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Executives

Joji Okada - Senior Executive Managing Officer, Chief Financial Officer, Representative Director, Chairman of Disclosure Committee and Chairman of J-Sox Committee

Keigo Matsubara - Deputy Chief Financial Officer, General Manager of Global Controller Division and Managing Officer

Michihiro Nose - Executive Director

Mitsui & Co. (OTCPK:MITSY) Nine Months 2014 Earnings Call February 5, 2014 ET

Joji Okada

We thank you for your participation. I would like to talk about the financial results for the 9-month period ended December 2013, as well as our share buyback program, which was approved at today's meeting of the Board of Directors.

Please turn to Page 1 of the presentation. During this period, the global economy continued to recover moderately, while clear differences in economic conditions emerged between key countries, in particular between advanced economies and emerging economies. The U.S. economy maintained its solid growth, underpinned by steady improvement in employment, as well as higher stock prices and housing markets and healthy corporate earnings. In January 2014, the U.S. Federal Reserve Board started to gradually scale back QE3, the third round of quantitative easing. The Japanese economy attained a significant growth rate among major advanced economies. Growth was supported by improved corporate earnings and enhanced consumer spending, as well as increased demand prior to the impending consumption tax hike. Some concerns remain regarding the possible impact of the consumption tax hike in April 2014, but any economic downturn is forecast to be temporary, reflecting the Japanese government's economic package, high expectations for the Bank of Japan's additional monetary easing and a worldwide economic recovery. In Europe, while low rates of growth are expected to continue for the time being, risks of recession posed to the global economy have receded substantially, as a result of progress in the response to the financial crisis.

The Chinese economy recovered during the period, supported by fiscal spending on infrastructure development, and a certain growth rate is expected to continue. However, the government is currently engaged in structural reforms, including curbing excessive investment and lending. And as a result, the economy is unlikely to boost further in the near future.

In other emerging economies, there are concerns that scaling back QE3 in the U.S. could cause an outflow of funds and currency depreciation. Some countries find themselves in the challenging situation of having to take austerity measures even as their economies lose steam. As the global economy continued to recover moderately, prices for commodities, such as iron ore and crude oil, have remained relatively stable. Although there are causes for concern, such as slowing growth in emerging economies and geopolitical risks, we believe that the global economy as a whole will continue to expand at a moderate pace, driven by the U.S. and other advanced economies.

Against such an operating environment, net income attributable to Mitsui for the 9-month period was JPY 301.9 billion, an increase of JPY 48 billion, or approximately 19% over the same period the previous year. While we will explain in more detail later, the segments that have made significant contribution to the increase were Energy, Iron & Steel Products and Chemicals, as well as Machinery and Infrastructure.

During the third quarter, there were onetime negative items of JPY 37 billion in total, including the tax-related loss at Vale. On the other hand, however, there were also onetime positive items of JPY 19 billion in total, including the sale of shares such as those of QIWI, the Russian payment services company, and the sale of interests in oil fields. In addition, dividends received from LNG projects, a continuous increase in iron ore sales volume, as well as strong performance of IPP and automotive-related businesses, have contributed to the bottom line. As a result, net income for the third quarter was JPY 104.7 billion.

This brought us to an 82% progression against our latest annual net income forecast of JPY 370 billion, announced at the time of releasing our first half results.

I will now talk about the progress we have made in investments and loans on Page 2. Our annual plan calls for investments and loans amounting to JPY 1 trillion and JPY 170 billion of what we call asset recycling, which mainly consists of strategic asset divestitures and collection of loans. The major investments in loans executed in the third quarter include the expansion of iron ore capacity in Metals, expansions of oil and gas equities in Energy, as well as a new investment in an Australian IPP business in Machinery and Infrastructure. In the fourth quarter, we are planning some major investments in Brazil for Machinery and Infrastructure, including the Jirau hydropower project, and VLI, a company handling general cargo transportation. Coupled with the effect of yen depreciation, the total amount of investments in loans for the entire company for the full year may surpass our original plan.

