MONEY Small Business

Can Ferguson Recover? The Lasting Economic Impact of Violent Unrest

Flames illuminate the St. Louis Fish & Chicken Grill next door to where fire crews worked to douse a burning furniture store.
Riots erupted moments after it was announced Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson will not face criminal charges in the fatal shooting of unarmed teenager Mike Brown. Several buildings were looted and burned. James Cooper—Demotix/Corbis

The looting and destruction of businesses in Ferguson could have long-term effects.

A grand jury decision not to indict police officer Darren Wilson for the shooting of unarmed black teen Michael Brown has stoked anger in Ferguson, Mo., where peaceful protests have given way to looting and violence, virtually shutting down the city last night. “People don’t want to come into the area,” Jason Bryant, a local pastor, told TIME.

The events echo those in August, when the shooting first caused long-standing tensions to erupt into violence, theft — and shuttered storefronts. TIME reported last night that local retailers have seen sales slow by as much as 80%.

While the loss of local business may seem trivial next to the potential for additional violence — not to mention the civil rights and other legal issues at stake — there is a danger that rioting could disrupt the lives and livelihoods of Ferguson residents for years to come.

In the ten years after the 1992 Los Angeles riots, for example, the city lost nearly $4 billion in taxable sales, according to research conducted by Victor Matheson of College of the Holy Cross and Robert Baade of Lake Forest College.

“Social unrest can have a lasting negative impact on a local economy in a way that’s much more persistent than even a natural disaster,” says Matheson. “Though Hurricane Andrew caused more damage upfront, businesses were able to bounce back as soon as cleanup began. We didn’t see that in Los Angeles.”

Matheson and Baade found that the steps toward recovery are relatively clear after natural disasters: Communities tend to join together to build shelters, clean up, and storm-proof structures against future events. After rioting, by contrast, it’s much harder rebuild confidence and community trust among frightened business owners, or to convince new employers to move in. “It’s not as simple to just stamp out violence and anger,” Matheson says. And reluctance to rebuild is dangerous because it is self-perpetuating, he adds.

Concerns about lasting damage to business-owner confidence similarly followed riots in London in 2011 (also triggered by a police shooting), and economic aftershocks are still felt today, despite the commitment of more than $116 million in riot-recovery funding.

While there are no easy fixes that will keep Ferguson from suffering a similar fate, quelling anger is a first step. Various experts and commentators have suggested policy changes that could help rebuild trust in the police department, including a consent decree like the one that eventually helped the LAPD improve relations with residents of L.A.

No matter what path Ferguson takes, says Matheson, the sooner the violence ends, the faster the local economy can begin to heal.

 

MONEY holiday travel

5 Strategies for Surviving the Coming Thanksgiving Travel Nightmare

Travelers make their way through security lines at Denver International Airport, November 27, 2013.
RJ Sangosti—Denver Post via Getty Images

With storms threatening to put your holiday travel plans on ice, don't head to the airport unprepared. Instead, go on the defensive with these moves.

Planning to fly home for Turkey Day on Wednesday? With weather reports for Thanksgiving travel looking, well, less than ideal, smart travelers should prepare for a rough day at the airport. These tips will help you get to your destination as quickly as possible, sanity intact.

1. Check in early

During bad weather, oversold flights can be more of a problem, as stranded passengers buy up any open seats.

Your best defense against getting bumped? Checking in online as close to 24 hours ahead of time as possible, according to TripAdvisor travel advocate Wendy Perrin. Not only will you be less likely to lose your seat, but you will also have the best shot of choosing a good one.

2. Know your rights

Did everything right but still got bumped? If the airline rebooks you on a flight that will make you more than an hour late, you’re entitled to a cash or check payment of up to 400% of your one-way fare.

The rules are less clear-cut for delays and cancellations. Airlines are not required to pay for meals or other amenities for delayed passengers, though some do, so it’s worth asking (more on that below). If your flight is cancelled, the airline will typically rebook you on their next available flight. In some cases, carriers may be willing to put you on a flight with a different airline, so check out those options, too.

3. Stay informed in real-time

If you get stuck with a cancellation, don’t just let the airline automatically put you on a different flight. First, check out your options at FlightStats.com, which shows delayed and canceled flights all across the country. There may be a different itinerary that’s a better fit for your schedule.

