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Williams Partners L.P. (NYSE:WPZ)

Q2 2009 Earnings Call Transcript

August 6, 2009 11:00 am ET

Executives

Sharna Reingold – IR

Don Chappel – CFO

Alan Armstrong – COO

Analysts

Gabe Moreen – Merrill Lynch

Sharon Lui - Wells Fargo Securities

Emily Wang - Raymond James & Associates

Andrew Gundlach - Arnhold and S. Bleichroeder Advisers, LLC

Alex Maier [ph] - ZLP [ph]

Operator

Good day, everyone, and welcome to the Williams Partners L.P. second quarter 2009 conference call. Today's call is being recorded. At this time, for opening remarks and introductions, I would like to turn the call over to Ms. Sharna Reingold. Please go ahead, ma’am.

Sharna Reingold

Thank you, Jessica. Welcome to the Williams Partners second quarter 2009 earnings call. Thank for your interest in our Company.

Today, we will be reviewing the second quarter 2009 results of Williams Partners L.P. Don Chappel, our CFO, will review the financial results of the Company, then Alan Armstrong, our Chief Operating Officer will review some of the operational results of the partnership.

After their remarks, we will open the line for any questions you may have about the results. Before I turn it over to Don, for his remarks, please note that all the slides are available in a PDF format on our website, williamslp.com. Please read slides two and three within this presentation. They are forward-looking statements about the future expectations and operations that are subject to the various risks and uncertainties, which are disclosed on those slides.

Also included in this presentation today are, various non-GAAP numbers that have been reconciled back to measures included in Generally Accepted Accounting Principles. Those reconciliation schedules and related information are included in the slides available on our website, williamslp.com.

With that, I'll turn it over to Don.

Don Chappel

Thanks Sharna, good morning. Let us take a look at this slide number 5 second quarter results. Second quarter results improved in consistent with our guidance. NGL prices of margins have improved; we will touch on those in a couple of minutes. Discovery, has a recovered from some hurricane impacts in prior years, add some new volumes, as well as we have recovered from a pipeline rupture at our Ignacio gas processing plant, part of Four Corners system.

The coverage ratio for the quarter was 0.92. I will note that our coverage ratio for the year is now forecasted at 1.0 to 1.2 times, and a bit more on that in just a moment. Again we remain confident in our guidance. We have tightened that up and the coverage ratios have improved somewhat and that reflects our year-to-date performance, as well as our outlook for the balance of the year.

Let us turn to page to slide number 6 please, partnership assaults. This slide presents comparisons in net income between years; net income fell about 65% and 62%, respectively for the second quarter and year-to-date versus the prior year.

Lower NGL margins are the story, in our gathering and processing business that drove both net income and DCF down. Lower NGL prices compared with record high prices in 2008 with the primary drivers. In a few slides, we will look a little bit closer at these factors.

Again, turning the page to slide number 7, distributable cash flow per L.P. unit, I call your attention to the third line there, distributable cash flow for weighted average L.P. unit; they had $0.58 for the quarter, as compared to $0.95 a year ago, and $1.14 year-to-date, as compared to $1.69 a year ago.

DCF for L.P. unit fell 39% and 33%, respectively for the same reason that we just spoke about in terms of prices and margins. We did benefit from Williams prior waver of its IDR’s for 2009.

You can turn the page now to Recurring Segment Profit, slide number 8. Again the reasons that I just cited are consistent with what you see here, I would note that the bottom of the page you can see our NGL services business, actually had improved results year-over-year.

Let’s turn the page and will dive into some of the variances and look a bit more deeply. And this is slide number 9, the drivers for the 2Q distributable cash flow. We have got seven reasons on this slide. I will dive into just several of them. First, we received $18.6 million less cash during the second quarter of ‘09 from Wamsutter and Discovery.

Wamsutter’s NGL margins improved significantly during the second quarter, during the first quarter, and we received the total of 29 million in distributions. This compared to 25 -- 26.6 million of distributions in the second quarter of 2008.

Wamsutter’s fee-based gathering volumes also continue to grow through 2009. And now, I will speak to the operating side of the business in just a moment. As well as Discoveries $3.5 million distribution was substantially less than the 15.6 million we received in 2008. However positive signs emerge for Discovery in the second quarter.

