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Here’s the entire text of the Q&A from Expedia’s (ticker: EXPE) Q3 2005 conference call. The prepared remarks are here. We recognize that this transcript may contain inaccuracies - if you find any, please post a comment below and we’ll incorporate your corrections. And please note: this conference call transcript is a Seeking Alpha product, so feel free to link to it but reproduction is not permitted without the explicit permission of Seeking Alpha.

Question-and-Answer Session

Operator

Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, at this time we will begin the question and answer session. If you do have a question, please press the “*” key followed by the “1” on your push button phone. If you would like to decline from the point process, please press the “*” key followed by the “2”, you will hear 3-tone prompt acknowledging your selection, your questions will be pulled in the order they are received. Any of you there using speaker equipment, you will need to lift the handset before pressing the numbers. One moment please for the first question.

And our first question comes from Paul Keung with CIBC. Please go ahead.

Paul Keung

Hey, good afternoon. Couple of questions. One, on your marketing spend, I know it’s been a couple of quarters now. We keep hearing the shift of spending. Yet you continued to do very well in showing much more efficiency in your marketing spend. Can you give us a little more color in terms of how are you shifting to offline, online? Where are you spending your dollars more? Where are you spending it less? And when you say you’re shifting, where you do think you’ll finish the year in terms of that marketing spend? And the second question is on your corporate side of your business. There’s a good amount of mixed news out there in terms of how that business is. Can you break it down for us and let us know where your holes may be? How profitable is that business? Are you still on track to be profitable in your core business going to next year?

Company Speaker

Sure. As far as the marketing spend goes, we have been able to drive pretty good efficiency across the board. We’ve been much more careful about our offline spend as far as where we spend it, how we spend it, and what the timing of that spend is. And the results certainly to date have been quite good. And on our online spend, search engine marketing kind of online advertising spend, we have just been very carefully optimizing that kind of spend, measuring it, we’ve improved our measurement techniques over last year. And finally, we’re using email marketing and CRM marketing in a way that we certainly hadn’t been last year and that’s proven to be quite effective. Our email marketing channels have turned out to be one of our most efficient channels. And really wasn’t, we really started on those efforts I’d say 2 or 3 quarters ago. So, the efficiency has been really good. When you look for, looking forward to Q4, the pattern of our marketing spend really isn’t going to change on a sequential basis as far as what we’ve been doing this year. The change is really relative to last year. Last year in Q4, we cut back on marketing pretty significantly. We did it for a lot of reasons including the fact that we weren’t getting access to merchant inventory, as much access or the quality of access that as we have been expecting. If you remember back to last Q4, and this year we feel pretty good about our product going into Q4. So, we don’t think that as is appropriate to cut back on marketing, we think it’s appropriate to keep spending based on the same patterns that we spent in the first 3 quarters of the year. As far as the pattern of, online, offline, generally we’ve been spending half of our dollars online and half of our dollars offline. And I think that that will continue going forward. I think your second question was on corporate, is that right Paul?

Paul Keung

That’s right.

Company Speaker

The corporate business is doing fine. I think that we found that breaking into that market and scaling sales there has been a little bit more than, more difficult that we anticipated. I think, we have a great product on the technology side. I think the functionality is second to none. The user experience is excellent, which is driving adoption, which is higher than I think anyone’s expectations in the 80% range, which is terrific. I think where we still have a little improvement to do is on the service side and getting great, consistent, top shelf service. And I think we made great strides there. And I think we’re only going to get better. As is the job of convincing large corporations, et cetera, to buy into, the future is difficult. But we think over the long-term the trend is our friend. And as our platform becomes more global, I think that we become just a better product out there. I will say that the European team at ECT is doing just great. They are executing both on the top line and bottom line. They have a terrific product. We have an excellent, excellent team. And as you know, we brought in Cheryl Rosner, who was running Hotels.com to run ECT worldwide. And, I think even in the last 2 months that she’s been there, she’s driven a great improvement in kind of the product and the team. So, I’m pretty confident of where we’re going. It’s not going to be easy. But I think long-term we’re going to do fine.

Paul Keung

Okay, great. Thanks.

Operator

And your next question comes from Mark Mahaney with Citigroup. Please go ahead. Mr. Mahaney, your line is open. Please go ahead with your question.

