CMS Energy Corporation (NYSE:CMS) Barclays CEO Energy/Power Conference Call September 5, 2012 9:05 AM ET
Thomas J. Webb – Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer
Daniel Ford – Barclays Capital Inc.
Daniel Ford – Barclays Capital Inc.
Okay, I think we're ready for our next presenter. From CMS Energy Corp, we have Tom Webb, who is Executive Vice President and CFO. Tom?
Thomas J. Webb
Thank you, Dan. It's an honor to be here, you run a great conference, and I'm very pleased for those of you who choose to come and be interested, be owners, or prospective owners in the Company. So, we thank you for that. We realize you have an awful lot of choices out there. So it’s an honor to have you here.
I need to ask you first to take a minute, maybe you don't want to, but just read through that for care and remember that you want to check our Ks, check our Qs, look at our risk statements, check the definition on non-GAAP, go to our website. So you can see, when I describe something of what the differentials are. And I'm proud to say the differentials in GAAP and non-GAAP aren’t anything like to use to be when I was talking to you five years ago, they took me a while to figure out. But, so this will make it easy for you.
I do also want to introduce someone that's here with me today, because everyone here, I can barely see everyone here through the lights, but most of you remember Laura Mountcastle who has retired. Glenn Barba has picked up those responsibilities for Investor Relations, and he's also the Vice President and Controller for the Company. So he has got all the really juicy stuff, if you want to catch him later. But he knows, he's learned catch you any of that. After having read that Dan, I'd like to just take you to this model, the triangle may seem a little old to you.
But please remember we've had it for a long time, because it really has worked for us through our recovery and the sustainability that we're in now moving forward with the company. So the model, it's a pretty good one that we’re proud of, its all based on investments and the utility with the creation of jobs and creating more customer value, improving the environment, the air is cleaner in Michigan that ever has been, we have more work to do, and reducing our O&M, because we don't view reducing O&M as a way to make money for you. We view that as a way to reduce our cost to our customers, and I'm the first to admit, in the short term when you do that you had little benefit and that's part of the earnings growth. But over the long haul, we put it right in our annual rate cases, so we give that back. It’s our effort to be more competitive.
And that brings us to the little base or near the bottom of the triangle about base rates. We work very hard to keep our base rate increases at or below the level of inflation. You’ll see a little slide that will show you that over the next five years, we expect to be about up 1% on electric, little less than 1% on gas. So there is little space with inflation more in the ballpark of 2%, but we are also working to get our pass through cost down as well.
All that generates a nice growth in earnings and operating cash flow of about 5% to 7% pretty predictable, and then we are fortunate about how we got them, but we are fortunate to have NOLs that eliminate the need for block equity this year, next year, for the next few years, and therefore eliminates the dilution that’s associated with that.
Now on this slide you see just a simple version of the model that we've described, because we talk here about enablers. And you might say, well, what the heck does that mean, and why does it make you any different from other companies. And I don't like to brag like we are substantially different. We're very utility, like but we work very hard to give ourselves a little bit of an edge for you and for our customers.
So when we talk about enablers, that means the Energy Law that was a comprehensive law that came into place at the end of 2008 big deal for our company, it has many features that you’re familiar with, I won't go through now, and there are ways to make those features work even better, but that's a great enabler to us. We have supported regulation, and I'll tell you right now, before I even get to the slides, that if we were to gather a year ago, I would have described the situation like this, if this is – some time ago, not Dan, but my hand over here, and some time ago, you would have said that – you're not even average, you really don't have a good relationship with your regulators, is this okay?
But when the Energy Law came along, it created a platform for a much better constructive relationship, which raised that relationship a lot, in part because the commissioners, our Public Service Commission actually were very involved in creation of the Energy Law. So they love some aspects, they love some less than other aspects, but they were part of it all. So the implementation of that brought us to any higher level.
And I think most would conclude, we're certainly in a first quartile, I don't know for the best or among the very best, but I would have said a year ago, we can sustain that, I would tell you now that that was wrong. We will actually be able to grow that relationship in part because it changes that are happening in the commission with the new Chair of the Public Service Commission who has a strong business orientation, but a good solid regulatory strength.