On the other hand, as for asset recycling, our divestitures during the third quarter included oil field interests in Egypt and New Zealand, a part of rolling stock fleet for leasing, as well as shares in different companies, which has taken us to a total of JPY 205 billion of divestitures for the 9 months. As we are planning further asset recycling in the fourth quarter, our forecast for the net cash outflow for the full year remains basically within our original plan of JPY 830 billion. It is now a common practice throughout the company to proactively replace assets, even the ones that are currently generating profit, with a view towards capitalizing their value at the most optimal point in time. We will continue to improve our capital efficiency.

Please now turn to Page 3. Let's look at our balance sheet and cash flow. During the period, total assets have increased by JPY 900 billion to JPY 11.2 trillion, due to new investments and the depreciation of the yen. Our shareholders equity has also risen during the period by JPY 400 billion to JPY 3.6 trillion, due to an increase in retained earnings and the depreciation of the yen. The net debt-to-equity ratio has declined to the level of 0.88x from 0.89x.

Net cash provided by operating activities was JPY 411.7 billion, an increase of JPY 48 billion over the same period the previous year. This number continues to demonstrate the strong cash flow generation from our businesses. On top of an increase in our operating income, mainly coming from the Metals, as well as Iron & Steel Products and Chemicals segments, we had an increase in the collection of dividends from our investments, including LNG projects. Free cash flow was a net outflow of JPY 154.6 billion, reflecting the investments that I explained earlier. It is worth noting that the level of net outflow has declined compared to the same period of the previous year. We will continue to strengthen our operating cash flow generation, be selective in investments and pursue strategic asset recycling, all in order to target a sustained, positive free cash flow trend.

Please turn to Page 5. I would like to talk about our net income forecast for the full year. Our net income for the 9-month period was JPY 301.9 billion, an 82% progression against our latest annual net income forecast of JPY 370 billion announced at the time of releasing our first half results. We have seen good progress in a number of segments such as Energy, with strong dividends from LNG projects; Machinery and Infrastructure, with strong performance from IPP and automotive-related businesses; and Iron & Steel Products, with a recovery in trading activities. On the other hand, Mineral & Metal Resources has been affected by a onetime loss, which was not taken into account in our latest forecast. Taking all of those factors into consideration, we have decided to maintain our full-year net income forecast at JPY 370 billion.

Based on this earnings forecast and the number of outstanding shares and treasury shares as of today, our forecast for the annual dividend remains at JPY 51 per share.

Now I would like to talk about our share buyback program, which was approved at today's meeting of the Board of Directors. We will carry out this share buyback program in order to improve capital efficiency and to implement a flexible capital management policy. We will buy back up to a total of 40 million outstanding common shares, or up to JPY 50 billion. The period for the buyback will be from February 6, 2014 to March 24, 2014. As demonstrated by the current level of our operating cash flow, we have a very strong cash-generation ability. Our asset recycling for the year ending March 2014 has also been progressing well, over and above our original plan. Taking these factors into consideration, we have decided to carry out a share buyback program at this time. While we would need a separate board approval, our basic intention is to cancel the shares that are bought back. As there is no change in our policy on the 25% consolidated dividend payout ratio, the annual dividend per share may be affected, not only by our annual net income, but also the progress of our share buyback program.

In the process of formulating our new medium-term management plan, we are considering, in a comprehensive manner, both the investment policy that supports our growth strategy as well as our shareholder return policy.

With that, I would like to ask Mr. Matsubara to provide you with further details of our third quarter results.

Keigo Matsubara

Let us turn to the details of our net income for the 9-month period ended December 31, 2013. Please turn to Page 7. I will now explain the performance of our individual reportable segments compared with the net income for the same period the previous year. For the net income of major subsidiaries and associated companies, please refer to Pages 13 and 14 of the data book. The amounts I will refer to from now on are all after-tax figures.

Energy posted a net income of JPY 152.2 billion, an increase of JPY 35.3 billion compared with the same period the previous year. Negative factors included a decline in production from Mitsui E&P Australia, associated with overhauling its oil production facility, as well as a decline in the reversal of deferred tax liabilities on undistributed retained earnings. However, these were more than offset by positive factors such as an increase in dividend income from LNG projects, including Sakhalin II, increases in production from other oil and gas projects and depreciation of the Japanese yen.

Please note that as of October 1, 2013, we have moved the entire coal business, except for trading activities, to electric utility companies from the Energy segment to the Mineral & Metal Resources segment. In this presentation, all the numbers have been restated to conform with this change, including the first half results of the current period.

