Intrepid Potash's CEO Presents at Bank of America Merrill Lynch Global Industrials & Materials Conference (Transcript)

| About: Intrepid Potash, (IPI)

Intrepid Potash, Inc. (NYSE:IPI)

Bank of America Merrill Lynch Global Industrials & Materials Conference

September 06, 2012 08:00 AM ET


David Honeyfield – President and CFO


Kevin McCarthy – Bank of America Merrill Lynch


Kevin McCarthy – Bank of America Merrill Lynch

Good morning everybody and welcome back for day two of Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s Global Industrials and Materials Conference. We’re pleased you could join us here in Boston and for those of you listening on the web, thanks for your participation as well. My name is Kevin McCarthy. I cover US Chemical Stocks for the firm. I’m very pleased to kick off day two with our first presenting company which will be Intrepid Potash. Intrepid as many of you know is about a $1.7 billion market cap company that’s very focused on the fertilizer market and specifically potash nutrient, as the name suggests. Representing the company today, we have Will Kent from Investor Relations as well as our speaker, David Honeyfield. David is President and Chief Financial Officer of the company. So without further ado, I’ll turn it over to David. We appreciate you making the trip to Boston, David. Look forward to an update on the company.

David Honeyfield

Well, thank you. Kevin again, we really appreciate the invitation to be here and appreciate everybody taking time this morning to visit with us. In addition to Will Kent, we also have Brian Frantz, our Vice President of Finance and Controller and as Kevin mentioned on David Honeyfield, our President and CFO. Can’t start the presentation without reminding everyone that we have forward-looking statements and we urge everyone to read our cautionary statements regarding the forward-looking information contained in this presentation.

Intrepid is a geographically advantaged US based potash only company. We have an intense margin focus using strategic marketing to participate in our markets and production flexibility that we use to our advantage. We are the high end margin North American potash producer. Our commitment is to reinvest into our business, through capital investments that are focused on product growth, through incremental low cost ponds for that flexible production facilities and delevering excellent rates to return on our capital investments.

Intrepid is the largest producer of potash in the United States. We supply approximately 10% of the US market and we’re also one of only two global producers of langbeinite. Langbeinite is a specialty mineral that contains magnesium, potassium and sulfur and virtually no chloride. We have five active production facilities, each with excellent capital investment opportunities that are inside our fence, that are focused on growth flexibility and margin and you’ll hear me say that time and time again, today. We’ve begun construction of our sixth facility which is the HB Solar Solution Mine down in Carlsbad, New Mexico, and when completed, we expect that project will increase our potash production by approximately 25%.

Further, the strength of our balance sheet provides the ability for us to execute on a robust capital investment program together with our disciplined approach to business development.

Turning to the current potash market for just a moment, what we see is that the fundamentals remain strong basically despite the drought condition. If you look at the crop insurance program, this rally should mitigate the impacts from the drought conditions across large portion of the Midwest. There is a market by market variability that exists and there are certainly some areas of the country that are going to see above average yields. So you have to really put things in perspective and keep some balance. The Summerfield purchasing programs is moving along just as folks would expect it to at a very solid pace. And one thing we are seeing though is that we are seeing stocks to use ratio as tightened and we really expect that what’s that’s going to do is get people thinking forward at 2013 and we expect to see global, agricultural demand really increase. Farmer economics suggest that farmers will likely apply near normal potash levels in the fall and then going into the spring and we see industrial and our feed business being very stable. Demand also remains very strong for our Trio products as our customers continue to recognize the agronomic value of this product and the value that it provides to them in their crops.

Intrepid is really differentiated from our competitors based on our assets, our commitment to our folks, our facilities and our production growth profile. Our minds are geographically located in an area that we’re able to sell into a market that represents approximately five times what we produce on an annual basis.

Further, we built to capacity and the flexibility through our production systems to maximize our margin opportunities by meeting the differing product demands of the end markets that we serve from our Carlsbad, New Mexico, and our Utah facilities.