The commissioners that work with him, some changes in the staff that he’s done to make it, to try to make things more productive. And he's made some good progress, and I actually encourage you to listen to the commissioners when you get a chance, when they’re out talking, if there’s an event and ask them some questions, and see what you think, because I believe we move to a much more – are moving through to a much more constructive relationship, big enabler.
We keep our O&M cost down the way I mentioned, big enabler, because that is – that’s creates more headroom for the investments that we're making. Sales recovery we’ll show you little slide on that, going fairly good, I don't want to brag about it, because it's slower than past recoveries, but it seems to be a little better in Michigan that we're seeing, then we’re seeing than we see in some surrounding areas, and that's a nice positive enabler with that headroom that comes with it. And then of course the NOLs, which give us a chance to avoid dilution.
So here is the big driver, this is the investment pie of about $6.5 billion, and as this investment that also makes us a little bit unique from others, because it's all things that are badly needed, it's not things that we really want. So all things that are really needed for customers, and again not things we really want, so there's requirements in there around environmental investments, there’s reliability improvements and the like, and all those are very important to our customers, but not everything is in this, and here is an example.
There is a clear need for more capacity and our service territory, and we've been encouraged to address that as soon as we can, and we’re doing some hard work on that now. It's driven by the fact that the growth is going to need a little bit – going to require a little bit more capacity even with good demand management and all the things that you’d expect us to around energy efficiencies and like.
MISO is probably going to raise our margin levels, but even if they don't, we have – what we call, the 7 Classic, so about little over 900 megawatts where the capacity, that we're planning to mothball. It may not be economical to keep those updated for the new environmental laws, and if so, we’re going to have to replace that capacity. The investments that required for that is not in our plan, so when we show you numbers in our earnings growth and cash flow and the like, this isn’t been there yet.
So keep this next chart in mind, the two big bubbles, it is one example of many examples, so why we could be investing over $10 billion during the next five years, but we’re not. So we’re investing about $6.5 billion and we do that principally for the reason of trying to keep our base rate growth down to under inflation. And around $6 billion or even maybe a touch near $7 billion or touch over we could still be nicely under that 2% kind of inflation number, but if we move to $10 billion, we’d be approaching the 4% kind of number, and we think that's too much, and you may say why? You’re going to grow your cash flow, grow your earnings that's wonderful thing, and it’s nice to be good to your customers, but if it’s the stuff they need, why not invest in sustainability.
And I mean that strictly from the standpoint of the needs for you to see predictable earnings growth, and predictable cash flow growth on the operating cash flow level. By doing this the real rate increases for our customers are negative. And that gives us a fair chance to get through our investment program over the next five and 10 years, and not have issues, so that we can continue that growth year in and year out. So what you've seen for the last nine or so years can continue over the next 10 not so years. Then I think that's important to use.
So I would pause there to say this, if you are looking for a company that has growth on its earnings or its operating cash flows that greater than 10%, a double digit kind of thing long run. If you are looking for somebody who’s not going to slip down to 3% to 4% or somebody that's not going to give you volatility, so it's up one year down the next, then you're looking at the right company. What we offer you is a track record of that 5% to 7% growth, and we will work hard to continue to deliver that and do whatever it takes.
But in the occasions where it might be more, we will turn that back to customers by investing more in reliability, more pull top maintenance, more tree trimming whatever it may take, pull things ahead that we've had to delay for say outages, for modernizing the plants, or doing the maintenance on plants, we will do that. So that's the downside, but it's the consistency side, that I think is so important.
Here is the picture of those rates, over the next five years, electric on the bar in the left, and gas on the right, and you can see both base increases are about 1%, and you can see gas is down substantially, we have a lot of contracts around gas, and so at these low prices, they’ll continue to come down for a while. But the pass through cost on electric are higher than the 1%, and there’s probably some good work that we can do in that area, lots of examples shown on the right side.