Plant inlet volumes began to rebound after the affects of 2008 hurricanes, and the Tahiti project began production during the month of May. The change in Discovery’s LOC agreement allowed us to receive 3.5 million in distributions in June that related to cash flow during the quarter rather than waiting until July.

Second reason here, second bullet, Four Corners commodity margins including NGLs and condensate [ph] fell about $18 million. Average NGL sales prices drove most of the decrease, with a decrease from about $1.31 per gallon in 2008 to $0.56 per gallon in 2009.

Moving down the page to the third bullet, the Ignacio pipe rupture incident in June resulted in an estimated loss of about $7 million in DCF. This includes about 4.2 million of revenue, you know loss profits if you will. 1.7 million in maintenance -- additional maintenance, and 1.1 million in additional operating expenses.

Skipping a couple of bullets going down to the operating and maintenance expense of $5.3 million that is due primarily to Four Corner system losses and gathering fuel costs. We also have a similar slide in the appendix that focuses on the similar factors on a year-to-date basis.

Let’s turn to slide number 10, 2009 commodity prices assumptions and financial impacts and really our guidance for the balance of the year. On this slide, we refined our guidance for full-year commodity prices, and the corresponding effects on our results, the update is based on year-to-date results, as well as what we see in the market for the second half of 2009.

As expected, the commodity prices from the first of the year, fall at the low end of our full-year range. Based on the commodity prices that we see, however our forecast is somewhat brighter than that what be provided earlier in the year. I would focus your attention, at the bottom right of the slide you can see total year low-end of the range at 1.0 times coverage and high-end of the range at 1.2 times coverage.

I will now turn it over to Alan.

Alan Armstrong

Thanks Don. First of all, we did see a nice recovery of our performance for WPZ in the second quarter, with our DCF attributable to partnership operations increasing 4.5% over our first quarter.

This performance was despite the estimated $7 million impact associated with Ignacio pipe ruptures. I do want to emphasize that the rupture was not an issue associated with current maintenance spending or practices, and that we did, given the findings that we had from the rupture, we spent a tremendous amount of time going through the similar piping at the plant to assure ourselves, we did not have any similar original defects from construction that we found in this situation.

I also, just to put that in context at $7 million, had we not had that and we brought that $7 million back to DCF, we would have seen a 27% increase over the first quarter. So, it certainly had a very strong impact on our DCF in the quarter.

We did see stronger NGL margins with the Four Corners margins increasing $0.18 per gallon and Wamsutter margins increasing $0.14 per gallon, and I would also like to highlight that we continue to focus on lowering our operating costs, especially in this low-margin environment.

The efforts that we have been taking to reduce our system losses through film medication and inspection efforts have paid-off, and we have been able to dramatically reduce some losses and system losses that we were experiencing last year, and so a lot of great work going on by our field folks in reducing our system losses.

I would also like to point out that our year-to-date performance is in line with the previous guidance. We provided partially that be provided earlier -- and this is partially driven by lower gas prices than was previously included in our guidance range.

Additionally, we update our guidance for the balance of the year and I'll speak to that in a little more detail, in just a moment. We also have some new hedges in place on a portion of our third-quarter ethane and propane volumes for both Four Corners and Wamsutter, and again I will provide some detail on that.

We continue to see solid performance in our NGL sector, our Conway facility continues to raise the bar every year and we have set another record storage here this year, and we have sold out storage on all of our product availability there.

So, a lot of demand right now for NGL storage there in the midcontinent. We also saw Tahiti volumes begin flowing in May at Discovery, and the volumes have been steadily ramping up, with our July volumes averaging about 75 BBtus per day.

What you see in the June, actually was reported in our second quarter was about 55 BBtus per day, and our total capacity on that system is just under 100 BBtus per day. So, we are excited to see those volumes coming in, even better than we had hoped for originally on that.

We continue to see volume growth at Wamsutter as well, with volumes increasing 11 BBtus per day from the first quarter to the second quarter, and we expect to see more volume growth in the second half of the year for that asset, so we really got continued strong drilling going on out there as he had predicted earlier.

Lastly, I want to remind you that we continue to see improvements in our Wamsutter NGL margins this year, as compared to last, related with the Overland Pass Pipeline, which was placed in service last October, and this has lowered the transportation and fractionation incurred on getting our Wamsutter NGLs to market.

