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SCANA Corporation (NYSE:SCG)

Q2 2011 Earnings Call

August 4, 2011 2:00 PM ET

Executives

Byron Hinson – IR

Jimmy Addison – SVP and CFO

Kevin Marsh – President and COO; President, South Carolina Electric & Gas Company

Stephen Byrne – EVP; EVP, Generation & Transmission; COO, South Carolina Electric & Gas Company

Analysts

Andrew Levi – Caris & Co., Inc.

Erica Piserchia – Wunderlich Securities, Inc.

Jim von Riesemann – UBS Securities LLC

Michael Lapides – Goldman Sachs & Co.

Operator

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for standing by. At this time, I would like to welcome everyone to the SCANA Corporation Conference Call. (Operator Instructions) After the speakers’ remarks, there will be a question-and-answer period. (Operator Instructions) As a reminder, this conference call is being recorded on Thursday, August 4, 2011. Anyone who does not consent to the taping may drop off the line.

At this time, I would like to turn the call over to Byron Hinson, Director of Financial Planning and Investor Relations.

Byron Hinson

Thank you and I’d like to welcome everyone to our earnings conference call, including those who are joining us on the webcast. As you know earlier today we announced financial results for the second quarter 2011. Joining us on the call today are Jimmy Addison, SCANA’s Chief Financial Officer; Kevin Marsh, President of SCANA; and Steve Byrne, Chief Operating Officer of SCE&G.

The slides and the earnings release that we’ll refer to in this call are available at scana.com. Before I turn the call over to Jimmy, I would like to remind you that certain statements that may be made during today’s call that are not statements of historical facts are considered forward-looking statements and are subject to a number of risks and uncertainties which are shown on slide 2 and discussed in the company’s SEC filings. The company does not recognize an obligation to update any forward-looking statements.

Finally as noted on slide 2, we may disclose certain non-GAAP measures during this presentation and the required Regulation G information can be found on our website.

I’ll now turn the call over to Jimmy.

Jimmy Addison

Thanks, Byron and good afternoon. I would like to welcome each of you to our call. Let’s start on slide 3, which reflects 2011 second quarter basic earnings per share of $0.44 compared to $0.43 in 2010. The increase in earnings was primarily attributable to improved margins from electric base rate increases and lower operations and maintenance expenses which were partially offset by higher property taxes, depreciation, interest expense, and share dilution.

In addition, we experienced a weather benefit of $0.06 per share in the second quarter of 2010 in the Electric business. Of course we now have an electric weather normalization mechanism, effective in August of 2010 so our margins do not experience large fluctuations due to weather.

Please turn to slide 4. For the six months ended June 30, 2011, basic earnings per share were $1.44 compared to $1.45 for the same period in 2010. Increases in electric margin from base rate increases and lower operations and maintenance expenses were more than offset by the abnormal weather in the prior year, a gas rate decrease under the Rate Stabilization Act, higher interest expenses, property taxes, depreciation and share dilution. Based upon our results to date and our expectation for the balance of the year, we are re-affirming our 2011 earnings guidance of $2.95 to $3.10 per share with an internal target of $3.02. We continue to actively monitor the economy and aggressively manage operations and maintenance expenses.

Now on slide 5, I’d like to review results for our principal lines of business. SCE&G’s second quarter 2011 earnings denoted in blue were down $0.02 per share compared to 2010. As I mentioned earlier, the second quarter of 2010 included a weather benefit of $0.06 per share. In the current quarter, our electric weather normalization mechanism removed the impact of abnormal weather from our margins.

Additionally, improved electric margins from base rate increases under the Base Load Review Act and the mid-2010 retail electric rate case were offset by increases in depreciation, interest, and dilution related to our CapEx program. At June 30, 2011, SCE&G was serving approximately 664,000 electric customers and approximately 313,000 natural gas customers, up 0.6% and 1.0% respectively over the same dates in 2010.

PSNC Energy in red reported a seasonal loss of less than $1 million or $0.01 per share in the current quarter, relatively unchanged from the prior year. Lower operations and maintenance expense and increases in margin from customer growth of approximately 1.6% offset decreases in other income.