So what is a diverse product offering and geographically advantage really mean? Well quite simply, it means that we generate more cash per ton, than our competitors. This is on each ton of product that we produce and sell, because we’ve invested in the production flexibility and we’re simply closer to the market. based on our calculations, when we look at our average net realized sales price for potash over the first half of 2012 and we compare it to our North American peers, we are in $64 more per ton. When we look over the last five years, compared to our North American competitors, this represents an advantage of nearly 25% on a per ton basis for every, on a net realized sales price

Not only have generated higher net realized sales prices, we’ve also generated more margins per ton that we’ve been in our North American competitors. When we talk about margins being better, what we’re really trying to ask people to understand is that it’s our location, it’s the diversity of our markets, it’s the diversity of our crops, it’s the diversity of our products, it’s our marketing approach and it’s our overall focus on margin that yields its result year after year.

On average for the past five years, we have generated more cash for the bottom line on the production and sale of potash than all of our North American competitors. After cash production cost, royalties, taxes and our continuing higher net realized sales price, Intrepid consistently delivers more margins to the bottom line. Our five year track record of generating these margins is not an aberration that we just highlight one quarter or one year. We look at the one year average, the two year average, three year, four year, five year average; it’s a very consistent story.

A key differentiator for Intrepid is that we have a very diverse cross section of customers that we serve in the agricultural, the industrial and the feed segment. The diversity in our agricultural markets means that we are serving not only the corn market, but we’re also supplying product to the hay, the barley, the cotton, soybean citrus, vegetables, potatoes and the wheat market. if you look at where we’re located having markets like the Pacific Northwest, South eastern United states, those home markets in Texas, in Oklahoma, they really add to that diversity so that it’s not just a story about the Midwestern corn crop for intrepid.

Of equal importance, we build flexibility into our production processes to serve our other end markets with either standard or with granular products depending on what the market needs are at the time. I think what’s important to recognize is that at Intrepid, we have the capacity to granulate or to put product into that granular form that the agricultural market really demands, for approximately 80% of our production and when we completed the North compaction project that overall capacity for the company, is it about 90% giving us again, that flexibility to produce the right product, looking at where the margins are the highest for us and they deliver it to our customers in the form that they need.

When we look outside the domestic agricultural market, we also continue to see good demand and good diversity from our industrial and from our feed markets as I’ve mentioned before.

When you think about Intrepid and you think about our capital investment strategy, I think what’s helping to remember is that this strategy is focused on growing incrementally lower cost ponds by adding flexibility and what that does is it delivers more margin to the bottom line. And we continue to execute on this strategy by growing our mining capacity and producing more ponds, by adding granulation capacity which provides us the flexibility and our marketing program and through recovery improvement projects that ultimately lower our unit cost or lower our per ton cost on for operations.

The projects that we’re currently investing in will positively change the profile of Intrepid and enable us to earn a greater return on each ton of product that we sell.

Capital execution is foundational to Intrepid’s growth. Since the inception of Intrepid in 2000, we have invested over $0.5 billion into our facilities. These investments including looking at things like increased warehousing, increased mining panels, increased infrastructure to hoist ponds, developing the langbeinite recovery processes, the HB process, the list is a very long one when you go through all the projects and all of the things that they affect in terms of building that infrastructure in that base to deliver on the projects that we’re executing currently.

We’ve accomplished major milestones over the last 10 years, dating back to our initial growth project of the horizontal cavern system in Moab. In 2012, our major capital investments include the HB Solar Solution Mine, the North compaction facility and the new multi-well cavern system that we’ve been able to successfully replicate in our Moab operation.

The ability to execute on these capital investment projects is a direct result of our focus and the investment and resources that we’ve acquired to developing an impressive internal team of engineering talent, technical talent and operational team to run these assets.

I’ve mentioned before, that the HB Solar Solution Mine is up and going. We started construction of that activity in March 2012 after going through the EIS process and receiving permit from the BLM and all the other agencies that we needed and it presents an unprecedented opportunity for Intrepid, to expand our potash production base using low cost, solar evaporation and it will provide production growth through incrementally lower cost ton. The HB Solar Solution Mine has 5 million tons of reserves. We expect the total capital investment will be between $200 and $230 million which translates into $40 to $46 per ton of reserves. It uses the same proven solar technology that we use at our Moab and our Wendover facilities and we expect HB to produce between 150,000 and 200,000 a year annually with higher rates in the earlier years.

The other thing that I think is very noteworthy is that the cash cost per ton is expected to be $60 to $80 per ton. Put that into perspective, our average cash operating cost per ton today, we expect to be somewhere in that $175 to $180 per ton range. So you’re going to see 25% more production coming online at essentially half the cost.

