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GOF – The Popular Fund You Should Not Marry Into Your Portfolio
May 6, 2018 6:07 pm|Comments (0)

Please Note: This article was first published for Income Idea subscribers on Thursday along with additional analysis and implementation ideas. All data in this article is as of 5/2/2018.

I have generally been a fan of actively managed funds where the management team has the flexibility to invest in a variety of asset classes where they best see fit, in line with the investment policy statements laid out in the prospectus documents.

For those reasons, many of my client portfolios will typically include a “strategic income” fund of some sort for fixed income investors. This could be either an open end mutual fund, ETF or a unit investment trust (‘UIT’).

Such fund typically outperform over longer periods of time however you do run into the issue where generally speaking “strategic” = “junk bonds.” This applies to both taxable and tax free fixed income.

Where these funds are great however is that during flat or uncertain fixed income markets, by investing in go anywhere fixed income funds you are giving up that investment decision to the portfolio manager whom you believe has a better read on the market and more importantly is able to find those opportunities which neither you or I have access to as individuals.

Perhaps the most well known of such funds is the PIMCO Dynamic Credit Income Fund (PCI) which I wrote about in “PCI – Not For Me.” My issue with the fund was that as great as it is performance wise there is a very hefty price, the lack of transparency around certain aspects and the exceptionally high leverage and fees.

Another fund that fits this bill and sponsored by one of my favorite managers is the Guggenheim Strategic Opportunities Fund (GOF). While I have looked at it a number of times for myself, I have never written about it or invested in it myself for the simple reason that I do not buy CEFs at a premium.

I did have a number of readers ask me about the fund and that is why we are taking a deep dive into the fund today, particularly as it may be just the recipe for the uncertain fixed income markets of tomorrow.

Fund Basics

  • Sponsor: Guggenheim
  • Managers: Guggenheim Partners Investment Management, LLC
  • AUM: $ 619 million in investment exposure, $ 511 million common assets
  • Historical Style: Diversified Fixed Income, predominantly below investment grade
  • Investment Objectives: The Fund seeks high total return through investment in US Government and agency issued fixed income debt and senior equity securities, corporate bonds, mortgage and asset backed securities and through utilizing an options strategy
  • Number of Holdings: 377
  • Current Yield: 10.44% based on market price, monthly distributions
  • Inception Date: 7/27/2007
  • Fees: 1.8%
  • Discount to NAV: 8.78% PREMIUM

Sources: CEF Connect, Guggenheim Website, and YCharts.

The Sales Pitch

For whatever reason the fund does a horrendous job on its website and in its marketing material to set the case for investing in the fund.

On one hand, they do not need to as the fund only raises capital at its IPO or during follow up offerings but still…. why not put up a few graphics or paragraphs outlining why investors should consider it?

Since the fund fails to do that job, I will attempt to.

As I stated in the introduction, I am a fan of go anywhere investments, especially when they can give you uncorrelated investment exposure.

A Closed End Fund structure further lets the fund use leverage and due to its structure, management does not need to have money allocated to cash for any redemptions which occur with open end mutual funds.

The CEF structure also lets you, in most cases, to purchase funds below their net asset value further generating alpha. (Although this has generally not applied to GOF.)

In the fund’s semi-annual report the fund manager does point out that “thorough research and independent thought are rewarded with performance that has the potential to outperform benchmark indexes with both lower volatility and lower correlation of returns as compared to such benchmark indexes.” Source: GOF Semi-Annual Report

The Alpha/Fund Strategy

Unlike in an exchange traded or an open end index fund which follow an underlying index with their generally transparent index methodologies, no such things exist in go-anywhere, actively managed funds.

As such, investors generally rely on the information provided in the prospectus for the fund’s general investment guidelines.

As a true “strategic income” fund, the fund may invest without any limitations in fixed income securities rated below investment grade, aka junk bonds.

The fund may further invest up to 20% in non-US dollar denominated securities, including up to 10% in emerging markets.

What makes the fund relatively unique is that it may invest up to 50% in equities and up to 30% in fund of funds or pass through securities.

Source: GOF Website

The Portfolio

One of my personal attraction points to Guggenheim is their strong position in asset backed securities, particularly aerospace.