SCANA Energy in green reported a seasonal loss of $0.02 per share during the quarter compared to a loss of $0.05 in the prior year. The $0.03 change is driven by cooler weather early in the quarter compared to last year and lower operating expenses. SCANA Energy was serving approximately 460,000 customers as of June 30, 2011. SCANA’s corporate and other businesses reported a loss of $0.01, unchanged compared to the same quarter last year.

On slides 6 and 7, you see our electric and gas sales statistics, unit sales of electricity and natural gas to our retail customers in the second quarter of 2011 were up over the prior year. Of course, our WNA and CUT mechanisms normalize margin and not unit sales. The industrial sector continued to show signs of recovery with an increase in both electric and gas sales.

On slide 8, you can see an update of economic expansion announcements during the second quarter of 2011. These recent announcements suggest the creation of approximately 500 new jobs with an investment of more than $230 million. At the bottom of the page, you will find unemployment data. If you look to the far right of this chart, you’ll find data for the Charleston and Columbia, South Carolina metropolitan areas. These areas include a large portion of our electric service territory. As you can see from the numbers, the unemployment rate in those areas is slightly better than national rate and the rates of the three states in which we operate. We are pleased that our territories continue to see customer growth, and announcements of jobs and investment. As these trends continue, lower unemployment will be expected to follow.

Please turn to slide 9. In May, we completed our previously announced debt issuances for 2011. We refinanced $300 million in medium term notes at SCANA and also we issued $100 million in new first mortgage bonds at SCE&G. We were pleased with investor response to both of these transactions, and I am delighted to have completed these (inaudible) prior to the recent turmoil in Washington related to debt limits.

As previously discussed, we continue to recognize a cash benefit from bonus depreciation and from the election to account for certain maintenance cost as current expense for tax purposes. Combined, we expect these strategies to generate over $60 million of cash benefit for 2011. Accordingly, we do not expect to draw the remaining funds under our May 2010 equity forward until 2012, delaying the impact of share dilution.

Finally, I would like to touch briefly on the earned regulatory returns at our three largest regulated subsidiaries. As you can see on slide 10, our electric business earned 9.16% for the 12 months ended March 31. This figure does not include any new nuclear CWIP or associated rate increases as those amounts are handled separately under the Base Load Review Act.

Since the time of our latest electric rate case filing, which used the test year ended September 30, 2009, we have seen increases in costs such as property taxes, depreciation, and interest, which have put downward pressure on our actual regulatory return.

As of March 31, our gas businesses at SCE&G was earning approximately 8%. Under the terms of the Rate Stabilization Act, we have applied for an increase of $8.64 million to restore the return to 10.25%. After an audit of the application, the new gas rates will become effective in November. Our North Carolina gas business continues to perform well and is earning its allowed return. As you can see from the timeline at the bottom of the chart, we have completed most of our planned regulatory filings for the year.

In addition to the items shown on this slide, we will continue to make quarterly filings with the South Carolina PSC related to our nuclear construction project and for the electric and gas businesses at SCE&G.

I’ll now turn the call over to Kevin Marsh.

Kevin Marsh

Thanks, Jimmy. Let me turn now to our new nuclear project activities on slide 11. I am very pleased to report that our project for the two new units remains on budget and on schedule for completion in 2016 and 2019 respectively. In May 2011, we filed our annual request for revised rates under the Base Load Review Act.

The revenue increase requested was $58.5 million based on estimated incremental CWIP through June 2011 of approximately $485 million. Earlier this week, the Office of Regulatory Staff filed their report related to the requested increase. The report reflected actual CWIP through June of $437 million and a resulting rate increase of $52.8 million. We agree with the revised amount from the ORS report. After approval by the South Carolina Public Service Commission, this will be the fourth rate increase we have received under the BLRA. The revised rate will go into effect in November.

Please turn to slide 12. On May 16, 2011, we filed our quarterly status report with the PSC and the Office of Regulatory Staff for the first quarter of 2011. This report provides a detailed update of capital costs incurred and updated milestones for our new nuclear project and is available on our website. As shown on the slide, we are $163 million under the capital cost approved by the Commission, most of which is due to lower-than-anticipated escalation. We intend to file our quarterly status report for the same quarter of 2011 on August 15.