Lastly, the initial injection area represents only a fraction of the total HB acreage of approximately 30 square miles which provides significant opportunity for additional expansion.

As I mentioned, we began construction of this project in March 2012. Through June, we’ve invested $60.5 million on engineering, design, procurement, pond construction, pipeline construction, wells for water, injection and extraction and construction of the first of our 18 solar evaporation ponds is essentially complete and we started injecting into the mine working just this last week.

HB is a game changer for Intrepid, because we expect that to increase our potash production, as I mentioned, by 25% and improve our overall cost profile and margin opportunity for the company. HB is expected to be among the low cost producers in North America and importantly it leverages our solution mining and solar evaporation expertise that we’ve gained from our Moab and our Wendover operation. We expect first production at HB to begin in the fall of 2013 ramping up into 2014 and then getting the maximum rates in 2015.

You’ve heard me mention before, but I’ll touch on it again, when we talk about additional granulation capacity, this is really key for the marketing and production flexibility that we’ve focused on and we’ve spent the last couple of years upgrading each of our facilities. In 2010, we completed a new compactor project at our Moab operation that gives us capacity to compact 100% of what we produce.

In 2011, we completed the compaction project of Wendover facility that again gives us capacity to compact 100% of that product. We’re in the process of upgrading the North compaction facility and what that will allow us to do is compact 100% of our existing production from the west mine, it will allow us to compact the additional production from the HB solar solution mine and also compact the additional production from the expansion projects that we’re pursuing at our west mining operations.

The total capital investment for this project is expected to be approximately $90 to $95 million and ultimately, this flexibility is what allows us to seek out and to produce either the standard product or the granular product and have that flexibility for the work going after the highest margin opportunities for Intrepid.

The east plant is an area that we are focused on improving our operating performance. The investments we’re making are a design to eliminate some of the unpredictability of the recent performance. We’re executing on a comprehensive and detailed plan to make improvements to all aspects of the operations including personnel, updating standard operating procedures, updating maintenance practices, going through and replacing some of the boiler system and rebuilding some of the very significant mechanical system that existed in this operation. The expectation is that we’ll see increased overall plant throughput rate, we’ll see increased feedstock that’s available to our langbeinite processing facility and it provides that consistency to potash and Trio production levels for the company. Many of these improvements are already underway and we’re seeing sequential improvement, day to day, week to week, month to month and we expect that these improvements will continue through the execution of this plan which is anticipated to take us through the end of 2012 and a little bit into the beginning part of 2013.

The langbeinite recovery improvement project is our most recently completed major capital investment and it’s focused on capturing growth in margin. We continue to see very strong pricing in the Trio market. As I touched on earlier, what our customers recognize is that this is a product that they can market as a specialty nutrient, they recognize the agronomic value that it brings to their customers and frankly, we continue to be at a situation where the demand is outpacing the supply in the market. A few of the expected benefits of the langbeinite recovery improvement project are the design production agronomic growth, is approximately 100,000 tons more than what we anticipate producing this year. It’s the same cost base. So what you see is that the unit cost comes down significantly as a result. It also allows for production facility because part of this project is that we built a facility that allows us to produce a granular product for out of the standard production that comes out of the production stream, so now we have the ability to have 100% of our Trio production in a granular form that tends to earn a higher margin.

The total investment for the project has come in essentially on budget at the low end of the range that we put out there and that range was $85 to $90 million were substantially complete with it and the IRRs continue to be very strong IRRs even with some of the delays in bringing the production online.

So really in summary, when you think about Intrepid, I think it’s important to recognize that Intrepid Potash is unique. Because we are the only western world pure play potash company. We are in the highest per ton margin of any North American potash producer. Our assets are geographically advantaged and we’ve built the capability to service diversified markets and diversified customers. Our decision making is intentionally margin driven which means that it’s focused on growth, flexibility and margin.

And finally, we’re executing on a capital investment program of growing production of incrementally lower cost tons. We thank you for your time and we’d be happy to open it up for any questions at this time.

Question-and-Answer Session

Unidentified Analyst

Could you elaborate on current market conditions? Are your customers asking you to hold the products at your inventory during the Summerfield season ship in the fall and do you expect any logistics issues for the fall season or the spring coming up either with the (inaudible) Mississippi water traffic or in your case well issues out in New Mexico or Utah?