4. Photograph your valuables

Losing expensive belongings is always upsetting, but tack on a crazy snowstorm and chaotic airport and you have the formula for a nervous breakdown.

Be prepared for the worst by keeping receipts for, and snapshots of, anything pricey in your luggage. Airlines are legally obligated to reimburse up to $3,300 for your lost possessions.

5. Turn on the charm

Whether you’re dealing with lost luggage, delays, a cancelled flight, or any other travel nightmare, it’s important to be as polite as possible when making a complaint.

“Take a deep breath. Remember that despite everything that has happened, you are still alive and, in fact, breathing. Then come talk to me and explain your situation,” writes flight attendant Cary Trey at ThePointsGuy.com.

Going a step beyond politeness and being extra kind to the person you’re dealing with—who, let’s face it, has probably been having a pretty bad day, too—can’t hurt. Trey suggests carrying mini-boxes of chocolates to show gratitude to those who go the extra mile to help you out.

If that sounds like a bit much, even a simple, “Thank you so much for your help, and happy Thanksgiving!” will be enough make you stand out from the grumbling masses.

 

MONEY first jobs

Millennials, the Best Time to Quit Your Terrible Job is Now

141104_FF_WhyToQuit
If you're not on the right career path, act quickly. Oscar Wong—Getty Images/Flickr Select

Hating a first job out of college can make anyone feel like a failure. But your early twenties are the best time to take a mulligan.

An irony in my career, given that I write about money, is that my first job at age 22 paid more than my current job, at 29.

Yet I love my job today, just as I am certain that quitting that first job—a financial management consultant position I grew to hate after only a couple of months—was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

I was lucky: The reason I disliked my job wasn’t an unsafe workplace, unkind boss, or unfair pay. I was simply bored by a position that turned out to be less interesting and meaningful than advertised.

But the thing about boredom is it can really eat away at you—at your sense of worth and your enthusiasm to get up in the morning. When I found myself constantly looking at the clock, daydreaming about the weekend, and, eventually, crying in the bathroom at the very thought of coming in the next day, I knew I needed a change. So I lined up a teaching job in China and gave my notice, after only two months at the consultancy.

As short a stint as that was, recent research suggests that an increasing number of millennials are in the same boat. That is, they are spending less time at their first jobs after graduation than young people have in the past. That trend has accelerated even within the last year, with fewer graduates staying at jobs past the one-year mark—and a growing number leaving after three months (or less):

image-1
Source: Express Employment Professionals survey of employer estimates.

Why might that be? Well, for one, research shows that only 38% of young adults under age 30 express deep satisfaction with their jobs—compared with 63% for people age 65 and up. This might seem unsurprising at first glance, since older people have had more time to build confidence and get established in their careers.

But millennials aren’t just feeling unfulfilled because they are low on the totem pole; the current job market is also to blame. More than 40% of recent college graduates say they weren’t able to find a job in their desired field, according to a recent McKinsey study. The survey also found that almost half of graduates from four-year colleges report being in jobs that don’t require a four-year degree.

“Many in the millennial generation are taking jobs that they are over-qualified for and thus are eager to move on when something better appears,” says Bob Funk, CEO of Express, the firm that conducted the job duration survey. Plus, he adds, “we’ve seen a decrease in employees’ commitment to employers as a higher value is placed on personal advancement.”

All of this is to say that if you’re unhappy at your first job and are contemplating quitting, you’re not alone.

Still, figuring out when and how to make a move is tricky. Here are three tips on making a smooth switch, from former hiring manager Alison Green, author of askamanager.org.

1. Be honest with yourself. Green has spoken with workers who have stuck around in bad jobs, despite serious problems at work like sexual harassment, because of fears about money, security, and student loans. “If you are truly miserable, you should trust your gut and not be too afraid to lean on savings, a spouse, family, or part-time work instead,” says Green. “For those who don’t have that luxury, keep your eye on the light at the end of the tunnel and direct your energy into finding a better job in the meantime.”

It’s also worth doing a little soul searching as soon as you start to feel unhappy, to see whether the problem truly lies with your boss or the position—or if the real culprit is your attitude. One litmus test is to try to behave differently for a week and figure out if that makes you happier. For example, if you normally sit back and wait for assignments, speak up and volunteer. Conversely, if you’re typically too willing to please, try to dial back on how much responsibility you’re taking on at once.