Recently Duke Energy and the Florida Municipal Power Agency announced that they both had signed letters of intent with Santee Cooper for potential minority interest in Santee’s 45% ownership of the new nuclear units under construction at V.C. Summer. Santee Cooper continues to be a co-owner and co-applicant in V.C. Summer units 2 and 3 as set forth in the combined license application currently being reviewed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. And, we do not expect these letters of intent or the one that Santee Cooper has signed with the Orlando Utilities Commission to have an impact on the issuance of our COL.

If Santee Cooper decides to move forward with a sale of a portion of its output or interest in the two new nuclear units, it would help Santee accomplish its previously stated objective of lowering its participation in these two units. SCE&G will continue to operate the two new units, and there is no change in our 55% share of ownership which is needed to meet customer demand, comply with environmental regulations, and reduce carbon emissions.

I’ll now turn the call over to Steve Byrne to discuss our COL status and environmental regulations.

Stephen Byrne

Thanks, Kevin. I’d now like to direct your attention to slide number 13. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s licensing proceedings continue to progress towards a successful conclusion. This past Tuesday, we received a letter from the NRC Office of New Reactors that outlines an updated schedule for issuing our Final Safety Evaluation Report or FSER. The letter made three points.

First, the staff concluded that they have all the information they need to complete the safety review and that our application was complete. Second, the review supports the issuance of our FSER in September, and third, the completion of the mandatory hearing on the V.C. Summer COL application including issuance of a Commission decision should be no later than four months from the issuance of the latter of the FEIS which we received in April or the FSER which the letter states will be received in September.

So, the remaining issue is the ultimate approval of the AP1000 certified design itself. Westinghouse submitted DCD Revision 19 to the NRC on June 13. After the NRC’s review of this design revision, the next step would be the issuance of the final safety evaluation report for the AP1000 design, which we believe to be imminent. Following that, the NRC will go for a rule-making process which we anticipate will provide for the receipt our COL within our previously announced timeframe of late 2011 or early 2012. As Tuesday’s NRC letter suggests, we anticipate a Commission decision to approve our COL no later than January of 2012.

I’d like now to spend a few minutes to touch on the NRC taskforce report on the Fukushima accident, or the so-called 90-day report that was issued on July 12. SCE&G has consistently embraced measures which protect public health and safety. Recognizing this report is early in the process. We fully support assessments by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and other independent oversight authorities that might help further improve safe operation of nuclear reactors in the U.S. now and in the future.

SCE&G remains committed to its nuclear strategy, which includes operating Unit 1 safely and progressing with the plans for Units 2 and 3. This is consistent with conclusions in the 90-day report. The report concluded that continued operation and continued licensing activities do not pose an eminent risk to public health and safety, and we are certainly in agreement with that statement. The taskforce also supported completing the design certification and rule-making activities for the AP 1000 without delay.

Finally, I would like to briefly touch on the impact of environmental regulations on our coal fleet as seen on slide 14. On July 6, 2011, the EPA issued the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule. This rule replaces the Clean Air Interstate Rule and is aimed at addressing power plant emissions that may contribute to air pollution in other states. The rule requires states in the Eastern United States to reduce power plant emissions, specifically sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide. In general, the most effective control technologies for reducing sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions are the combination of scrubbers and selective catalytic reduction or SCR.

As you can see from this slide, around 70% of our coal megawatts already have a scrubber and SCR installed. These units account for approximately 80% of our dispatched total generation. In anticipation of more regulation, we will continue to pursue additional strategies and evaluate emissions-reduction technologies, to ensure that we are in compliance with all environmental regulations.

That concludes our prepared remarks. We will now be glad to respond to any questions you might have.

Question-and-Answer Session

Operator

(Operator Instructions) And your first question will come from the line of Andrew Levi from Caris & Company.

Andrew Levi – Caris & Co., Inc.

Hi, guys. Good afternoon.

Stephen Byrne

Good afternoon.

Jimmy Addison

See you.

Andrew Levi – Caris & Co., Inc.

I guess, on August 1, Moody’s issued a credit research report on you guys and put you on a outlook – I guess it’s negative outlook. But I think it sounds like they’re just going to downgrade your ratings at SCANA, issuer ratings, senior unsecured, junior subordinated, and commercial paper, but again just on the SCANA level it seems like is the bigger issue.