Even though this is an actively managed go-anywhere fund, it is not overly concentrated. The top 10 holdings make up just 7.98% of the fund.

Source: Guggenheim Website

Looking at the fund more broadly, even though it can allocate up to 50% to equities, the fund is currently 80% allocated to fixed income with just a bit over 15% allocated to common stocks.

Source: Guggenheim Website

Breaking it down further shows us that more than half of the fund is allocated to floating rate bank loans and ABS, or asset backed securities. In general, these are below investment grade.

Source: Guggenheim Website

High yield bonds add another 14% while investment grade corporate bonds are just under 5% of the fund.

This obviously shows up in the credit quality. More than 90% of the fund is either rated at or below BBB or not rated. More than 70% is either below investment grade or unrated.

Source: Guggenheim Website

Unfortunately due to the nature of the fund and the fund’s decision, Guggenheim does not publish some common statistics such as the average effective maturities and durations. From the transparency side this is a disservice to investors and I hope the sponsor changes it in the future.

The only reference to duration which I found was in the semi-annual report.

Source: GOF Semi-Annual Report

Guggeneheim does disclose that the fund had an average duration of about .7 years which is quite good. We do not however know whether that was leverage adjusted or not.

In either case, what this means is that for a 1% rise in interest rates, the fund’s NAV should be expected to decline by just .7%. If we have to adjust for leverage it would be closer to 1%.

The opposite is also true if interest rates decline.

Looking at the risk data we can find a 5 year beta of .997. This implies that the fund has essentially been as volatile as the underlying markets.

Source: YCharts

The maximum draw-down which the fund experienced was 54.69%, likely during the closed end fund sell off in 2007/2008 when the leverage markets dried up and funds were forced to liquidate.

Looking at the risk adjusted metrics, the fund has achieved a 10 year Sharpe ration of .7935 and a Sortino ratio of .6941. While these are not mind blowing… for a closed end fund of this nature it is quite good.

Leverage

Like most closed end funds, the Guggenheim Strategic Opportunities Fund(GOF) uses leverage.

The fund uses two primary methods for obtaining leverage.

First, the fund uses reverse repurchase agreements whereby it pledges its investments through transactions creating leverage.

As of November 2017, the fund had $ 58 million in reverse repurchase agreements with its syndicate of banks on which it paid an average weighted interest rate of 1.85%. These costs would be higher today.

Source: GOF Semi-Annual Report

The second source of leverage is a traditional credit facility with a lender.

GOF has an $ 80 million credit facility on which it pays a borrowing rate of .85% over 3 month LIBOR. On this line as of the end of November the fund had just $ 2 million outstanding as it had paid down the majority of the credit facility.

Source: GOF Semi-Annual Report

What is important to note here is that most of the CEF leverage which we have looked at is typically a spread of .7% to 1.2% over 1 Month LIBOR. In the case of GOF it is 3 month LIBOR which is a higher rate.

While generally this was a small spread, the gap is now close to .5%! As such, the fund’s current borrowing costs on this credit facility would be over 3%!

Chart

1-Month LIBOR based on US Dollar data by YCharts

Fortunately it seems that Guggenheim is employing some smart people to run the fund, namely Scott Minerd who has been quite critical of the markets. As such, the fund has been deleveraging as of late.

Source: GOF Semi-Annual Report

The Numbers

The fund is currently distributing a market price distribution yield of 10.44% and is trading at a PREMIUM of 8.78% to its NAV, or net asset value.

Source: CEF Connect

Over the previous year the fund has continued to trade at premiums although it did come very close to parity earlier this year.

Generally speaking, the Net Asset Value has failed to grow beyond its initial IPO even though there is a growth component. THIS IS QUITE CONSISTENT with the findings of the distribution analysis. A few good years bail out many bad years however there has not been meaningful growth.

Looking back over the fund’s lifetime, we can see the fund has generally traded at a premium over the previous 7 years or so however did trade at a discount in 2015/2016 and during the financial crisis when it was trading at close to 30% discounts to NAV. This is once again consistent with “junk bonds.”

Chart

Performance wise, year to date the fund has been sold off with most other CEFs. The fund is up a mere .21% on a total return basis accounting for the distribution. The price per share is down 3.27% while the NAV is down 3.04%.