Now, I was asked by someone who came to visit us, who had looked at our numbers carefully and said, you have a terrific cost story, why don't you share it. We usually focus on a future, and I said, but wanted to share what you’ve done, so we took the data that was shown to us, it's all public data, and we said, if you look at the O&M cost, the non-fuel O&M since 2006 to the last year, when you can get the data for peers, the light blue bars are all of our peers and on average their cost were up 7%, our cost were not, and there is some examples of how we did that. So then you might say, well it’s probably all over for you guys, you got squeezed all the cost you can out and that's probably it, so 2012 probably doesn't look very good.
Here’s where the absolute cost are. First, where you can see our O&M is about 18% of revenue little below the average and our overhead is near the lowest at 2% of revenue, and here’s the look for this year. So for 2012, we’ll bring our cost down another 6%, and then as we go through the next five years, we’ll work hard to keep it flat, up a touch or down a touch, but as we get closer to each year, we'll see what we can do in that specific year. And again the emphasis here is how to take over your customers, how can you get more productive. And there are some examples on the right side that will talk a little bit about how we might do that, and you might ask why, I mean, it sounds like a good thing to do.
But you think about, where a guy like me comes from, they come out of Ford Motor Company for 22 years, and then Kellogg Company for three years, and we were customers. And as customers we were working hard to keep our cost down, as all our customers are. So why shouldn't we do the same thing as their supplier. So we work very hard to do this to help them be more efficient, and there is more opportunity for us, as we go through time to do a better job for our customers.
This slide is a love hate slide, there is a piece of this you love, and a piece of this you hate, I know you don't, but I say that for an exaggeration, you might have Commission will be the reverse of that. But we showed this slide to our Commission and talk them it, and there was a nice smile. That all three Commissioners, and all the key staff members together, and we were chatting about the business, and taking them through things like this.
You all know this story, I think in the room know this story, we're during winter of this last year is pretty mild, and it cost us $0.13 of earnings. So what do you have expected us to do, what you see here. We identified ways to offset that that made good sense got it done, showed you the list, and went on with it.
Now lot of these things in here are things that come from the circumstances you’re in, when weather is mild you're not passing through as much gas, so therefore you have less loss gas. When weather is mild, your bills aren't as high so you have lower uncollectibles. So there's a lot of things that can help you when things go bad, and then you work hard in the rest. Well, as we got through July, we had one of the hottest Julys we've ever had.
Well, counting that in a little god news in the economy, we were up $0.13 pure coincidence on the number, but we are up $0.13 and immediately set about figuring out how can we share some of that back with our customers, and you see examples of that in the box. That's a delay for our customers that is a pleasure for our commission to know they don't have to ask us to do that, we will do that. And you'll notice the little arrow, it doesn't make it all the way back down, because all we promise to you is to continue to meet our guidance of the $1.52 to $1.55 going at 5% to 7%. So some of the decisions who’ll get made as we go through the year, you can’t make them all upfront, and who knows, maybe there will be a bit of a mild winter, and when need a little of that space to meet our commitments for you.
This slide, we call managing the work certainly not numbers. But it’s a frame of mind. So if there something I can share with you, it’s a way to get into the gray matter of the thinkers at CMS Energy, why did they do, what they do. And this is – now again you may love it, you may not like it, but whatever it is, what you can count on. The regulatory relationships pretty good one, doing the things you see listed on this slide are pretty important to keep that good relationship, and here’s just a little picture of the three commissioners with staggered terms, and in your brochures, you'll have in the back little pictures, and little bit more about each of them.
Orji was the Chairman until John Quackenbush came in and id a nice job bringing in the new Energy Law, leading the Commission for us, we're very pleased with the progress we've made with the implementation of that law. And as the new Chair John Quackenbush with little more of a business background, he’s trying to now take that work to the next step, so continue the good work that the Commission has done and take you forward to be successful.
So one of the steps that you see here at the yellow boxes are new folks or folks in new positions, and the two boxes in the bottom, and that are bright yellow are the folks are that are responsible for a lot of a rate cases and rate making. So they’re very important. They are skilled regulators, they know their business, they good to work with and they’ll try to hard make the law successful.