Mark Mahaney

My question is…

Company Speaker

I think we can move on to the next questioner.

Operator

Our next question comes from Michael Savner with Banc of America Securities. Please go ahead.

Michael Savner

Well, thanks. Good afternoon. Two questions, first Mark you mentioned some increasing competition internationally from direct suppliers on the airline side I believe is what you said. If you could just us a little bit more color around that. If that’s a new issue, something you expect to continue to go or maybe there was something interesting or unique going on in the quarter that would be helpful. And, second there is, quite a number of footnotes on your amortization of non-cash comp in the release. Maybe if just conceptually you can give us some guidance on how we should think about the amount of non-cash comp going forward. And then why the logic behind excluding that from OIBA if options are being expensed now and if that’s something different than what’s going on in the non-cash comp line would just be, would may be helpful to get a little bit more color on. Thanks very much.

Company Speaker

Mark, I’ll take the international question. Just as far as supply direct internationally goes and especially on the airside, I think that the 2 things are different in the international markets. One is that the suppliers, the major flag carriers in Europe, tend to be much more healthy than the carriers in the US. And probably a little bit, if you look at the last 2 or 3 years behind the US carriers as far as their aggression in the supplier direct channels. They are now very aggressively going after those channels. And they have a really good product. If you go to ba.com for example, it’s a very, very good, competitive product. And, BA has a very, very strong share in its domestic markets. So, I do think that supplier direct on the airside in Europe is certainly going to be a factor. I think the other factor you have to look at in Europe is also the LCCs. RyanAir and EasyJet are pretty big players there. And they’re growing quite quickly and gathering a lot of share. And those are, that’s product that we don’t have on our store, so to speak so far. So I think that we felt a bit of that on the airside. There are various initiatives that we have in place to fix that, including bringing in some of the third, some of the second tier LCCs in markets like Germany and some of our other European markets. But, there’s some technology integration, et cetera, that has to take place there before we can get all of that on board.

Michael Savner

Thanks, Dara.

Dara Khosrowshahi

Sure.

Company Speaker

The second question regarding the amortization of the non-cash compensation. First of all, the majority of the cost is coming from amortizing the cost of stock options. And, a decision was reached a few years back to shift over to RSUs, which is a restricted stock units. Those have a much lower cost. And so going forward you’ll see the expense going down as the stock options mature. So on the going forward basis, you’ll see a drop. And the question then comes down to why is this not included in OIBA? This is not what we consider an ongoing cost to run the business. It’s not a cash expense of running the business. Therefore, these like one-time items such as when you go in you true up or review forfeiture assumptions, we have significant impacts to this one line-item, has nothing to do with the way we run the business. Therefore we back it out.

Company Speaker

Mark, just to add to that. And Mark wasn’t here. But when for example, we brought in, we brought in, at IAC Expedia and also with the spin-off, when we originally brought in Expedia for accounting purposes, we have to essentially reissue all of the options that were outstanding that have already been issued to employees of Expedia way in the past. So, for accounting purposes, it was as if we had issued all of those options day one when we brought in Expedia. We essentially had to do the same exercise on the spin-off as well. So it creates an accounting expense, which is a GAAP expense. And we’re certainly not going to contest that. But it’s not a current cost of doing business for us. If you look at our adjusted EPS calculations, what we do there is while we add back the amortization, we actually add to the denominator all of the RSUs that we’ve issued, even RSUs that are unvested. So, we put in the denominator. We take the pain for dilution. And, as you can see in our numbers as far as the RSUs that we’ve been issuing the dilution, is certainly not that significant. And compared to our piers, so to speak, I’d say we’re in a pretty good spot.

Michael Savner

Thanks, thanks for the comment.

Company Speaker

Sure.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question comes from Heath Terry with Credit Suisse First Boston. Please go ahead.

Heath Terry

Thanks. Can you give us a little bit of detail on the progress you’re making as far as the integration between Ask Jeeves onto the Expedia site as well as Expedia’s presence on Ask Jeeves? Whether or not, just from using the 2 sites if it doesn’t appear like there’s been a whole lot done there. But, if you can give us an idea of what that’s ultimately going to look like and to the extent that there has been progress made and what impact that’s having, if there has been, on your marketing spend?