Do note at the price vs NAV action early this year when the fund was thrown out and decreased 9%. This is a risk to buying a fund which is trading at a premium as any sustained sell off turns premiums into discounts, adding more misery to the underlying losses.

Chart

Over the previous year the fund did give investors a 10.28% total return. This came strictly from the distribution. The underlying price per share is down .6% while the net asset value fell 2.89%. Over distributed? AHA!

Chart

Over the last 3 years the story remains the same. The fund presented investors with a 36.17% total return while the price fell 2.9%. The underlying NAV declined 2.5%. A good 2016 bailed out the fund’s track record during this time.

Chart

Over the previous 5 years we have precisely the same story. The total return was all about the distribution. The underlying price per share declined 9.28% while the NAV declined 8.99%.

Chart

Going back 10 years would have you purchase the fund near the lows of the financial crisis. AS such, the fund has achieved phenomenal results. The fund would have a 270.8% total return (if reinvested). The price per share increased 24.11% while the NAV grew just 8.5%.

Chart

Since inception the numbers are not as good. The total return declines to 233.8% with a 4.38% price per share gain and an essentially flat NAV.

Chart

The moral of the story, the fund did a PHOENOMINAL job coming out of the financial crisis but it was quite volatile and since 2011 or so, has not grown its NAV in the greatest bull market yet.

Should have? Want signs of over distribution? Plain vanilla (AGG) and (MUB) grew their NAVs during this time.

Chart

To put the fund into perspective, we will take a look at the fund against a number of competing products, both levered and unlevered.

As far as “go anywhere” type funds, there are a number of competing closed end funds such as the BlackRock Multi-Sector Income (BIT), the PIMCO Dynamic Credit Income (PCI), and the DoubleLine Income Solutions (DSL) funds. PCI is managed by the PIMCO team and the DoubleLine fund is a representation of the famed Jeffrey Gundlach’s ideas.

I also wanted to take a look at how it does against a covered call fund such as the BlackRock Enhanced Global Dividend fund (BOE).

Lastly we can take a look at two unlevered open end funds, the Fidelity Strategic Income (FSTAX) and the PIMCO Total Return (PTTAX) funds.

Year to date on a total return basis we can see that generally speaking, GOF has lagged for most of the year and was actually the most impacted during the sell off in February. It has since rebounded and comes in the middle of the pack. For the year however (PCI) and (DSL) have been the best performers.

Chart

If we look over the last year we can see (GOF) has beat most of its peers coming in behind PCI. Interestingly (BIT) lead the way until the sell off this year. Also of note, even though also PIMCO managed, the open end Total Return Fund was the worst performer.

Chart

Over the last three years we have a similar story. PCI lead the way followed by GOF, DSL and BIT.

The equity focused BOE lags and is followed by the two open end funds which were quite stable. In either case, the Fidelity fund handily outperformed the PIMCO Total Return fund.

Chart

Looking back 5 years we essentially have PCI and GOF leading the way, followed by (BIT). The high performing DoubleLine fund however comes in at the bottom of the CEF pack simply due to its horrible performance in 2015.

Once again it shows the importance of risk management. It is not as import as to how much you make, and it is more important to focus on how much you DON’T LOSE!

Chart

This is ever so important for buy and hold investors.

To get a 10 year number we only have the (GOF) and (BOE) closed end funds along with our two open end funds. This is critical but we do not have any idea how (PCI), (BIT) and (DSL) would perform during a financial crisis.

As we can see, the two closed end funds were decimated during the crisis. While GOF recovered, BOE never did. In fact, the plain vanilla open end Fidelity income fund would provide better total returns than an equity CEF fund.

Chart

Overall, GOF has been a good fund especially if we consider that it has been generally less levered than its peers. More importantly from the risk management perspective the fund is leading the way in delevering while its peers are increasing their leverage to maintain the distribution level.

Bottom Line

Guggenheim is an experienced manager and if you want to capitalize on and follow Scott Minerd, (GOF) is a way to do so. Here is a good article on Scott Minerd’s recent thoughts.

From the pricing side, it is very tough for most closed end fund investors I know of to justify purchasing it today, or even keeping it if you already own it.