2. Line up another job before you quit—but not just any job. When you quit a first job out of college, says Green, very few future employers are going to hold that against you, especially if you’re able to articulate what you learned from the experience. The danger, however, is that when you’re desperate to leave a job, you might be tempted to take the first new offer you get, even if it’s wrong for you, too.

“It’s okay to quit once, ” Green says. “You kind of get one freebie. But you can’t let it become a pattern.”

3. Leave gracefully. It’s important to be upfront with your employer and give the company time to prepare for your departure. If you are respectful and help out with the transition, you should be fine. “A good employer shouldn’t want you to stay if you’re unhappy with the fit,” says Green.

As for questions from future prospective bosses, post-college jobs of six months or less need not to be added to your resume, says Green. More than that and employers might wonder about the gap.

Watch real people talk about their best and worst bosses in the video below:

 

MONEY funds

George Soros Bets $500 Million On Bill Gross

George Soros
Billionaire George Soros, 84, is giving Bill Gross $500 million to invest for him. Rex Features via AP Images

Hedge fund titan George Soros is wagering half a billion dollars that bond king Bill Gross will excel in his new role at Janus.

Things are looking rosy for star bond fund manager Bill Gross, whose September departure from PIMCO—the fund company he founded—was accompanied by reports of tensions between Gross and other executives at the firm.

Now that Gross has moved to Janus Capital, where he manages the $440 million Global Unconstrained Bond Fund, it seems he’s getting a fresh start—plus some.

Not only did Janus see more than a billion dollars of new investments flow in last month, following Gross’s arrival, but the company also announced Thursday that hedge fund titan George Soros would be investing $500 million with Gross.

Quantum Partners, a vehicle for Soros’s investment, will see its money managed in an account that’s run parallel to but separate from the Unconstrained Bond Fund. That’s so Soros will be protected from sudden inflows or outflows caused by other investors, S&P Capital IQ mutual-fund research director Todd Rosenbluth told the Wall Street Journal.

Gross tweeted: “I & my team will manage your new unconstrained strategic acct. 24h/day. An honor to be chosen & an honor to be earned as well.”

Watch this video to learn more about what bond fund managers do:

MONEY stocks

Virtual Reality Makes Investing — Yes, Investing — Dangerously Fun

StockCity
StockCity from FidelityLabs

A new virtual reality tool from Fidelity makes navigating the stock market feel like a game—for better or worse.

There’s no question: Strapping on an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset and exploring StockCity, Fidelity’s new tool for investors, is oddly thrilling.

Admittedly, the fun may have more to do with the immersive experience of this 3D technology—with goggles that seamlessly shift your perspective as you tilt your head—than with the subject matter.

But I found it surprisingly easy to buy into the metaphor: As you glide through the virtual city that you’ve designed, buildings represent the stocks or ETFs in your portfolio, the weather represents the day’s market performance, and red and green rooftops tell you whether a stock is down or up for the day. Who wants to be a measly portfolio owner when you can instead be the ruler of a dynamic metropolis—a living, breathing personal economy?

Of course, there are serious limits to the tool in its current form. The height of a building represents its closing price on the previous day and the width the trading volume, which tell you nothing about, say, the stock’s historical performance or valuation—let alone whether it’s actually a good investment.

And, unless you’re a reporter like me or one of the 50,000 developers currently in possession of an Oculus Rift, you’re limited to playing with the less exciting 2D version of the program on your monitor (see a video preview below)—at least until a consumer version of the headset comes out in a few months, priced between $200 and $400.

Those flaws notwithstanding, if this technology makes the “gamification” of investing genuinely fun and appealing, that could be big deal. It could be used to better educate the public about the stock market and investing in general.

But it also raises a big question: Should investing be turned into a game, like fantasy sports?

There are dangers inherent in ostensibly educational games like Fidelity’s existing Beat the Benchmark tool, which teaches investing terms and demonstrates how different asset allocations have performed over various time periods. If you beat your benchmark, after all, what have you learned? A lot of research suggests that winning at investing tends to teach people the wrong lesson.