David Honeyfield

Sure. I think what we’re seeing right now is frankly a pretty normal fill activity. We’re seeing shipments going out every day. These are sales, they are not situations where they are just product being placed in a warehouse. One thing that I think is helpful to understand however though is that over the last probably 18 months, there has been a shift and you’ve seen that through several of the other larger producers in the market that what they try to do is essentially lock up warehouse space along the river. So when you look at some of those producer inventory levels, I think what you’ve seen is a little bit of a step change over time where it’s the same amount of product that’s out in the system, but a lot of it is sitting on producers books rather than in dealers books. In our situation, we have a portion of that business that we’ve always done in terms of trying to make sure that we’re moving our product as close to the market as we can, but at this point in time, we continue to see pretty steady sales and overall I think that field program is going as folks would have thought.

In terms of logistics, there certainly have been a lot of talk about the water levels on the Mississippi and whether or not people having to float lighter barges up the river. At this point in time, we feel like we’re pretty well scheduled out with rail traffic. We have the truck traffic that supplies our Moab and our Wendover operation as well as some of the regional markets out of our Carlsbad plant. So at this point, I don’t know that I see anything necessarily constraints but what we’re hearing from dealers is that they are very comfortable with their inventory levels at the current time and I think what we’re going to need to see is we’re going to need to see that weather come through the Midwest, we’re going to need see people get crop targets off and frankly, people’s attention is going to turn very quickly to what these individuals do, farmers farm. And they are going to be looking at what overall commodity prices are in the market, they know that they’ve got significant cash flows coming in either in the form of through cost sales that there is just frankly not a lot of inventory out there right now or through insurance payments which should come in November, December timeframe. Their banks know that these cash flows are coming. So there shouldn’t be any issue about investing in your seed, in your fertilization program, your chemical program for the next year. So really, we anticipate what the commodity prices being, where they are at that globally, we’re going to see increased acreage planted. We’re going to continue to see increased focused on the larger crops, the corn, the soybean crop and overall we know that a lot of the plant growth did occur. You may not see the yield numbers necessarily on an area of corn per se, but a lot of the nutrient uptake has already occurred. So I think that’s one of the things that pokes me to think about when they put stuff on the scale is, most of that nutrient uptake has already occurred, if there is a yield that goes along with that, at a higher or lower level, that’s just going to be reflected in the stock to use, not necessarily in the fact that the nutrient’s already been taken out in the plant for the most part.

Chris, I don’t know if that covered of what you were hoping.

Unidentified Analyst

Question, can you just tell us the difference in the cost of rail, truck and barge and who bears that cost?

David Honeyfield

It’s really quite variable. As you would expect, if you look at freight miles, that’s probably the easiest way to think about it. The thing that I think is helpful to understand is that potash is really marketed very different than phosphate and nitrogen. Particularly on phosphate, you see all pricing based around the New Orleans market and then it’s just a transportation differential that exists. What you see because of the fact that for example, in large part in our Utah operations, we’re supplying smaller, niche markets in that Pacific Northwest, in the Colorado area, and the Utah area and folks are using our warehousing essentially as a just in time delivery system. So folks tend to pay spot prices on those situations. If you look at the Mississippi river value, that’s really the most competitive area in the United States and the reason is, that you really do have competition among the three transportation logistics and that you have freight, you have rail and you have truck all competing for those tons and coming in from the north, from the south and then from the domestic market as well.

So overall what you’ll see is it is going to be tied largely to how far out you’re going. River traffic is a large freight is very, very inexpensive. Obviously you have to get it there and a lot of time that delivery point is through rail, it’s through sometimes truck. So we’re seeing pretty decent movement at the current time. Again, most of that right now is still going into that restocking at the dealer level and we are starting to see the pull at this point that I expect that will start as soon as we see however starting to come on.

Unidentified Analyst

You didn’t answer my question. What I am really trying to see is if you’re putting west down in Mississippi, are you bearing the costs to put on rails or trucks and how much higher is it?