Iron & Steel Products posted a net income of JPY 12.6 billion, an increase of JPY 20.5 billion compared with the same period the previous year. There was an improvement in the foreign exchange gains and losses and a reversal effect of the impairment losses on listed securities posted in the same period the previous year, as well as a positive effect of recovery in trading activities for steel products.

Chemicals posted a net income of JPY 10.6 billion, an increase of JPY 13.5 billion compared with the same period the previous year. Positive factors included a gain on sales of securities posted this year, a reversal effect of the impairment losses on listed securities posted in the same period the previous year, as well as a recovery in trading activities for petrochemical materials.

Machinery and Infrastructure posted a net income of JPY 18.3 billion, an increase of JPY 7.3 billion compared with the same period the previous year. Positive factors included the strong performance of IPP and automotive-related businesses.

Mineral & Metal Resources posted a net income of JPY 52.5 billion, a decline of JPY 28.1 billion compared with the same period the previous year. Positive factors included both the effect of yen depreciation, as well as increases in sales volume for our Australian iron ore operations. However, these were more than offset by the negative impact from Vale's participation in REFIS, the federal tax settlement, which is reflected on Valepar's results, an impairment loss on the investment in the Caserones copper mine development project and the reversal effect of a commitment fee from Codelco posted in the same period the previous year.

For your reference, net income for Mineral & Metal Resources on a global basis, including the interests held by Asia-Pacific segment, were JPY 76.1 billion, reflecting solid performance of our Australian iron ore operations.

Please turn to Page 8. This page shows the breakdown of the change in net income between the 9-month period ended December 2013 and the same period the previous year. The amounts I will refer to on this page are all after-tax figures as well. I will start with the onetime reversal effect column. In the same period the previous year, there were onetime gains of JPY 36 billion on divestiture of securities, including the equity dilution gains on the VNC project and sale of shares in MIKUNI COCA-COLA. On the other hand, onetime losses amounted to JPY 30 billion, including impairment losses on securities. As a result, the net overall reversal effect was a negative JPY 6 billion.

I will move on to the divestiture and evaluation profit loss column. Onetime gains amounted to JPY 33 billion, including gains on sale of shares in QIWI, as well as oil field interests. However, these were outweighed by the onetime losses, including JPY 39 billion of impairment losses for items such as our investment in a copper mine development project. On top of that, we recorded tax-related losses for Vale. And as a result, the net overall effect was a negative JPY 36 billion.

With regards to market and commodity prices factors, there was a net overall increase of JPY 54 billion due to the depreciation of the Japanese yen partly being offset by the decline in coal and oil and gas prices. As for costs in Metals and Energy, there was a cost increase of JPY 3 billion, mainly in depreciation costs for oil and gas in Energy, which was partially offset by cost reductions in Mineral & Metal Resources.

Miscellaneous factors amounted to approximately JPY 39 billion, including positive factors such as JPY 7 billion attributable to increases in the sales volume of iron ore, an increase in dividends received from LNG projects, and increases in trading activities driven by a recovery in the global economy. While the volume effect of Energy is a negative JPY 2 billion, its U.S. shale and Middle East operations are performing strongly. And without the prolonged negative impact due to overhauling Mitsui E&P Australia's oil production facility, the volume effect would be a positive JPY 11 billion.

That completes my presentation. We would like to thank you for joining us today.

Question-and-Answer Session

Unknown Analyst

You told us to ask one question at a time, so my first question is about your share buyback program. Why now? The period of the new medium-term management plan will be started soon. And though you explained about cash flow and asset recycling, I wonder if there's no more share buybacks or any additional shareholder return programs planned. I also would like to know your future policy of shareholder return, namely, which will be given more priority, share buybacks or dividends? If you have anything decided, could you please let us know?

Joji Okada

Okada speaking. To answer your first question, we're still looking at various options in developing our medium-term management plan, and we'll continue to watch management environment, investment trends and free cash flow levels and want to decide from a comprehensive perspective. Therefore, we're not in a position, at present, to share with you our policies such as how we will combine our share buybacks with dividend payments in our medium-term management plan. However, we will strive to outperform the level of cash flow we just announced today as we continue to weigh our options.