“Investors think that good returns originate from their investment skills, while for bad returns they blame the market,” writes Thomas Post, a finance professor at Maastricht University in the Netherlands and author of one recent study on the subject.

In reality, great performance in the stock market tends to depend more on luck than skill, even for the most expert investors. That’s why most people are best off putting their money into passive index funds and seldom trading. It also means there’s not a lot of value in watching the real-time performance of your stocks—in any number of dimensions.

MONEY Banking

Guess Which Big Bank Has the Unhappiest Customers

Shovel burying money in hole in backyard
Summer Derrick—Getty Images

A new poll finds consumers are disappointed across the board with their banks—but credit unions fared far better.

Customers have grown less happy with their banks over the past year, according to a new American Customer Satisfaction Index survey. Blame low interest rates and high fees, as well as decreasing access to ATMs and branch locations.

More than 1,500 Americans were polled on their experiences with their banks and credit unions for the study, which was released on Tuesday.

Affirming previous studies from other organizations, consumer satisfaction was the lowest at big banks—with Bank of America and Wells Fargo faring the worst among their peers.

Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 5.24.36 PM
Source: ACSI

Although the survey results showed Bank of America has improved in some specific areas, a spokesperson for the bank wrote, “We know we still have some work left to do.”

The decline in scores on fees and service for retail banks overall coincides with a big growth in the number of people banking at credit unions as an alternative. “Consumers are finding that the best way to avoid bank fees may be to avoid banks altogether,” says ACSI founder Claes Fornell.

The shift isn’t surprising, given that credit unions score better on speed and “courtesy and helpfulness of staff” and can offer twice as much interest as regular retail banks.

Some of the worst categories for retail banks were “competitiveness of interest rates,” down to a score of 71 from 73 last year, and “number and location of branches,” down to 76 from 79 last year.

Satisfaction with access to ATMs was down for both banks and credit unions, as institutions have been reducing the ranks as a result of cost cutting.

Feeling unsatisfied with your own banking relationship? You could take a cue from the results and go to a credit union, for a far better shot at happiness. Most people are eligible for membership to at least one.

But if you prefer a more traditional retail bank—or a leaner, high-interest-paying online bank—use MONEY’s bank matchmaker tool to find the best fit for you.

MONEY Lottery

Here’s One Solution to America’s Destructive Lottery Addiction

Man in pile of cash excited holding up fistfuls of money
John Lund—Getty Images

This week John Oliver helped expose the dark side of U.S. state lotteries, which are a drain for low-income ticket buyers. Turns out, there's a better alternative.

Lotteries—and the damage they inflict on the finances of poor Americans—were the main topic of HBO’s satirical news show Last Week Tonight with John Oliver this past Sunday.

Host and comedian Oliver had several bones to pick with state lottery administrators, who already generate a staggering $68 billion in revenue each year and are expanding into even more addictive products like video lottery terminals.

Among the disturbing developments he noted is the fact that states like Illinois have begun rolling out smartphone lottery apps.

“If, starting right now, your mother could play the lottery as easily as she plays Candy Crush, in three weeks, she’d be preparing Thanksgiving dinner over a trashcan fire,” Oliver quips in the clip below.

Jokes aside, Oliver has hit upon some sad truths about lotteries.

For one, playing the lottery is a form of gambling that can be just as neurologically addictive as substance abuse.

Lotteries also tend to function as a regressive tax on the poor. Studies show that it’s the poorest Americans who spend the biggest portion of income on lotteries, with 61% of people in the lowest fifth of socioeconomic status (as measured by income and education) playing the lottery each year, compared to 42% in the top fifth. And while the richest Americans gamble on the lottery only 10 times each year, the poorest buy tickets 26 days annually.

“The hope of getting out of poverty encourages people to continue to buy tickets, even though their chances of stumbling upon a life-changing windfall are nearly impossibly slim,” writes Carnegie Mellon’s Emily Haisley, the lead author of a study on the psychology of lottery gambling. “Buying lottery tickets, in fact, exacerbates the very poverty that purchasers are hoping to escape.”

Given that lotteries are a big revenue source for state governments and aren’t going away anytime soon, however, some advocates for the poor are seeking ways to dissuade financially-vulnerable Americans from playing.

One promising answer that’s gained visibility in recent years is to combine the appeal of gambling with something that promotes responsible financial behavior—in this case, a savings account.