David Honeyfield

Again, it’s quite variable. If you’re looking at what your mix of product tons, we sell approximately 20% of our tons and those are shipped on truck. Sometimes our customers pick up that cost; sometimes we include that in the price. It’s certainly going to be a cost to the end market and that gets passed through. If you see that shipped on rail, it’s the same type of situation. When we ask folks to try to analyze our numbers, it doesn’t make a lot of sense really to start with gross revenue. I think what you need to start with is gross revenues, less the freight number and that gets you to that net realized sales price and that’s really the comparative number when we’re looking at our sales expense for the Canadian producers. So it’s a little bit challenging to answer from that perspective and I’m not trying to be evasive to your question at all. Just trying to be responsive and describe a little bit of the difference in logistics there.

Unidentified Analyst

I think one of the advantages that you had with your Trio products was that there’s growing reorganization as a value of micro nutrients. I was just wondering if you could give us an idea for what your sense is for the general agricultural communities awareness of the value of including nutrients (inaudible) and PMK and applications.

David Honeyfield

It’s a great question and it’s one that intentionally, we’ve taken a very active approach with our customers and with our customers’ customers. So when you think about the Trio product, what that product has in it is potassium, magnesium and sulfate and so the other important piece is there is virtually no chloride in that product. So when you have crops that are magnesium intensive and soils that are chloride sensitive, those tend to be the stronger markets, the potato market, the citrus market, the turf market, really any leafy green vegetables. So what we’ve done is we have several agronomists on staff and we make these folks available to our customers the whole dealer meetings and they go through the agronomy. It’s not as if this is necessarily new information to the farmers or to our dealers, but it is a reminder and it walks through really that need for balanced fertilization. So what we’ve seen with that over the last couple of years is that education level has increased awareness and therefore increased demand. When we talk about expanding our Trio marketing programs, we’re not approaching this in a market share sort of a concept. What we’re doing is we’re seeing a growing market for the product. The product has been out in the market for 20 years. You saw some very significant producers in the Carlsbad region and those producers and their specific reserve base; they essentially mine through those areas. We’re producing out of that same ore body in our producing area right now and we have approximately 55 to 60 years of reserve associated with our Trio reserves and so when we continue to talk to our dealers, what they want to make sure is that they’ve got a reliable supplier and that they know that they are going to be part of that program overall. We’re seeing great demand from South American countries, we’re seeing very strong demand from the worldwide markets as well and some of the big crops in addition to the ones I touched on are the palm oil plantations are very significant users. So we think about what’s going on in Malaysia, you think about what’s going on and then in the United States as we touched on, the potato market, you see certain markets in the western corn belt, that are big users and then South Eastern United States. And hopefully that was responsive of your question.

Unidentified Analyst

Can you just talk a little bit about your reserve life?

David Honeyfield

Sure, happy to. And we do have some presentations that are around the room as well and that picked up. Intrepid, I’ll talk about it in terms of the five main mining areas. So what did Utah, we have the Moab area which is the solution mine, coupled with solid apparition, reserve life there is well over 130 years. When you look at Wendover Utah, that’s a 30 year reserve life. The part that’s interesting about that is it’s been a 30 year reserve life perpetually and really that was through a discussion with the SEC, the (inaudible) operations are kind of hard to evaluate. So if everyone’s comfortable with it can we agree on 30 years and that area has been producing since the early 1930s. When you look at our west mine which is our largest producing area, our reserve life there in west is for about 125 years and then the east mine we have about 55 years on additional potash reserves and about 55 years of additional langbeinite reserves. And then the HB Solar Solution Mine. That’s five million tons production, is what we’re anticipating on reserves and that’s about a 28 year mine life based on the production rates that we’re projecting.

It’s kind of interesting coming from, our previous background was through oil and gas and what I described to folks is, we don’t have a lot of reserve replacement discussions around our company. What we have is a lot of reserve acceleration discussions and how we can bring that forward and try to bring forward to present value.

Unidentified Analyst

Wondered if you can talk to market pricing especially given the fact that production is increasing for your sales and some of your competitors and just we do see pricing for the next year, over the next two to three years.

David Honeyfield

Yes, what I think is kind of interesting about pricing, particularly in the current market is that what we were seeing back in the early part of the spring of 2012, particularly domestically and that’s certainly where virtually 100% of our potash production goes, was there was a lot of dealer request for, can you give me a little bit of price protection, what if price goes down $20 and we’re just not hearing that. We haven’t heard that for several months. Clearly the fill program announcements that came out, took pricing down and I think when we had announced what our expectations were, we expect to see a little bit lower pricing in the third quarter than we saw in the second quarter, but again, that’s participating in the market and we expect it will be higher than what our Canadian peers are coming in at.