Unknown Analyst

You refer to investments and free cash flow as factors to watch. There may not be any single measure, but am I correct to understand that the share price levels and the announced target capital efficiency of 12% to 15% in terms of ROE are also very much on your mind when you make decisions?

Unknown Executive

Exactly. There is indices where share prices are also taken into account when we develop our policies.

Unknown Analyst

Now the result of the third quarter was fairly good, except to Mineral & Metal Resources. In particular, Machinery and Infrastructure significantly improved from the second quarter, as discussed in your presentation. I would assume there must have been reversal effect from a onetime loss sustained in the second quarter, but their improvement seems to be pretty substantial. Could you specify what has driven this improvement, for instance, which area of the automotive-related businesses was strong? Would you give us more details of the Machinery and Infrastructure, as there seems to be an upside potential there?

Unknown Executive

The Machinery and Infrastructure segment has improved by about JPY 5.7 billion in the third quarter from the second. Main factors include contributions from IPP businesses in Indonesia and Hezhou, China, as well as gains on sale of listed shares. There was also a reversal effect from the impairment loss on goodwill incurred in the previous quarter. Automotive-related businesses in North America and mining and construction machinery in the Americas showed strong growth as well.

Unknown Analyst

Then can I take it that the current stellar performance is likely to continue in the fourth quarter?

Unknown Executive

Yes. We believe the strengths in IPP, automotive-related businesses in North America and mining and construction machinery in the Americas is not a passing trend.

Unknown Analyst

I also want to ask 2 questions. My first question somewhat has to do with what you answered previously, and that is about the medium-term management plan to be started from the next fiscal year. You have explained the key parts and general directions that you are considering so far, but I'm interested to know whether or not they have changed since. For example, you described how you would exercise disciplines in making investments and seek to achieve a positive free cash flow. Could you update us on these policies?

Unknown Executive

There's no change to what we have discussed with regard to the policies of the new medium-term management plan so far. We hope to steadily nurture the seeds we planted during the period of the current medium-term management plan so that they can bear fruits and contribute to the earnings of the company. At the same time, based on the proactively pursued upstream investments so far, we will develop businesses along their value chain, which could lead to trading businesses utilizing the network. This is the theme that we are committed to. On the other hand, the financial strategy to seek to turn the free cash flow into surplus by strictly following investment disciplines and pursuing strategic asset recycling is also an important item to consider. For the rest of the specifics, we want you to wait until the announcement of our medium-term management plan.

Unknown Analyst

My second question is about your LNG project in Mozambique, where I understand progress was made in marketing to sign long-term contracts. Could you give us updates on that? And my understanding is that heads of agreements for long-term offtake have been signed with Asian customers. Does that include offtake by Mitsui?

Unknown Executive

At present, we're engaged in marketing for the initial production volume of 10 million tons, mainly in Asia, including Japan. Multiple potential customers have expressed interest and, therefore, we anticipate a significant portion of the initial volume can be sold by way of long-term contracts prior to FID. And our target for Japan is 5 million tons. We're jointly marketing with Anadarko.

Unknown Analyst

Are all of the long-term contracts designed for third parties? Is there any offtake by Mitsui?

Unknown Executive

There is no offtake by our company.

Unknown Analyst

I also have 2 questions. My first question is about the forecast for this fiscal year. I understand that your progress year-to-date could allow you to outperform the full year net income forecast of JPY 370 billion, but is there any possibility to post onetime impairment losses in the fourth quarter? If you take into account the expected gain on sale of Mitsui oil shares and other possible onetime gains or charges, how much upside can you expect for the full year?

Unknown Executive

We said the result of the third quarter came in with a very strong net income of more than JPY 100 billion, and it may seem as if we are expecting to see a decline in the fourth quarter, based on our full-year forecast of JPY 370 billion. There was an increase in dividend income from LNG projects, including Sakhalin II, in the third quarter, so we anticipate a drop in the fourth quarter due to a reversal effect. With regard to iron ore and coal, we are assuming seasonal impacts such as cyclones to push down the production volume, which we tend to experience every year. Having said that, we do admit the full-year forecast is slightly conservative, but we're not in a position to tell you specifically how much upside can be anticipated.

Unknown Analyst

What, if any, are onetime gains on sale or impairment losses already identified to be recognized in the fourth quarter?