We don't break that out separately but it does show up as an improvement in the margin, in the NGL margin that we showed.

Moving to the next slide here, just a little more detail here about the – our guidance and our thoughts on prices here. This slide was first presented during our Investor Call on April 16th and again in our Analyst Day presentation on May 12th.

As Don mentioned, we have refined our guidance for full-year commodity prices and the corresponding effect on our results. This update is based on year-to-date results, as well as our expectation for commodity prices during the second half of 2009.

Bottom line is that we have narrowed our guidance to show that we expect to have a coverage ratio of 1.1 to 1.6 for the balance of the year, and we expect to have a 1.1 ratio, even in the lower price environment, actually – sorry, 1.2 in that lower price environment.

The main distinction between our previous guidance and our current guidance is that our previous guidance kept gas prices fixed and let the crude and NGL prices move this latest guidance that we have run, does show a range of gas prices for all of WPZ's processing locations as you can see here.

Our second half of the year forecast does forecast high inventories and weakened demand for NGLs, and so this is fairly conservative, and certainly doesn't forecast any robust recovery in the economy at large.

We reflect the recovery of crude prices, but the relationship between NGLs and crude remained well below historical norms. We typically see the relationship approved to NGL in the range of 10 to 1, but as you can see, the second quarter relationship was 17 to 1 for the second half of the year, we are showing a relationship of 16 to 1 in the low price scenario and 15 to 1 in the high price scenario.

We're also seeing a narrowing in the basis differentials in the Rockies and San Juan, as a result of -- somewhat as a result of lowering gas prices. The basis differential for the second quarter was a $1.05 for Rockies and $0.92 for San Juan, our lowercase for the second half of the year has the differential at $0.74 for Rockies and $0.47 for San Juan, and our high case has it back at $1.05 for Rockies and $0.85 per share for San Juan.

So again -- fairly conservative, in terms of expectations around basis there, for the balance of the year. As far as margins or NGL margins for the second half of the year, is $0.06 per gallon lower than second quarter in the low lowercase and $0.12 higher than the second quarter in the high case.

And you can see that there, in the second column we have laid out exactly what those margins where in the second quarter, and so you can kind of see that those wind-up being somewhere in the middle of the low and the high that we are forecasting going forward there.

Moving on two the next slide here, we have got a little information on the hedge that we did place, we placed this hedge during the second quarter for third-quarter business, and we have minimized a portion of our commodity price exposure for the third quarter, with some hedges that are in the money slightly today, relative to what the current market is and somewhere near the high-end of the guidance range that we showed for margin on the same barrels.

Essentially, we hedged 24 million gallons of ethane, which represents 60% of the ethane volumes produced in the second quarter, and that is from our Four Corners and Wamsutter facilities only, and then on a smaller scale, we hedged 4 million gallons of propane, representing 26% of the volumes, we produced in the second quarter.

I will remind you that a lot of the propane that we sell, particularly the Four Corners propane is sold locally, and so the volume you see there is a larger volume and so one of the reasons, we did not hedge as much is, a lot of those volumes get sold locally and are not pushed into Belvieu.

We also hedged the natural gas representing the shrink requirements associated with the hedged NGL production. Just to kind of put this in context, the resulting margins for ethane and this is after all of our cost, we have heard some of peers in the midstream industry quoting numbers that are on a gross margin basis.

This is after all of our expenses for transportation fractionation and fuel and so forth are taken out of that and that is 21.5 cents for our ethane and 53.8 cents for the propane, again that’s sold at Bellevue.

Our actual margins, it is difficult to compare these two to our stated margins because for instance, in the Four Corners area, some of those contracts present liquids, and this is the margin I just quoted you there, is on the keep-whole poll portion of the barrel not on the part that we actually keep in whole.

So, closing up with the key points here, it was another solid quarter for WPZ, with improved performance despite the Ignacio pipe rupture. We did spend a lot of time and money, inspecting the additional facility in making sure again, as I said earlier, we did not have any repeatable incidents like that in the future.

Our per-unit margins increased in the second quarter, and we saw increased distribution from both this Wamsutter and Discovery. As mentioned, Conway achieved a new record storage here already, and as far as remainder of the year, we are expecting to see improvement in our NGL margins compared to the first half of the year, primarily that is -- the first quarter really is where we saw that dragging and as you can see, not to different than what we saw, we are expecting margins to be pretty close to what we saw in the second quarter.