Company Speaker

I’ll answer first and Barry, I don’t know if you want to add something to it. But as far as the integration on Ask Jeeves goes, some of that has been delayed, unfortunately, by the integration frankly that we are doing internally here. We talked about Project Apollo and kind of, integrating businesses that had never been integrated, the Expedia, hotels.com, Hotwire where appropriate. And, and a lot of that is taking the management attention right now. So we haven’t been able to integrate the Ask and Expedia services kind of, in the way that we would want to do from a long-term basis. I think that right now IAC is integrating various of their transactional services with Ask. And we’re really going to use that as a blueprint kind of, see what works, see what doesn’t work. And then hopefully once we’re well on the path with our own integration, use that as a guide as the kind of integration that we can do with Expedia and Ask. Now, on the marketing side, for Expedia, Ask is a very good partner of ours. And we’re working with them so that they use, they use their spiders to crawl our sites. And certainly, they’re a pretty good partner as far as spend on their site. The returns that we’re getting are quite good.

Barry Diller

I think that the plan is, is that after the first of the year, we’ll begin to get Expedia into the Ask Jeeves service. Probably by that time it’ll be called Ask.com. But Ask is quite busy now integrating the IAC sites. And as Dara said, everyday we learn something about it. And, I think Expedia will be the beneficiary of it. While we want to go quickly, we’re in no great rush here.

Heath Terry

Great. Thank you.

Operator

Thank you. Your next question comes from Justin Post with Merrill Lynch. Please go ahead.

Justin Post

Thank you. Could you talk a little bit about hotels.com? It looks like your merchant hotel room nights definitely picked up and that really helped the results, all right? Was it because of a higher conversion? Or did you add a bunch of inventory because hotels.com became more attractive to hotels to be on the site?

Company Speaker

The answer to that is both. The first step that we had to take was to change the branding of the site from what was essentially an exclusive pricing message to a message, which was we’re the hotel experts. And, initially that certainly hurt gross bookings. But it made suppliers, especially larger chains and brands, much more willing to do business with us. And, now if you look at, the kind of inventory that we have on hotels.com, it very much mirrors the inventory that we have on Expedia. And so I’d say that in the early days the answer was that the quality of supply improved. Therefore the quality of the customer experience improved, which led to higher gross bookings. With the site re-launch and kind of the additional functionality and features that we’ve improved, we think we’ve taken that to another level. And we’re certainly hoping to see that in the gross bookings going forward both domestically and internationally. And so far, signs are good.

Justin Post

Great and one follow-up. International front, any country specifically strong in the quarter or what countries are you most excited about for next year?

Company Speaker

I think we’re France and Italy continue to grow quite nicely. The growth that we see in Italy is quite explosive. The French team continues to execute quite well. And, the UK is a bit more mature. But it’s a really, really nice, solidly profitable market. So, I think, we’re pretty excited across Europe. Germany is proving to be a little bit more difficult than we anticipated. But, it is the largest traveled market in Europe, so we’re certainly going to put dollars there. And we’re going to keep investing until we break through. But, I think that experience is pretty consistent with the other online providers there. And then of course China we’re really excited about. We are still in the methane mode in China. We are a number 2 player there. But, we are constantly bringing over E-Loan (ph) management, to train them in kind of, the way we do business here and teach them the processes, the procedures. We have a very strong manager there, Barney Hartford, and Justin as well. And, we’re pretty confident then in China, we’re going to make some strides. It’s not going to be overnight, it’s not going to be a month or a quarter. But, as we get into next year, we do expect improving performance, frankly, there.

Justin Post

Thank you, Dara.

Dara Khosrowshahi

Sure.

Operator

Thank you. Your next question comes from Aaron Kessler with Piper Jaffray. Please go ahead.

Aaron Kessler

Great. Thanks, guys and good quarter.

Company Speaker

Thank you.

Aaron Kessler

A couple of quick questions for you. On the international side, your hotel margins are a little higher than some of our competitors there. Are you seeing any pressure on the margins? And then secondly, can you give us an update on Hotwire is doing? I also noticed you re-classified some of the gross bookings from Expedia to the others? Can you give us an explanation of what happened there?