Unknown Executive

We do know gain on sale of Mitsui oil shares, which I mentioned earlier, will be posted. Every quarter, we go through an exercise of impairment loss tests fairly in detail. So we believe, at least for the moment, there's no unexpected losses to be charged. That said, however, it really depends on the market, so we will keep monitoring how things will go. We believe there won't be any surprises, but we cannot say for sure.

Unknown Analyst

Since there are so many onetime factors, it's difficult for us to foresee the trend. But is it fair to say that excluding those onetime impacts, your true earnings capability has been on a steady recovery path in this fiscal year?

Unknown Executive

Yes, we believe so.

Unknown Analyst

And my second question, I need to go back to the topic of share buyback again. Could you explain the aim or intention behind your decision to limit the buyback to a maximum of 40 million shares, or JPY 50 billion, which would be 2.2% of your outstanding shares.

Unknown Executive

I prefer not to comment on details of the rationale behind the numbers derived. However, we have looked at the size of asset recycling conducted this time, estimated investment demand trends from the next fiscal year on and free cash flow levels in a comprehensive manner to reach these numbers. Technically speaking, we took into account the number of shares that can be bought before the end of this fiscal year.

Unknown Analyst

You commented on this earlier, but I take it that the buyback will not be the last, but you will continue to consider additional programs in the future. Your company has not excluded share buybacks previously, but is it correct to understand that you will now incorporate share buyback as part of your capital policy in addition to dividends?

Unknown Executive

We have been saying that share buyback is one of the options, but this is the first time that we have decided to carry it out. Previously, we have been explaining that we have a lot of investment opportunities, and return on those investments would be higher than share buybacks. But we expect the level of investments in the area of Mineral & Metal Resources to be reduced going forward and most recent cash flow has been strong and, therefore, we have decided to conduct share buyback this time.

Unknown Analyst

I also have 2 questions. I'm afraid I need to ask about the share buyback again, but you have explained that shares you will have bought back will be canceled. My question is whether the treasury stock you owned as of the end of December will also be canceled. And I think the number of outstanding shares of your company is large compared to your industry peers. But if you continue with the share buyback program going forward, is there any level that you think is appropriate in terms of the outstanding number of shares for your company?

Unknown Executive

As of the end of December, we owned about 4 million shares, if my memory serves me. This is a small number of shares, so we are planning to cancel them. And there's no specific number of outstanding shares that we got is appropriate and can share with you.

Unknown Analyst

My second question is around coal. The financial performance of MCH deteriorated in the third quarter compared to second quarter. Several other coal mines have seen improvements in performance as the market improved. So I'm wondering if there was any special reason behind the deterioration in performance of MCH. Could you give me the updates?

Unknown Executive

In the third quarter, we recognized an impairment loss on an undeveloped coal deposit. The volume of shipment was 2.4 million tons in the third quarter, which was strong, as it showed a quarter-on-quarter increase. Although some of its coal mines were affected by rain, the operation of these mines has been mostly going well. But as I said, we posted an impairment loss, except for which the net income would have been a loss of JPY 1 billion. Going forward, it really depends on prices of coal. But as MCH has been significantly reducing costs, we do not believe its earnings will deteriorate too much.

Unknown Analyst

I would like to ask 2 questions. First, on a related note about the rating. The share buyback will inevitably result in decline of capital. Would you elaborate on the estimated level of decline?

Unknown Executive

Rating is considered very important for our company. The decline of capital and debt ratio is given careful consideration to reach our decision. Our basic aim of maintaining or improving rating has not changed.

Unknown Analyst

In other words, as long as profit is accumulated, the share buyback program will be continued?

Unknown Executive

Yes, it will always be an option.

Unknown Analyst

My second question is on your comment that IPP business has shown strong performance. It shows big growth in the third quarter. Is there a transient factor or do you see this level being maintained into the fourth quarter and after?

Unknown Executive

Within this IPP business, it's mark-to-market. But excluding this, the coal business comes to about JPY 16.9 billion, up JPY 7.1 billion year-on-year on a cumulative basis. Paiton 3 commenced commercial operation in March 2012. And Hezhou, in China, coal-fired plant, commenced commercial operation in August 2012. Both have made a contribution. And in addition, gas-fired plant in Puerto Rico and coal-fired plant in the U.K. were also strong, making a contribution. Mark-to-market came to minus JPY 2.1 billion, but the loss was bigger in the same period of the previous year. So these were the reasons for the strong improvement.