Despite low gas prices, we expect to see volume growth in the second half of the year at Wamsutter and -- but we have seen some small reduction from producers as we forecasted out there, but we still expect to see continued growth overall.

Four Corners volumes will be lower in the second half of the year as a result of reduced drilling activity, provided that you adjust that for the downtime we had from the Ignacio rupture.

We do expect improvement in volumes from Discovery as the Tahiti volumes have ramped down since initial production and the hedges we placed for the third quarter, are adding value given the prices that we have seen here most recently.

Finally, for the total year, our DCF of guidance is in the range of $140 million to $170 million, with the resulting coverage ratio for the whole year of 1.0 to 1.2. So, things are certainly, we are seeing a nice rebound in this business and feel very good about where we stand in the guidance now for the balance of the year.

And with that I will turn it over to any questions.

Question-and-Answer Session

Operator

(Operator instructions) And our first question comes from Gabe Moreen from Merrill Lynch.

Gabe Moreen –Merrill Lynch

Hi, good morning everyone. Question, couple of questions, one is just on the changes in the Discovery, I guess the distribution policy from Discovery just goes behind that, you just want to sink things up I guess?

Alan Armstrong

Yes that is primarily the case. We were discontinuing the run out of the quarter for the performance and so we've got to get with our partners and decided that would make sense for both parties to sink that up.

Gabe Moreen –Merrill Lynch

Thanks Alan and Alan if I can also ask about the decision to hedge some ethane and propane volumes in the third quarter, it is obviously a departure I guess from prior policy, just rethinking in terms of, why just the third quarter and why not beyond that a little bit, you know as a review point that you have got in the fiscal gas prices may decline further and perhaps drag ethane and propane with it in the third quarter specifically?

Alan Armstrong

Yes. What we saw Gabe was, first of all let me respond to, in terms of our policy recall. We did have a fairly substantial hedge on -- in 2008 for our ethane and propane on WPZ, so we certainly have done those hedges in the past.

And as far as why not the fourth quarter, why only the third quarter, what we saw in the forward markets was that gas prices where -- had quite a bit of ramping up at the end of the year, as I think most people are aware and -- but we weren’t seeing the ethane and the propane moving with that and so we saw that margin collapsing in the forward markets in the fourth quarter, mostly driven by an increasing gas prices that we are not all that confident may exist and certainly think that the NGL markets will come with that, if the gas prices do come up.

Gabe Moreen – Merrill Lynch

Okay. And then in terms of – Don, I appreciate that there is distribution, GP distribution support for another two quarters here, but given were commodity prices stand even with the current improvement, I guess can you give your latest thinking on the possible extension of that GP distribution support into next year?

Don Chappel

Gabe it is a great question. I certainly can't provide any guidance, but certainly, you know Williams will take a careful look at that and balance its interests with the partnership interests and again Williams is the sponsor of WPZ and has a strong economic interest in alignment with WPZ and an interest in maintaining WPZ's financial health, so that is all I can say.

Gabe Moreen –Merrill Lynch

Can I ask then, whether Williams, I guess the corporate parent is pleased with I think what the distribution support is, I guess done for the MLP in terms of some of the equity price recovery that you seeing here year-to-date?

Don Chappel

Yes, we are absolutely pleased with the valuation pick-up that followed the IDR release.

Gabe Moreen –Merrill Lynch

Okay great, thanks.

Operator

Our next question comes from Sharon Lui from Wells Fargo.

Sharon Lui - Wells Fargo Securities

Hi good morning. Alan, it looks like I guess you're not really expecting an improvement in the NGLs accrued relationship in the near-term, just wondering what your thoughts are on the driver specifically, I guess pet chem demand.

Alan Armstrong

Well, I think Sharon, what we're going to see, is we are going to have to see some overall improvement in the economy and we are very mindful that there is some addling cracking capacity coming up outside of the US, and that import or export capability that we have here in the U.S. is rather will be impacted by that and so we're just keeping a conservative eye towards those.

I think there is plenty of reason for optimism, if we see the economy rebound because ethane is such a bargain feedstock compared to the heavier feed stocks right now. So -- and to the point where it could start to, you know you start to see propane, start to be consumed as a feedstock as well because of pretty low running pull out right now in ethane.