Company Speaker

Sure. As far as the international raw margins go, we talk about the international markets in that it is much more of a market that is dominated by independent hotels. It’s a much more fragmented marketplace. And on average our raw margins with hotels, with independent hotels tend to be higher than raw margins with the chains. If you look at raw margins, track raw margins trends domestically, a fair amount of the negative trends that we’ve seen domestically is because of chain deals, et cetera. That said again, our raw margins. I think, we think that the market focuses on raw margins a bit too much. Really what you should be looking at, are revenue per room night, revenue per transaction. And certainly in this quarter increases in ADRs more than offset decreases in raw margins. But I think, what was the second question about Hotwire?

Aaron Kessler

I just wanted to see if I could get an update on the performance of how Hotwire is doing?

Company Speaker

I think they’re doing, it’s very solid performance, the bottom-line performance is excellent. The company is really driving profitability, really increasing their marketing efficiency across the board. And really one area where Hotwire is very much focused on is building their hotel business. I think on the airside of the business I would guess that Hotwire is actually selling more air opaque air tickets than Priceline. But, I would estimate that Priceline is probably selling multiples, 3 or 4 times as many room nights as Hotwire is. The Hotwire team is totally focused on that. And they are driving kind of changing the brand perception of the product itself to from what has been mostly air, to air and hotel. And that has been what’s driving the profitability this year. So I think if we keep executing on that front, we’re going to be just fine.

Aaron Kessler

Have you reduced the marketing on Hotwire or are you shifting away from TV a little, maybe going a little more offline?

Company Speaker

We are, the marketing spend, as a percentage of Hotwire this year is significantly more efficient than it was last year. I’d say as far as the spending goes, a higher percentage of the spending on Hotwire is very direct spent, meaning not TV spend. When you think about Hotwire, Hotwire isn’t a mass consumer brand, right? It is a very specific brand with a very specific consumer value proposition. We estimate that somewhere between 15% and 20% of US customers are, what we will call the Hotwire customer. The customer who is willing to make significant trade-offs as far as flexibility or the amount of time that they spend traveling in order to save some money. So, we don’t think that a very broad mass market marketing medium is necessarily appropriate for a target audience of 15% to 20% of US travelers. So, the Hotwire is really focused on is micro-marketing, email marketing, and online marketing, of really driving efficiency there, becoming much more of a direct marketer on a go-forward basis, which I think is going to drive efficiencies for the company.

Aaron Kessler

Great. Thank you.

Company Speaker

Sure.

Operator

Thank you. Your next question comes from Douglas Anmuth with Lehman Brothers. Please go ahead.

Douglas Anmuth

Thank you. Can you talk about the recent addition of your travel results being directly integrated into Google? How this relationship is working in terms of how money is exchanging hands? Is it on a pay per clip basis or a paper transaction or something else? And then separately, given the Worldspan filings last week, can you talk about what your rationale is in potentially switching, or moving some of your bookings in Europe over to a different GDS? Thank you.

Company Speaker

Well, on Google, I don’t want to talk about specifically how, kind of, what their arrangements are, whether it’s a cost per clip or cost per transaction. But, but you can be rest assured that they are directly related to kind of dollars that we’re driving. And we think the returns on those monies are well spent. We are a big partner of Google because we’re a big partner of Yahoo!’s and Ask’s. And, we are talking to them about different ways in which we can integrate our product more deeply in their product. And, this is just one example. It’s great to be working with a group that is as innovative as Google. And obviously we work hand in hand because they’re a pretty big partner for us and our dollars spend there and our return is growing year-over-year. I think, what was your second question?

Douglas Anmuth

GDS.

Company Speaker

The Worldspan.

Company Speaker

All right, the Worldspan. We have, I think we’ve said it before. Which is in an era of deregulation when, or let me go to when GDS’s were regulated. You had guaranteed access to all airlines. GDS’s were connected to all airlines. So you were essentially guaranteed access to inventory. In an environment where, which is unregulated, we don’t feel it makes sense to kind of have only one connectivity provider necessarily. So, we thought it was opportunistic in this situation to perhaps establish another method of connectivity. Again, we’re very happy with Worldspan, our partner. But we’re in a pretty good position that we are, we’re not married to any type of connectivity. So, we will certainly use that flexibility. And ultimately, our goal is to drive value for our customers and our supply partners. And, this was an opportunity that we’ll probably take.

Douglas Anmuth

Great. Thank you.

Company Speaker

Sure.