But I think what’s helpful to understand is that the pricing environment that exists today, exists really without India being in the market. So you have one of the larger consumers of potash on a global basis that’s really just stepped away from the market and so I think we’ll see some stability for a period of time here. I think that if you look at the buyer in terms of whether or there is a risk of price going down or going up, at this point I’d say we’re probably in that neutral to some potential price going up. Certainly some of the announcements by the Canadian (inaudible) them is to what they are doing in terms of curtailing some production there. I think what’s helpful to understand about Intrepid is that we recognize given our size, given the amount of product we sell into the market that our strategy is best afford and we’re able to generate more margin per ton by continuing to produce our facilities at capacity by participating in the market every day. We need to recognize that we produce a product that supplies about 10% of the US market. So in terms of us driving price, I don’t see us being the guys that are going to drive that, but we certainly need to participate in it.

I think overall farmer economics will tell you that, the value is there, and the yield response typically is in aligned with potash application rates, based on a lot of the steady work that’s been done by folks at the International Plant Nutrition Institution. So my sense is economics would tell you that there is more value in the product than potentially is priced in today, but clearly that’s going to have to be driven by some of the larger producers in the market.

Unidentified Analyst

David, do you have a view on the likely trajectory of US demand for potash 2013 versus 2012 at kind of a market level. So coming through the drought here, so there is more uncertainty than we would typically see with corn prices up, call it 55-60% since mid-June and on the other side of the coin there is some out there that supports an argument that a short crop results in somewhat diminished that really from this soil. So how do you see those two netting out, just to clarify from your prior comments. Does it net out to normal in your view or might there be a net positive effect from that?

David Honeyfield

I think it’s a very fair question and it’s one that, it’s certainly (inaudible) a lot of folks. There is a couple of pieces that I look at when thinking about that. One I touched on earlier that if you look around the country without a doubt, there has been lots of focus on an area of the country and clearly the Midwest is a significant corn producing area but there has been very little focus on northern Minnesota and Dakota on what’s going on in the P&W, the fact that you’re not seeing a drought any longer in the South Eastern United States. So you’re going to see productivities be very high in certain areas. So that’s one of the items I think you need to put on scale. I think when we talked about uptake of the plant or uptake of nutrients into the plant, particularly potash, one of its highest utilization is at the initial plant growth, development of the root fall and development of the stock structure.

So you’re seeing some of the nutrient gets pulled up. Clearly there is additional nutrient that gets pulled into, if you’ve got an ear of corn that’s this size relative to this size, yes, there’s probably going to be more nutrients there, but the point is, people are still going to harvest that ear of corn and the stock stubble is going to be there, it’s going to be same stock stubble and the same program that the farmers had in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, probably that we’ll see this year in 2012.i think then you put on commodity price, you put on what people are talking about already, which is the corn crop that’s even larger than what was planted here in 2012. You put all those factors together and then you add on one other piece of data which is going back and looking at what responses been after some of the more significant droughts, I think the most recent one was 1988 and what you saw was actually an increase in nutrients going down at that point in time, largely because stocks to use, numbers got tighter and the market’s got tighter so that yield opportunity and that profitability equation continues to stay very strong.

So when you say all that, I think our middle of the road view would be that we expect it to be a pretty normal fall and spring situation. You’ve seen US demand for potash be a relatively stable number. Certainly yield is not out because of seed technology, equipment, agricultural practices over the years, but I think globally, you’re going to see an increase acreage which I think would take you to a point of starting to see the bigger producing countries, certainly China is going to have to make that economic decision as to whether I buy corn or whether I try to invest in yield and India, at some point currently has very good stocks numbers, but pretty light monsoon season this year means that those could come down very, very quickly, so I think you really have to take a look at the overall global situation when trying to answer that question.

I think we’re in good shape.

Kevin McCarthy – Bank of America Merrill Lynch

Yes, I think we’re just in the final seconds, we’re out of time. So we’ll wrap it at that Dave. Thank you very much for your remarks today.

David Honeyfield

Thank you.

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