Over the previous year the fund traded at a premium to NAV of as low as .62% to as high as 11.33%.

Source: CEF Connect

As we can see, the current 8.78% premium to NAV is quite expensive over EVERY measured time period and the Z-Score solidifies that. The right time to buy it would have been earlier this year when it was trading at near parity.

Source: CEF Connect

Overall it is certainly a peculiar time for funds like GOF, PCI and DSL.

I think a great way of thinking about them is like dating a super model. Yes, they look really pretty and you have a great time dating and you get lots of envious looks. But are they the people you believe would end up being terrific soul mates to live together and raise a family?

GOF, PCI, DSL and other high yield junk bond funds have certainly become the “popular guy/gal” and people are paying premiums for them. At the same time, high quality funds and munis have been left at the alter.

Yes, they have performed exceptionally well in a terrific bull market for both fixed income and equities, but so did the housing market in the early 2000s.

The “crazy” part comes in where on one hand we see premium prices for those funds, yet the underlying fundamentals are either turning or completely falling apart such as the distribution coverage with GOF and others.

Of course, I once again have to remind, a distribution is not a dividend and you have to take an underlying look at how the fund is doing.

Bottom line, this is certainly a fund worth owning, but perhaps when the prices are quite a bit better and we have another opportunity to buy in ONCE the tornado comes through.

In the mean time, the BlackRock Multi-Sector Income Fund (BIT) will let you play in the same space at a far lower cost, a 10% discount versus an 8.78% premium and while I have not looked at it yet, the underlying distribution coverage can’t be as bad as (GOF)?

For more information on the fund, please visit the fund’s website at Guggenheim – GOF.

For more reading on the mentioned funds, please take a look at:

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Disclosure: I/we have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.

I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

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General Electric: The Crazy Ex-Girlfriend I'm Now About To Marry
December 30, 2017 6:00 am|Comments (0)

I hate loving General Electric (GE), its like an ex boyfriend/girlfriend that broke your heart.

Each time you go back, you tell yourself it will be different… they have changed! Yet every time you go back, they break your heart again.

This has now happened to me twice with GE. In 2008, I was riding high, having bought GE in the mid 20’s in 2004, with the promise of an industrial revolution. The finance division was booming and I was up a cool 50% and thought I had found the one!

Then I found out they were cheating on me with someone named subprime! It nearly bankrupted the company, and Uncle Warren had to come to the rescue to save it.

I was frankly, lucky to get out when I did, selling mid panic in the low 20’s. The end result was a 4 year investment that returned roughly negative 20%. I vowed to never make that mistake again…

In early 2015, it was as if GE sent me a text saying… “I miss you… lets get lunch to catch up?” and unfortunately for me, I hit reply. And just like that, we were back together.

The stock had been consolidating all year, and Jeff Immelt had on his shiniest used car salesmen hat, singing sweet nothings into my ear of buybacks, the disposal of the finance assets and refocusing on core industrial operations.

Blah, blah, blah! Next thing I know, this pretty little stock I re bought at 24 and had me sitting on 35% gains, gets cut in half… Apparently the company had a nasty secret spending habit they hid for years and years.

Chart GE data by YCharts

So I had a decision to make mid 2017, do I bail again and take another 20%+ loss? Is this stock destined to break my heart again and again until nothing is left?

I did some soul searching… deep in the woods. And had decided again to leave, never to return.

But as I was leaving the door, with my bags packed, and my prized, signed picture of the Jamaican bobsled team in toe, an event made me hit the pause button.

Jeff Immelt had decided to “step down.”

This left me in a holding pattern for months, until Nov 13th. When new CEO John Flannery issued 2018 guidance that was, lets be kind and just say disastrous. Lowering even the lowest of bars for 2018 to EPS of $ 1-$ 1.07.

So, why am I still a holder of GE stock?

To squeeze some more juice out of my “ex” metaphor, GE just checked itself into rehab!

It now realizes it has a serious problem, it has overspent and or had disastrous timing on virtually every major deal it has done in the last 10-15 years. Alstrom, check. Oil assets, check. Finance disposal, check. Buyback, check.