Operator

Thank you. Your next question comes from Scott Devitt with Legg Mason. Please go ahead.

Scott Devitt

Thanks, 2 questions. First, I think, I heard that Marriott is introducing new policies that are going to limited intermediaries’ ability to actually bid on the Marriott trademark brand through search engines. And I wondering if, how you thought that may change your paid search strategy or that of your affiliates? And if you think other hoteliers may actually follow what Marriott has begun in that policy. And then secondly, around the tax provision in the quarter, was 46%. And I may have just missed this, but that’s higher than it’s been historically. Is there something one-time in that and how should we model tax rate going forward? Thanks.

Company Speaker

Okay, as far as the Marriott question goes, different partners of ours feel differently about that. So, there are certain chain partners of ours who are happy to have us bid on their keywords, our attitude and their attitude is that to the extent that someone clicks on our site and we drive the transaction to them, that’s an incremental transaction. And they’re perfectly happy with that. Some partners don’t want us to bid on their key words. And certainly in the spirit of partnership, we don’t. So, different partners have different beliefs. And, we will certainly honor how they feel about their trademarks in search engines. Obviously, we do our best to convince them to let us bid on those keywords to the extent they’re profitable for us. Mark, you want to take the tax comment?

Mark Gunning

Yes, the, I mentioned on the call that we had a write-off on one of our investments of $23 million. That write-off was a one-time item. We don’t take any tax benefit for that because it’s a capital loss. And so, if you look at the run rate we’ve had on our effective tax rate, this basically makes up the difference in the one-quarter. It’s a one-time item. So, I don’t want to comment going forward what our rate would look like. But that’s what’s caused the significant increase in the quarter.

Scott Devitt

Thanks.

Operator

Our next question comes from Michael Millman with Soleil. Please go ahead.

Michael Millman

Thank you. That’s Soleil. Just a couple of questions on the merchant hotels, you mentioned your focus on Hotwire that hotels.com has done better. Are all these pulling from the same pool of allocations? Or, the improvements allow you to get better allocations? And sort of related to that, can you talk about what the, particularly in the US, what the allocation market looks like?

Company Speaker

On the merchant hotels, Hotwire right now is pulled from its own inventory certainly for its opaque product. And, in some rare instances will be pulling from hotels.com inventory as well when it doesn’t have any inventory in a particular market at a particular time, say in a peak time. Expedia and hotels.com are largely pulling from the same inventory base. This is an integration that we are going through now. And, it is I’d say probably three quarters of the way complete. So, we’re not quite fully pulling from the same inventory. But, we are well on our way. And certainly, by next year, we will be pulling from the same inventory base. Generally, the hotel allocation market, I don’t know enough to generalize regarding how the market is. I will say that we are very pleased with the start that our partner services group has had. We recently reorganized the Company and put all of our supply relationships, at least for Expedia, hotels.com, corporate travel, both in the US and globally under one group, a partner services group we call it, under Paul Brown, who’s a new executive here, who’s doing great. And I think having, bringing to bear kind of, all the different options that we have our global scale and presence to our suppliers with one conversation kind of one dataset has really, I think improved, not only our supplier relationships, but our ability to show our suppliers what we have to offer and, how we can really bring incremental demand to them, and, how we can be a great partner to them. So, we’re pretty happy with how supply is looking again. I can’t speak to the broader market. I will say that in Q4 there are certain compression times, in New York at the end of the year. And I think everyone will feel that compression. And we’re no exception.

Michael Millman

In the third quarter, what was the increase and night, US nights or decrease?

Company Speaker

We don’t, we disclosed overall nights, but we don’t disclose kind of US versus global. Do we know what overall nights increases were, merchant nights? Do we have that number?

Company Speaker

Yep, we disclosed that.

Company Speaker

I think overall, 13%.

Michael Millman

And a quick question, I think you’re talking about Worldspan. In your agreement, is there an escape clause if they get under some supply content?

Company Speaker

Can you, I’m not sure I understand the question.

Michael Millman

Well, if others drop, if they’re plan is not the first and others drop Worldspan, then do you get out of your minimum contract with them? Of course, at some level they need to supply a certain content and can’t reach it.