And then, I guess your issuer rating at SCE&G, but on the ones that are Baa2, just in general, could be the ones that are Baa3 on junior subordinated. What if any implications does that have? I mean, I don’t know if there are any, I’m just going back to like, the Enron days, but any type of triggers, anything in your indenture, anything like that that you would have to put up any type of cash or just in general, what are the implications if you were to get a one notch downgrade on these various things that have been put on watch for downgrade?

Kevin Marsh

Right. Well, it is disappointing, but I think practically to get to your question, there’s very little impact. We have one financing to do at the holding company in the next nine years, that’s next year, it’s actually a refinancing, not new money for about $250 million. So, that’s the only thing that’s really in our headlights for the – as I said, the next nine years through 2019.

The only other implication would be slightly higher cost for short-term money, if we were to borrow any at the holco. We have not had any commercial paper program at the holding company until we renewed our credit facility this past fall. We instituted one at the holco and have used it sparingly. We don’t expect to use it a great deal, but that market is not as liquid as the P2 market, if were to be downgraded to P3 at the holco, but of course, we got the credit facilities in place that we could fall back on and borrow. But we really put that there as just a contingency anyway.

So all of our financing for the CapEx is going to be – we plan to be through first mortgage bonds at SCE&G, of course, most of our commercial paper is there or at the fuel company, which are not part of this review, and we would expect that when we come out of this that all of the entities will be on – probably on stable outlook, which will kind of remove that overhang from the SCE&G.

Andrew Levi – Caris & Co., Inc.

And again, there’s no type of collateral issues, or anything like that, that if you were down to Baa3 on the issuer rating or the unsecured rating, or cut the junk in junior subordinated, there is no...

Kevin Marsh

Not aware of anything like that.

Andrew Levi – Caris & Co., Inc.

Right. Okay. I appreciate that. I think that’s it for now. Thank you very much.

Operator

Your next question will come from the line of Erica Piserchia with Wunderlich Securities.

Erica Piserchia – Wunderlich Securities, Inc.

Hi, everybody. Just a few questions. I guess, first, Jimmy, you mentioned earned returns at the utility and some higher costs; I’m just wondering whether or not this changes your thinking in terms of when you might go in and file for your next rate case?

Jimmy Addison

Not really. I mean we’ve historically been on a two to three year cycle at each of the regulated entities. We just had the increase last July. So, we don’t think we’re near that range at all at this point. And we’ve talked a great deal over the last several quarters about the industrial announcements that are out there. You see another good quarter in industrial usage this quarter, even over a growth year last year, so we’re looking for that to start to pay off at some point in additional jobs and hopefully buoy the residential the commercial markets. But, we really don’t see any change in that at the near-term.

Erica Piserchia – Wunderlich Securities, Inc.

Okay. I guess, I’m just a little confused because – so you’ve got some higher costs kind of coming in and yet you’re not seeing a ton of growth on your customer base. Is that that you’re spending sort of in anticipation, as you just mentioned, of this recovery or there is something else going on there?

Jimmy Addison

No, I think you need to look at the nature of those costs and if you have a copy of the press release handy; on page 5, where we do the variance explanations, you’ll see that O&M cost is actually down for the quarter and year-to-date.

Erica Piserchia – Wunderlich Securities, Inc.

But we’re just talking about like depreciation and interest...

Jimmy Addison

Exactly. It’s all capital program-related. It’s depreciation, property taxes and interest or dilution, whether it’s debt or equity, and of course in our case it’s about 50-50. So, it’s all related to that, we’re well within that capital plan, so it’s not a surprise to us at all. More of the drift down this quarter is just due to the dropping off of that weather benefit that was in the second quarter of 2010, the last full quarter before we implemented the weather normalization, so that was a step down that we anticipated in and realized.

Erica Piserchia – Wunderlich Securities, Inc.

Got it. Okay. And then just on the nuclear side, I mean, I know things are progressing, it seems like we’re getting a little bit more communication on timing, maybe from the NRC with yesterday’s announcement, but I really did never ask you guys this, but would you ever consider filing for a limited work authorization along the lines of what Southern has done?

