toronto still have North America’s lowest office vacancy rates, with Ottawa and Montreal also in the top five.
Retail, industrial outlooks
The outlook is similar for hard-hit sectors of retail.
“We would reiterate the view we have held for some time,” Morassutti said.
“The sector is heavily bifurcated with secondary assets bearing a disproportionate share of the operational pain. Some retail assets have fared quite well, notably grocery-anchored centres where you have a strong concentration of essential retailers.”
Retail, particularly hospitality and entertainment, will be a key benefactor once the pandemic eases.
“Many Canadians are sitting on tons of cash and there is a lot of pent-up demand. There are good-news stories in the retail sector.”
Industrial remains a good-news story and Morassutti said the growth potential is wider than just e-commerce, distribution and warehousing.
“For anything logistics- or warehouse-related, we think there is ample runway,” he noted. “But the entirety of the industrial investible universe is not just logistics or distribution centres. A lot of it is manufacturing, a lot of it is small-bay, multi-tenant. A lot of it has nothing to do with the e-comm tailwind that everyone points to.”
This dovetails with an expected expansion of the life sciences sector, which is increasingly seeking office, R&D and manufacturing space.
“We fully expect this sector to follow a similar trajectory that we have witnessed in the U.S., albeit on a smaller scale,” he said.
Challenges remain, but outlook “looks good”
Over the mid- to long-term, Morassutti said challenges remain, but CBRE remains bullish on real estate.
“In a world where there is $18 trillion of negative-yielding debt, the yield provided by real estate looks good,” he said.
“In our opinion, geopolitical stability will be rewarded, transparency will be rewarded, stable banking systems, thoughtful immigration policies and economic growth will be rewarded, resiliency will be rewarded.
“The fastest-growing city in North America is Toronto and many other Canadian cities are on that list. Canadian employment growth is expect to double the G7 average over the next few years.
“So taking all of that into account, we think Canada stacks up very well.”
Material stocks drag TSX lower
* The materials sector, which includes precious and base metals miners and fertilizer companies, lost 1.3% as gold futures fell 0.3% to $1,799 an ounce.
* Miners Dundee Precious Metals Inc and Centerra Gold fell 3.9% and 3.8%, respectively, and were the top drag on the TSX.
* At 09:37 a.m. ET (14:37 GMT), the Toronto Stock Exchange’s S&P/TSX composite index was down 77.04 points, or 0.42%, at 18,253.05.
* The financials sector gained 0.1% as Royal Bank of Canada and National Bank of Canada topped analysts’ estimates for first-quarter profit.
* The energy sector dropped 0.7%, even though U.S. crude prices were up 1% a barrel, while Brent crude added 1.1%.
* On the TSX, 62 issues were higher, while 150 issues declined for a 2.42-to-1 ratio to the downside, with 24.02 million shares traded.
* The largest percentage gainers on the TSX were printing company Transcontinental Inc <TCLa.TO>, which jumped 2.3%, and National Bank of Canada <NA.TO>, which rose 2.3%.
* The most heavily traded shares by volume were Manulife Financial Corp <MFC.TO>, Suncor Energy Inc <SU.TO>, and Great-West Lifeco Inc <GWO.TO>.
* The TSX posted 12 new 52-week highs and no new lows.
* Across all Canadian issues there were 44 new 52-week highs and six new lows, with total volume of 43.98 million shares.
(Reporting by Amal S in Bengaluru; Editing by Aditya Soni)
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