So, I would just say, we are just making sure that our forecast is, doesn't get ahead of any kind of economic recovery that some may predict out there and we missed -- not ready to call that.

Sharon Lui - Wells Fargo Securities

Okay. And I guess in terms of the volumes for discovery, what is, I guess the outlook for growth, for tie-ins additional tie-ins?

Alan Armstrong

We mentioned in our queue that we have another 45 BBtus per day on top of the 75 that is coming right now from Tahiti, that comes from Daniel Boone and ATP’s Gomez production and so that is coming on for the balance of the year. We have a number of other small projects that we are pursuing as well.

Sharon Lui - Wells Fargo Securities

Okay, and I guess some relationship to Discovery’s, distribution versus your share of DCF for the quarter, there was a variance, do you know what accounted for the difference?

Alan Armstrong

No, I do not know the answer to that. We will take a look at that, and see if I can get back to.

Sharon Lui - Wells Fargo Securities

Okay. And I guess the final question is just your cash and debt balances.

Alan Armstrong

I'm sorry, what was the question?

Sharon Lui - Wells Fargo Securities

What was your cash and best debt balances?

Alan Armstrong

I think, we reported at the end of the quarter we were at $90.8 million I think on cash, and we haven't changed any of our debt balance and I think we have 208 remaining of revolver that we haven't touched.

Sharon Lui - Wells Fargo Securities

Okay great. Thank you.

Operator

(Operator instructions) Our next question comes from Emily Wang from Raymond James.

Emily Wang - Raymond James & Associates

Hi good morning guys. My first question has to deal with NGL inventory levels, you had mentioned that you have received them going up towards the back half of the year, can you talk a little bit more about where the inventory levels have been relative to first and second quarter, where they are tracking currently, and your expectation for the back half of the year?

Alan Armstrong

Well you know with -- as it goes with a lot of hydrocarbon right now, there is a lot of hydrocarbons and storage, particularly the propane and heavier’s and we have certainly have a vantage point of that at our Conway facility. And, so we think, we are going to have to start cracking some of those hydrocarbons into the pet chem industry to relax that bill right now.

So, we are certainly seeing a lot in inventory and are going to be dependent I think on, again on the pet chem industry picking up and starting to crack some of those heavier hydrocarbons.

Emily Wang - Raymond James & Associates

How much of the -- have you seen because I know that ethane is running more or less all out, how much have you seen people starting to crack some of the propane?

Alan Armstrong

You know it has been kind of flirting with being in an out of the money if you will. As propane prices have stated depressed and I think that will drive that. I mean it is -- I don't think there is any reason other than economic for the ethane crackers to make that decision and propane has been drifting down to a point that it makes sense to crack it. So, I think we will start to see some of that.

Emily Wang - Raymond James & Associates

Okay, the other question is on, Wamsutter in terms of gathering volumes, I saw a slight uptick this quarter, what are your expectations going forward in terms of you know, with producer shuttings and have their own packs in the gathered volume at Wamsutter?

Alan Armstrong

We are not seeing any of that shut-in right now, as we have mentioned in the past, many of our producers are some of the larger producers out west and most of them have firm capacity coming out of that basin and that I think will dictate who shuts in and who doesn't shut in to a large degree, if we continue to see storage volumes build, but right now we haven't seen any of that and we may see it from some of our smaller producers perhaps, but I think the majority of our business is, we demonstrated the majority of our business comes from BP and Anadarko and Devon and we haven't seen any actions on their part yet in that regard.

Emily Wang - Raymond James & Associates

Okay my final question is related to the G&A credit, I know that WMB has options to support you guys about $10 million in terms of a G&A credit, did you guys use that this quarter, because I saw in the reconciliation to DCF it is only about $900,000?

Don Chappel

Yes. Use about 600,000 – we haven’t, we are on a pace right now, I think we have used about $1 million of that credit through six months.

Emily Wang - Raymond James & Associates

And are there expectations to use the full $10 million?

Alan Armstrong

I think it is only to the extent that the expenses where increasing and I think what we have seen are the expenses were not increasing. So, therefore the credit was not required.

Emily Wang - Raymond James & Associates

Okay, great, thank you so much.