Stephen Byrne

Yeah, we have in the past considered limited work authorizations, Southern’s first LWA was specific to their site and it’s something that we did not need and we considered the second LWA that Southern signed, we were looking at something very similar but you have to remember that it’s the same agency and the same staff of that agency that we have to review the limited work authorization, and our evaluation showed that we might be able to save a few weeks to a month which I think is probably about where Southern is and based on the level of effort, the cost and the potential distraction of the NRC, we decided that was not worthwhile, so we don’t anticipate any limited work authorizations.

Erica Piserchia – Wunderlich Securities, Inc.

Okay. Okay, thank you.

Jimmy Addison

Sure.

Operator

Your next question will come from the line of Jim von Riesemann with UBS.

Jim von Riesemann – UBS Securities LLC

Good afternoon, gentlemen.

Kevin Marsh

Hi, Jim.

Jimmy Addison

Hi, Jim.

Jim von Riesemann – UBS Securities LLC

A question on this – I wanted to follow up on some of Kevin’s comments in his prepared remarks, but Santee Cooper’s potential sell-down and their stake in the new units, what role do you have or what say do you have in any of – if that occurs?

Jimmy Addison

You get some new co-owners?

Kevin Marsh

We’ve talked about this before, and let me go back to it again. Any sale of their 45% portion of the new plant does require our approval and the approval of the South Carolina Commission, and if they just decide to sell the power and not actually sell the portion of the asset, it doesn’t require any approval from us, but if they do decide to actually sell assets or their portion from the 45%, we do have the right to approve that, and once we were to do that, it would go to the South Carolina Commission, but that’s not something I see that would stand in the way of them trying to accomplish their goals.

Now, they’ve certainly been working hard to lower that level of ownership and these letters of intent they signed are very important step. Our relationship with Santee continues to be strong and I think they’ll continue to be a great partner with us as we go forward, because they still do plan on maintaining a significant portion of their original investment. And we’re working with them to help them achieve their goals.

So they’ve been doing that negotiating and as they go forward at the appropriate time, we’ll have a chance to look at what they’ve negotiated and decide if that’s in the best interest of the project. But I’m comfortable if that’s something they want to move forward with we’ll find a way to work that out than take it to the Commission.

Jim von Riesemann – UBS Securities LLC

Just and then a follow-up question. What do you think the mechanics are with respect to an actual sale of the facility itself rather than the output? I mean how do they think about the economics? Santee has already dedicated certain amount of dollar amount. Are they going to get recovered dollar for dollar and they don’t have to worry about earnings per share, I know the state doesn’t, but how should we think about that?

Kevin Marsh

Well, I certainly don’t think they would be interested in moving those assets at a loss compared to where they’ve invested. I think the price they’ve invested in this project from their perspective and also from ours, even though we’re regulated and they’re not, is a very favorable price. We think it’s going to be competitive over the long term. I know they believe that too, which is why they certainly want to stay in for as much as they think they’ll need.

So, I can’t speak for them, but I’d be surprised if they were looking to look out or to move this at some sort of fire sale price. It’s a valuable asset, but I think once the COLs are actually issued, will become even more valuable. So, we’ll look forward to that and see what we can do to help them. But in the meantime, our 55% need does not change. I’ve gotten that question a lot too. We remain committed to our 55%. We certainly need that to meet the needs of our customers and that really hasn’t changed.

Jim von Riesemann – UBS Securities LLC

Okay. Thanks. That’s all I had today. Thanks, guys.

Operator

(Operator Instructions) Your next question will come from the line of Michael Lapides with Goldman Sachs.

Michael Lapides – Goldman Sachs & Co.

Hey, Jimmy, got a just a rate increase favor to ask, can you kind of bridge us meaning rate increases that are last to go in to rates in the second half of this year or that were granted or sitting on the table to be granted for implementation in the back end of this year or beginning of next year. Just trying to true up my numbers to make sure I’ve got the appropriate amount of rate increases, what’s already been taken, what’s left to be taken, but already approved etcetera?

Jimmy Addison

Michael, the short answer to that is, from a financial statement perspective, it’s indifferent. The only difference is what comes in to cash because you may remember the two things that we used to phase that in was the $25 million weather – favorable weather from the first quarter of 2010, we’re going to spread that back over the first year.