Mr Flannery appears to not need a second corporate jet to follow him around “just in case” unlike Mr Immelt. He also seems to be dead set on costs, which with GE in its current structure will keep him busy for a while.

Why not close your position?

You think I am crazy don’t you, why in the world would I consider keeping or perhaps doubling my position in a stock that has done nothing but hurt me?

The reason is pretty simple, all of the dirty laundry appears to be in the open now. No more secret spending accounts or ill researched / timed acquisitions (for now). Mr Flannery has all but told anyone that will listen that the rest of 2017 and all of 2018 will suck, and to not invest.

He didn’t “kitchen sink” an earnings report, he lit the whole house on fire.

Source: Meme Generator | Create Your Own Meme

Mr Flannery has called for a new approach to doing business at GE and more importantly to transparency, apparently not subscribing to Immelt’s pyramid scheme like approach to GE’s cash flow. He has acknowledged the pension shortfall, which I am sure will come up in the comments section of this article. Also shrinking the board from a frat house of 18 to a GE focused 12, preaching honesty (imagine that) and accountability in the new GE.

So far I am digging the new CEO and currently am in tacit agreement with his broad outline.

What was the new CEO given to work with?

I’m glad you asked! GE in my opinion has a very strong set of business’s to work with, below I have outlined the 6 major divisions it currently operates.

Power- GE’s power business is huge, with an installed base in every major country in the world. They claim to produce 1/3rd of the worlds electricity through gas, steam and nuclear turbines. This is a core division for GE, and one that recently has helped drive them directly into a ditch, as overcapacity, technical issues and in my view an ill timed Alstrom acquisition weigh on earnings at the division.

However, GE power does have many redeeming qualities. They are a technology leader in the industry whilst having deep relationships with customers in a field that honestly does not have all that many options. Near term however, look for deep cuts in expectations at the unit until the smoke clears.

Aviation- The companies Aviation segment has been a bright spot in recent results, with continued wins and new product introductions, for example LEAP, its new narrow body engine that from what I can find is truly state of the art, with a 15% fuel improvement, increased reliability, weighs 500 lbs less and is 3D printed (which, lets face it, is just cool!)

This division looks set to continue to preform well in the near term and may be looked at as an example for the rest of the company.

Transportation- The transportation segment is mostly composed of GE’s rail assets and is thought to perhaps be on the chopping block for divestiture. They build locomotives with a large portion of revenue coming from the services side of the business, which is something I like to see. They are a global leader in the industry and the mix of technology and services is impressive.

However the division has been lackluster of late and the strategic fit is questionable and thus may not make sense for them to keep. They did just win a 200 locomotive order from Canadian National Railway (CNI) but it may be prudent to offload this asset to focus on core business.

I sort of hate to see this business go, as it truly is world class. However GE hopefully will use proceeds here to either reduce debt or shore up the oft cited pension shortfall.

Healthcare- GE has a broad and diverse set of healthcare assets, providing imaging, healthcare cloud, cardiology, orthopedics and anesthesia equipment, among multiple other products and services.

This has been a strong performer for the company and what I would consider another core holding of GE, this division looks to be a good fit with its digital offerings and will likely continue to buoy the company during this current slump.

BHGE- This is a division that really makes me mad, and I struggle to remain calm in my writing. Jeff Immelts timing was so bad that it feels like it was on purpose. Immelt decided to buy a bunch of oil services companies, seemingly at the absolute top of the oil market. Grrr.

Anyways, GE Baker Hughes as it is now called is the 2nd largest oil services company in the world and to be fair is actually a very good company, and is a technology leader in the industry along side Halliburton (HAL). So basically it is the second prettiest girl in a leper colony.

Oil services, seem in my opinion to be stuck in a pretty serious long term rut and GE, I believe will look to dispose of this asset likely through a spin off off or divestiture of its stake rather quickly. Perhaps GE could offer Immelt a stake in this spin off in return for the GE stock he so graciously awarded himself during his charade.

Renewables- The renewables division is home to a world class wind energy turbine manufacturer, along with in my opinion is the most valuable part, its services segment. GE has established itself as the worlds number 2 wind turbine company behind Vestas Wind Energy (OTCPK:VWDRY). The company also has an emerging offshore wind and hydro power segment that are lacking scale currently, but hold long term promise.