Company Speaker

Yeah, I don’t want to comment on the particulars of our deal with Worldspan. I will say that we don’t expect that, first of all, to happen with Worldspan. We do think that GDS is broadly, are going to get access to broad content. And so, we certainly don’t expect Worldspan over the long-term to be missing any broad slot of content. And, we’re very happy with them as a partner and we’re sending the significant, significant, majority of our segments over Worldspan, which should kind of, speak for itself. That said, we do have very significant flexibility from a contractual perspective to do what’s best for our company.

Michael Millman

Okay, thank you.

Company Speaker

Sure.

Operator

Thank you. Your next question comes from Mark Mahaney with Citigroup. Please go ahead.

Mark Mahaney

Great. Thank you very much, just one question. This has to do with the AirTran relationship and maybe not specifically commenting on that relationship. But it seems like they recently decided to work with 2 of your competitors and not with you. Is that a trend you can see other major carriers doing, just selecting 1 or 2 leading travel agents and not working with another one? Thank you.

Company Speaker

Well we don’t, while we can’t speak to what’s going to happen in the future, I don’t believe that it will be general trend. If you look at AirTran, a significant amount of their bookings go through their own sites. They’re a different kind of carrier than the broad flat carriers out there. And ultimately I do think that we are going to be doing business with AirTran over the long-term. While we do look to increase our supplier relations over the long-term, there are times when we may choose not to allow certain suppliers to participate in our platform from time-to-time. That happened before. I’m sure it’ll happen again. And our goal is great content, a great customer experience, great depth of product. And in order to get that we have to get the products with the highest demand on our shelves and that’s what we do. With AirTran it’s an issue not only with us but with Worldspan as well. We couldn’t kind of meet our overall goals with them. We’re still in discussions with them. And we hope those discussions work out. But this has happened in the past. And generally it’s been resolved. And again, our connectivity flexibility is pretty significant.

Mark Mahaney

Thank you very much.

Company Speaker

Let’s do, I think it’s almost the top of the hour, so let’s do 1 more question.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question comes from Robert Peck with Bear Stearns. Please go ahead.

Robert Peck

Hey, guys congratulations. Just want to, couple of quick follow-ups here, first of all, while we’re talking about GDSs, Dara can you talk a little bit about the plans to shift some of the bookings over to Sabre? How that timeline is shaping is right now? Next, could you also just talk about the current look to book ratio on the platform and how you’ve been seeing that trending? And lastly, could you touch base on any sort of reward program slash funding programs of other IAC properties to entice people to stay on the platform?

Company Speaker

Sure. As far as Sabre goes, I can’t be that specific on the timeline but we do have a contract with them and it is our intention to flow segments to them. But, I can’t be that specifics on the timeline. Part of it depends on integration technology issues, which we haven’t quite tied up yet. As far as the look to book ratios I’m assuming you’re talking about a conversion trends. While we don’t disclose specific conversions, the trends have been good. They are kind of as the year has gone on, the conversion trends are pretty encouraging. Hotels.com, the conversion trends have actually improved. So, we’re pretty happy with what we’re seeing. And hopefully it will continue. As far as rewards or loyalty programs, we’re certainly looking into all of those possibilities. And part of what we’ve done already is we’re, I think we approach loyalty in 2 ways. One isn’t necessarily a program. One is through CRM and direct marketing, which isn’t in the form of a program, but it’s trying to encourage customer behavior that’s profitable for you. So, for example, this Christmas, we’ve launched a program which is you get $150 off the trip that you really want to take if you book on Expedia this quarter. It is encouraging not one booking, but a return booking through Expedia and it’s also encouraging booking on a packages path, which is certainly something that we want to encourage. So, that’s an example of what I would call a reward program, which is a micro reward program based on our needs at a time. And based on what we think consumers want and also backed up by a media campaign, which we think is a really, really good media campaign. So certainly we are going to do more of that. As far as other rewards programs or loyalty programs, I’ll just say that we’re working on it. We do expect to announce something. But right now would be too soon to give details to you. But we do anticipate doing something on that front.

Robert Peck

Thanks, Dara.

Company Speaker

You bet. I think that’s it. Thank you very much for joining the call. We’re pretty happy with our results. And hopefully we can keep it up. Thank you.

Operator

Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen that concludes Expedia Inc third quarter 2005 earnings call. Thank you for your participation in today’s conference. And at this time you may disconnect.

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