So, that’s essentially all been given back in an amortization now, so we brought that income in to offset the lack of the cash increase from the customers, so that was a wash. And the second one was the tax credits that we phased in over a two-year period, the EIZ tax credit, state investment credits. But, in both of those cases even though the customers hasn’t seen the full increase until a 24-month period, the financial statements are getting the full benefit from day one.

Michael Lapides – Goldman Sachs & Co.

Okay. But that’s just the core base rates on the electric side at SCE&G. Can you – like how much of the last granted BLRA increase has actually been recovered year-to-date versus is remaining for third in – through mid-November recovery, meaning what was put in the rates in November of last year?

Jimmy Addison

Yeah, I mean I don’t have this. I see what you’re asking, Michael, I don’t have that at my fingertips. I don’t have the cyclical division of the total number, how much of it’s been recognized year-to-date at my fingertips, but we can get you that.

Michael Lapides – Goldman Sachs & Co.

Yeah, I would love to – and I’m trying to do it for BLRA granted and implemented in November of ‘10, trying to do it if there is anything left on the SCE&G electric. I see the SCE&G electric – I mean gas rate increase request the $8 million plus and then obviously the BLRA filing for the coming November implementation?

Jimmy Addison

Sure, yeah, we can provide that. Of course we’ve considered all three of those in our earnings guidance for the year.

Michael Lapides – Goldman Sachs & Co.

Understood.

Jimmy Addison

Okay.

Michael Lapides – Goldman Sachs & Co.

One another question, just general O&M trajectory and general trajectory of interest expense, kind of through the end of this year versus what you’ve recorded in the first half of the year?

Jimmy Addison

Yeah. Well, generally interest is going to be increasing as we increase the CapEx program and of course we have financed almost the entirety of our debt portfolio with fixed rate financing. So we have very little risk when if rates ever move back up. We’ve protected against that since we’re financing long-term assets here.

But on operating cost, we’ve really worked very hard to keep those down and you see they are in the information that we’ve released today as I alluded to earlier, we’re down both for the quarter and year-to-date on operating costs about $5 million year-to-date and that’s in spite of a modest salary increases earlier this year for the first time in three years. So we’re working hard on that. We continue to work hard on that for the 2012 plan and I’m encouraged by the direction we’re headed. So I would think we can maintain the cost control as we move through this period until the economy takes a definitive direction up.

Michael Lapides – Goldman Sachs & Co.

Got it. Okay. Thank you, Jimmy. I’ll follow up offline.

Jimmy Addison

Sure.

Operator

Your next question is a follow-up from the line of Andrew Levi with Caris & Company.

Andrew Levi – Caris & Co., Inc.

Hi, did you guys say that you were done on the debt side for the year? Is that what you said?

Jimmy Addison

Yes.

Andrew Levi – Caris & Co., Inc.

Okay. So nothing needs to be issued in this crazy market?

Jimmy Addison

That’s exactly right. We completed everything at the end of May.

Andrew Levi – Caris & Co., Inc.

Okay. And then is there any type of guidance you can give us for the third and fourth quarters?

Jimmy Addison

In what regard?

Andrew Levi – Caris & Co., Inc.

Earnings, kind of a breakdown of earnings for the third and fourth quarter, what we should be thinking about, I don’t know if you want to give on a percent basis, anything like that relative to last year?

Jimmy Addison

Yeah, well we’ve reaffirmed our guidance obviously with $2.95 to $3.10 in our – for your benefit our internal target’s about $3.02. And as I told you earlier in the year on our yearend call, when we gave guidance, we really target about 25% of our plan is in the third quarter and slightly under 30% in the fourth quarter.

Andrew Levi – Caris & Co., Inc.

Thank you.

Jimmy Addison

Sure.

Operator

There are no further questions. That does conclude the Q&A of today’s conference. I would like to turn the call back over to Mr. Jimmy Addison for closing comments.

Jimmy Addison

Okay, well, thank you. To summarize, we’re very pleased with the second quarter results. Our basic earnings for the quarter are higher than the prior year, which included a significant weather benefit in the prior year. Our territories continue to experience modest customer growth and significant industrial expansion and our nuclear project continues to move forward on schedule and under budget. We’re optimistic about the remainder of the year and look forward to speaking with you about that in the future. And thank you all for joining us today on the call.

Operator

Thank you for your participation in today’s conference. This concludes the presentation. You may now disconnect. Have a wonderful day.

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