The wind market this year has suffered from intense competitive pressures thus dragging results, however this also looks to be a core division for GE in the future.

So why am I sticking with GE this time – and may be looking to “pop the question” soon?

The companies potential is just so damn pretty! GE lines up well with my vision of the mega trends of the future.

In my mind, a company must both show an ability for growth, while possessing a solid balance sheet with operating discipline from which to build. Under Mr Immelt, GE, in hindsight obviously stood much closer to the crazy side of Mr Barney Stinson’s famed graph below.

Source: FANDOM

Mr Flannery seems to be dead set on adjusting the results of the above graph.

After the dust settles from the recent house fire Mr Flannery has set ablaze, I am envisioning 4 major divisions of GE remaining. Power, Aviation, Healthcare & Renewables.

All 4 remaining divisions fit into my vision- with 3 qualifying in my mind as mega trends. Power, Aviation & Renewables.

Healthcare I view as a great business as well but does not fit as a mega trend in my book with so many unknowns as to the future in the industry.

Power- Power is (obviously) a key need for the future as more and more countries look to move to gas powered plants and away from coal. With the world estimated to need an additional 50% more electricity in the next 20 years, perhaps adding dramatically to that if the electric car revolution is indeed realized.

GE is in great shape position wise in the industry and once the fat has been cut, along with a renewed focus on execution, this division should prove to be a key driver of profits for decades to come.

The below graph shows an estimate of the worlds need for energy into 2035.

Source: Breaking Energy

Aviation- This division looks to be in the midst of a multi decade run, as the world continues to be more interconnected. Importantly the Asian travel market is in the early innings of what looks to be a spectacular expansion. GE I believe is in the drivers seat in this industry, both in technology and services.

My one worry is the Chinese looking to enter this market with “homegrown technology” which I believe is code for stealing IP and re packaging it. However manufacturing jet engines is an entirely different animal from copying an iPhone and progress on a Chinese engine that is both safe and accepted is likely a few decades off.

Source: Airbus Home

Healthcare- This industry as a whole, especially preventative medicine in my view will swell massively in the next few decades. I am going to lose a few followers over this i’m certain but I believe universal healthcare in the United States is pretty much a sure bet sometime in the next 20 years. Which would be good news for GE!

Keeping costs down will likely be a key requirement of any future health system, and with GE’s expertise in imaging for preventative medicine and its emerging analytics and software offerings, it may be able to play an important role in the health systems future, however uncertainties do exist as to the nature of cost controls and the potential for margin compression in all things health related.

Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget

Renewables- I am firmly on the alternative energy bandwagon and GE’s positioning in this industry appears very ideal. Wind energy by most measures is already roughly equal in cost per MWh to current fossil fuel plants, this will likely get better with time, and with offshore wind and hydro picking up steam in both efficiency and scale for GE, will open further avenues of growth for this division.

Alternative energy is here to stay, and GE looks to be on a path that requires no subsidies, a major pitfall to solar currently. The downside to wind energy could be the commoditization of wind turbines, however I believe that GE has the technology and service capability to differentiate themselves in this rapidly growing industry for decades to come.

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration (NYSEMKT:EIA)

So will I say “I do”?

GE has burned me… Badly in the past, and I must say I am rather gun shy about committing to a perhaps multi decade long marriage to the stock.

But she is so damn pretty!

Source: Meme Generator | Create Your Own Meme

My plan “as of today” is to keep my current position, roughly 2.2% of my equity portfolio in GE for the first half of 2018, to test the waters, if you will, of the new CEO. If I continue to like what I am seeing and the valuation seems fair, which I view it to be currently (a forward PE of 17ish) I may step up to the plate and double my position in the company.

Or maybe I won’t, and I will just run like heck and never come back!

GE: “Hey you, what’s up”

Me: …

Author’s note: If you enjoyed this article and would like to be notified of my future articles, please hit “follow” next to my name at the top of the article to receive notification of future articles I publish.

Disclosure: I am/we are long VWDRY, GE.

I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

Editor’s Note: This article discusses one or more securities that do not trade on a major U.S. exchange. Please be aware of the risks associated with these stocks.

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