Unknown Analyst

I would like to ask 2 questions. My first question is again on the share buyback program. I appreciate that you have made an epoch-making share buyback program as a trading company to improve capital efficiency. You have mentioned that there is a possibility that additional share buyback may be conducted next fiscal year. But will ROE weigh heavy on your decision in light of the next medium-term management plan? I believe that ROE will continue to decline if the current situation continues, so would you aim to improve ROE to 12% to 15%? Also, is it part of the discussion concerning the medium-term management plan? Please share your thoughts with us.

Unknown Executive

We have focused on ROE traditionally, but the decision to conduct share buyback is not based solely on ROE. We are targeting a dividend payout ratio of 25% in the current medium-term plan, and ROE of 12% to 15% in 3 to 5 years' time. In the new medium-term management plan, we will take the recent results as a basis to undergo our review. Our focus on ROE has not changed.

Unknown Analyst

In other words, your focus will be on the improvement of ROE?

Unknown Executive

That is correct.

Unknown Analyst

The second question is regarding the future cash flow. According to your explanation, the investment, as well as asset recycling for the year ending March 2014 exceeded the plan, and that is in line with the plan on a net basis. If the investment plan is exceeding the plan this fiscal year, will the investment plan for the next period and after be brought forward, leading to a decrease in the amount of investment planned for the next fiscal year and the subsequent fiscal years? Will asset recycling be increased in the next medium-term management plan?

Unknown Executive

Currency fluctuation is a main contributor to the increase in the investment amount exceeding JPY 1 trillion, and it is not the result of investment being brought forward. Asset recycling is also exceeding our plan, partly due to the same reason, and it is progressing well in advance of the plan as an absolute value. The expansion investment was large, especially in Metals for iron ore this fiscal year, as well as the previous fiscal year. But it has subsided, so we expect it will decrease next fiscal year.

Unknown Analyst

Talking specifically about iron ore-related investment, how much of a decline are you expecting from this fiscal year to the next?

Unknown Executive

We are still in the process of compiling the numbers, so we are unable to give you a figure today.

Unknown Analyst

So you expect a reasonable decline?

Unknown Executive

Yes.

Unknown Analyst

I would like to ask 2 questions, please. The production in sales of copper is increasing quarter-on-quarter, continuing to do so in the third quarter. What is the background reason for this increase and what is the direction it is heading? Also, could you comment on the progress of the Caserones copper mine development?

Michihiro Nose

Yes. This is Nose speaking from IR. The main reason for the recovery in the copper production is from Collahuasi, where overhauling of equipment continued until May of last year, withholding the progress. But we expected, once the overhaul is completed, to see drastic recovery in production. We are seeing it recover so far, as we had expected. And as for Caserones, we are aiming to start test run of all processing, which is a part of the copper concentrates production planned, by February of this year. The production of concentrates is expected to start operation in May.

Unknown Analyst

My second question is on the Iron & Steel Products. What is the reason for the gradual increase in the net profit of the third quarter from the first and the second? Is there a special factor? Do you believe that the current strong performance will continue? And do you expect more growth in earnings?

Unknown Executive

As for Iron & Steel Products, there was a selloff of listed stocks worth JPY 2 billion and marginal gain on exchange of shares of former Nippon Steel trading worth JPY 1.5 billion. This may be onetime profit, but these are the reason for the growth we saw this quarter.

Unknown Analyst

I would like to ask 2 questions, please. If the oil price stays flat, will the dividend from Sakhalin II maintain this fiscal year's level and up to next fiscal year? Is it correct to assume that capital redemption has been completed?

Unknown Executive

I must apologize that, as has been the case, we are not able to comment on the future dividend or capital redemption regarding Sakhalin II. All I can say is that production is going well.

Unknown Analyst

Chemicals seems to be struggling. What is the future prospect?

Unknown Executive

As for Chemicals, it needs to be considered in conjunction with the market situation. But, for example, methanol is showing strong demand, contributing to our performance. On the other hand, with fertilizers, the demand of phosphorus ore in India is not growing. Hence, the price is on a downward trend. We believe that progress will go hand-in-hand with the global chemical market situation in the subsequent years.

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