These “prize-linked savings accounts” work just like normal savings accounts, except that instead of getting interest for parking their cash, customers are entered into a drawing—a lottery, if you will—to win money or other prizes.

Though they are currently available through credit unions in certain states like Michigan, Nebraska, North Carolina and Washington, these accounts are prohibited by many other states’ governments—despite lots and lots of evidence that the accounts are effective at steering would-be gamblers toward building nest eggs they otherwise wouldn’t have.

In one study, for example, researchers found that people saved 38% more than the average when given the option of a prize-linked account. Plus, the money they put away tended to come out of their lottery ticket spending, not their normal savings account contributions (if they had any).

Of course, in an ideal world, everyone would stop chasing prizes and instead contribute to conventional savings, retirement, and investment accounts that actually earn interest or generate returns and don’t impose the stiff early withdrawal penalties that many prize-linked accounts do.

But here in the real world, where advertisements, news, and irrational hope combine to make us feel like our dream life is just a ticket away, it’s unrealistic to expect all Americans to stop playing the lottery.

A more realistic goal might simply be to apply its powerful appeal to smarter alternatives.

MONEY Markets

Here’s How Anyone Can Beat Professional Investors

141110_INV_PassiveInvesting
With cheap index funds, you can diversify without paying a premium. Herbert Gehr—Getty Images/Time & Life Picture

Statistically speaking, financial experts still can't match the "wisdom of the crowd."

Another day, another piece of evidence that active fund managers are no better at investing than lab rats.

This time, researchers at Bank of America found that more than 4 out of 5 managers have failed to beat the Russell 1000 index of large-company stocks so far this year. In fact, there’s been only one year in the last decade (2007) when a majority of active managers beat the market.

“It’s an incredibly competitive environment, with so many active managers looking for the next great investment, and it’s just not there,” says Alexander Dyck, a finance professor at University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, who has co-authored an international comparison of active and passive strategies.

Dyck’s research found that in the United States, passive strategies work better than active management. That is, mutual funds that simply mimic an index actually return more money, post-fees, than funds managed by professionals making hands-on choices about what stocks, bonds, and other assets to hold.

That finding is a big deal because people who invest in active funds—say, in their 401(k)s or other retirement accounts—typically pay much higher fees than those who invest in passive funds. Thanks to active management, stock fund investors on average end up paying more than five times as much in expenses than they would with index funds; that can amount to tens of thousands of dollars, as the chart below shows.

Screen Shot 2014-11-11 at 4.54.47 PM (2)
Source: https://personal.vanguard.com/us/insights/investingtruths/investing-truth-about-cost

When active funds do beat their benchmarks, that can make up for high fees (though evidence suggests even that scenario is rare). But with most returns so uninspiring, there doesn’t seem to be much remaining justification for active management, at least for the average investor. Better to stick with cheap index funds.

Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. Dyck’s research, for example, found that active managers can still beat their benchmarks when they invest overseas—particularly in emerging markets like China, where investing in companies hand-picked by a professional tends to be a better bet than investing in a basket of stocks representing every company out there.

“In countries with significant governance risks, a plain old index gives you exposure to everything, including the good, the bad, and the ugly,” says Dyck.

But even though active investing outside of the U.S. seems to work for institutional investors who generally pay lower fees, Dyck says, it doesn’t mean it’ll be worth it for you. As a retail investor, you’ll almost always pay more than the professionals.

MONEY

The Only Chart You Need to See About Record Market Highs

Trader on NYSE Stock Market Floor
Spencer Platt—Getty Images

Media pundits love to make a big deal of new stock market peaks—but they are actually surprisingly common.

The stock market reached new record highs on Monday, with the Dow and S&P 500 indexes closing above 17,613 and 2038, respectively.

As usual, the occasion was cause for skeptics to raise concerns that we are in the midst of a market bubble.

But the headline numbers obscure a simple point: Record market highs are not unusual during a bull market—at all. As shown by the chart below, courtesy of my colleague Pat Regnier, record highs can occur again and again for years before the market tumbles.

Screen Shot 2014-11-11 at 10.36.40 AM
Source: http://ycharts.com/

That’s not to say that another market tumble is completely out of the question. After all, even at the lowest point of the October market slump, stock valuations were at or near historic highs.