Operator

And we will now go to Andrew Gundlach from Arnhold and S. Bleichroeder.

Andrew Gundlach - Arnhold and S. Bleichroeder Advisers, LLC

Good morning. On the hedging, is that being done on the Williams parent balance sheet and allocated down and – or do you have to post margin, how is that working?

Alan Armstrong

To the extent that there is margin postings -- that margin posting would be responsibility of WPZ. These are fairly modest edges in terms of the size service, so it is not that significant.

Andrew Gundlach - Arnhold and S. Bleichroeder Advisers, LLC

I see, okay. And the – just one other question on the Marcellus opportunities, to the extent that you have seen the opportunities do you expect them all to go through the oral JV [ph] that you have set up or could that also be independent of the oral JV?

Alan Armstrong

Andrew, if I understood your question correctly there, the oral JV, I think right now as we look at it has got a lot of new capital opportunities, lot of pretty substantial growth embedded there that we think that the capital investment opportunity is going to be pretty large there for a while, and may not be the best opportunity we have for a drop down, we have a number of good drop-down opportunities, but that may not be the best, just given the amount of capital that is going to be consumed in that business for a while as that business grows rapidly.

Andrew Gundlach - Arnhold and S. Bleichroeder Advisers, LLC

Okay. And then -- I have one other question if you can help me with, when you read through all the materials the dividend coverage was a little light and you have explained why very well, but when you look on your balance sheet your assets and basically stayed flat on a quarter-over-quarter basis and your cash was up $13 million, so I'm just curious – where did all the cash come from, if you did not earn the dividend did you -- is it better working capital or can you just help me understand that?

Alan Armstrong

Yes, surely. A little bit of that and then maybe a large portion of that comes from recall that our Conway business, we take in the cash from our Conway business in the second quarter and because producers are – sorry storage customers there pay for that in advance and the season basically goes March to March and so that, so we take in extra cash and then -- but we only showed their revenues for that, we only booked the revenues as the services provided throughout the year.

Andrew Gundlach - Arnhold and S. Bleichroeder Advisers, LLC

I understand. Okay, thanks very much.

Operator

(Operator instructions) Our next question comes from Alex Maier [ph] from ZLP [ph].

Alex Maier - ZLP

Hi guys, just one quick question, in the first quarter you recognized about $0.03 per gallon of benefit from selling liquids kind of in the local markets at Four Corners, how shall we think about that on an ongoing basis, is that just related to selling propane in those margins?

Don Chappel

Yes most of our propane and heavier is there, we sell into the -- either the – on the propane we sell into like the rainbow Durango, Colorado market, which is a nice growing market for propane. And the butanes and gasoline’s get sold into the local refineries there in the Farmington area. And so that is a very solid and repeatable number and we don't really see a whole lot of variance around that. And that the actual margin against that -- actually quite a bit higher, but is just divided by the total amounts, so the actual margin on the propane we sell there, the upgrade over Belvieu is about $0.09.

Alex Maier - ZLP

So you are getting, kind of that upgrade pricing, you believe that is something that could be carried forward?

Don Chappel

Absolutely, in fact historically it doesn't move around much, so we have been able to maintain that for quite some time.

Alex Maier - ZLP

Got you. And then you also had about $0.03 per gallon benefit from other contractual arrangements, is that something that is being carried forward as well?

Don Chappel

Yes that is the percent of liquids contracts that we have out there and so, if you just did a keep whole calculation on our barrels, for instance on our hedge that is against a keep whole barrel, but we also take in a – a certain portion of our volumes straight-up where we don't have to provide the fuel and shrink, we just take the liquids as a payment for our processing services out there. And so for instance, we would actually get sold at the actual price. That then is distributed against all the barrels we sell and so that $0.03 upgrade is only that diluted amount, if you will by the total barrels that we sell, does that make sense?

Alex Maier - ZLP

Great. Thanks guys.

Operator

And there are no further questions. I would like to turn the conference back over to you Mr. Armstrong, for any additional or closing remarks.

Alan Armstrong

Okay, great. Well thank you all very much for the interest. We are excited to see the business improving both in terms of margin in some of the new volumes that we have got coming in Discovery and Wamsutter, and continue to appreciate your interest in the business. Thank you, very much.

Operator

This concludes today's presentation. Thank you for your participation.

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