But the simple fact of new nominal highs in the market’s major indexes is not by itself reason for concern. As investment adviser and blogger Josh Brown points out in the video below, the market has been hitting new highs about once a month on average over the past 65 years.

Read more on…

 

MONEY Jennifer Lopez

5 Smart Career Insights from J-Lo’s New Memoir

Jennifer Lopez performs onstage at Fashion Rocks 2014
On how touring right after her breakup with Marc Anthony was the right move, both professionally and personally, Jennifer Lopez writes: "Everyone in the world knew that I had recently gone through a divorce, and night after night they were helping me get back up again." Kevin Mazur—Getty Images for Three Lions Ent

With record sales topping $70 million, Jennifer Lopez can teach us about more than just "True Love."

In Jennifer Lopez’s new tell-all book True Love, on sale this week, the singer-dancer-actress-entrepreneur has much to say about her past relationships and how they have shaped her career trajectory.

While some might be most excited by the juicier details of her breakups with Ben Affleck and Marc Anthony, J-Lo offers some nuggets of wisdom on success that can help anyone looking for career stardom. Here are the highlights:

1. Don’t let money make you complacent.

Lopez says her parents, who held down multiple jobs to be able to send her and her sisters to Catholic school, were an early source of inspiration and taught her that hard work is about more than financial prosperity.

There was a certain hustle I grew up with, a hustle that I learned from watching my parents. They showed me that you put your head down and work—you work for a living and then, when you’re making a living, you still don’t stop… We don’t stop working because we have money in the bank—we do what we do and we keep on doing it.

2. Embrace your mistakes.

Lopez is candid about the imperfect parts of her career, including less-successful albums, her tendency to succumb to pressure from managers, and times during the filming of What to Expect When You’re Expecting when her makeup artist had to use ice to de-puff her eyes because of all her crying following her divorce from Anthony. But at 45, she says, she is finally able to look back on her errors as learning experiences.

Being ambitious, being a perfectionist, means I’ve spent my life beating myself up for not being good enough, or for screwing something up. It took a long time, but I finally figured out that I wouldn’t have half the instincts or insights I’ve had as an artist over the years if not for those screwups.

3. Never stay in a job out of fear.

One of the scariest choices Lopez has made, she writes, was quitting the hit show American Idol after two successful seasons to go on a world tour. But she’s glad she mustered the courage to do it.

I had been so afraid of it all—afraid I would fail, afraid people would criticize me… And then I realized if I didn’t believe in myself, nobody else would either… If I didn’t do this tour, I’d probably regret it for the rest of my life… I loved being on Idol, but it was time to move on. It didn’t make sense for me to spend a third year in a row sitting on a panel, judging other singers, especially if the main reason I was doing it was for the security of it.

4. Look for experienced mentors and advisers.

Though much of her book discusses overcoming problems, particularly self-doubt, Lopez also points out that sometimes it takes someone with more life experience to point out you have a problem in the first place.

Back in the beginning of my career… I was in a meeting with my agent and stepped out for a call with my boyfriend at the time. Through the glass door, my agent could see that I was arguing and pleading. She asked my assistant, “Does Jennifer have low self-esteem?” My assistant looked at her like she was crazy. Later, when my assistant told me she had said that, we couldn’t stop laughing … “That’s so stupid!” I told her. But was it really? That agent saw something I didn’t. She was a little bit older. Maybe she’d been through something like that herself, or maybe she’d seen it in others.

5. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else.

Like people in all fields, Lopez says, she has at times compared herself with her peers and felt that she wasn’t living up to expectations. But, she writes, the only way to actually be the best version of yourself is to do just that—be yourself.

Your power is in your individuality, in being exactly who you are … that’s why there is no competition in artistry. It’s not about being the best or the biggest, the king or queen. That notion is so ridiculous. That competition or comparison is actually the exact opposite of what being an artist is. As an artist, you should be in competition with only one person—yourself. You can’t worry about what others are doing or saying.

For that reason, Lopez says the only advice she gives out now to less-experienced or aspiring artists is: “Listen to yourself; listen to your gut. Because only you know what’s right for you.”

Related:
6 Money Lessons From Ben Affleck Movies

 

 

 

 

 

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