And then you see the new Chief of Staff, and I’d just clarify, because you’ve noticed there’s nothing underneath him for kind of the regulatory side, because he is actually working the side that doesn't cover utilities today, but he’s gaining a good knowledge by sitting in on a lot of the meetings and I think in the future he’ll be a strong player as well. So watch the spots on these folks, because I think there will be important players as we go through time.
I get asked a lot about how is the economy and I try not to overreact and we try not to aggressively forecast. Most of you know the box on the left, the message is real simple. The worst recession we had in our service territory that’s on record was actually not this one. And it was actually back in the early ’80s, ‘79 to ‘82 where the decline was 7% in the three year decline in this recession was 6%. But our recovery is slower in this recession than it was back then, and that's an issue, you see the numbers.
And on the right side, you can see them by year for the near-term, so the economy was down 6% over the period ‘07, ‘08, ’09, and then was up 5% as we report the numbers for ’10, ’11, and ‘12, and we've done something just to help you see the economy. We actually did it for ourselves and folks at who show that, because it will help everybody to see what's happening in your service territory in Michigan.
We took out the energy efficiency programs that we started doing in 2010, and we measure those with a lot of care because as you know when we’re successful with those, we have the chance to get little incentive that we are on top of our ROE. And when you adjust those out, the growth instead of being 5% of these last three years would be about 8%, still not all that robust compare to prior recoveries.
In the bottom right hand side, you can see what happened in the first half. The total all three segments were up 3%, and we’re forecasting 2%, so you may say we’re little pessimistic, I'd just like to say we’re realistic, tell the world really happens. Industrials up 7.5% on that on top of tough comps, because our industrial, as a group, our industrial customers, we're back to prerecession levels last year not this year. So they’re already building success plant.
People ask me, so what's happening in the economy, and lot of people coming in the Michigan building new plants, I would describe it more this way. That a lot of the people that are in Michigan have gone through the phase – lot more over time add more shifts, and now they are putting in brick-and-mortar, and they’re bringing their jobs more jobs back into Michigan than other locations, which is pleasing to us, and they’re are not doing it to do anyone a favor in Michigan.
They are doing it, because it's close to their supply base, it's close to their customers, because it's economical to do it, they wouldn’t otherwise do it, that's a good sign. And I think that's the driving for us that we see right now, and yes, there are some people relocating and the companies that haven't been in Michigan into Michigan, but I think we’re only seeing the beginning of that work as taxes and the like become more attractive to them in Michigan.
Now the residential and commercial sides are coming along. Although the numbers look a little from what I’m going to say, I would tell you the general trend is residential is into a pretty good recovery, folks are beginning to move out of shared homes and shared rental properties to go into their own, and this is a good sign. We're seeing the housing stock get used now, power turned on, and we're seeing some new builds, but not a lot. And then on the commercial side, that typically follows and that's what we are seeing, so a fair recovery, but we'll keep watching that and keep reporting that you.
So in summary, on the model, the investment drives our business, the enablers make us a little bit different than some others, not because they don't have an enabler able like what we do, but because of how I think we try to maximize that. We create self-imposed limits, and I suppose everyone does that in a way, but I will tell you, we're dead serious about trying to take care of our customers and keeping our rate increases as low as we can. And that's important to give you a sustainable model.
And then we work hard on risk mitigation, we learned about that 10 years ago, and it was the hard way to learn. We learned thinking ahead, being careful, being ready for the unknown as best you can is a very helpful thing everybody does that, but we do that in a very serious way, which leads to good consistent results. And here is the example where you can see the earnings and the dividend growth, and that provides a pretty strong TSR, but I can’t predict the price of the stock, that's one thing that you guys are much better at Dan & company than I am. So I wouldn't want ever suggest that, but we’ll give you the earnings growth, we’ll give the dividend growth, and hopefully in the market that will be responded to in a way will be attractive to you to have these kinds of TSRs that are predictable things that you can count on.
So just the key takeaways before any questions that you may have. We’re on track in our 10th consecutive year of giving consistent attractive financial performance. With very transparent and how we do it, it's all around utility investment, it's all around taking care of our customers, and taking care of our owners.
The regulatory relationship is constructive and growing each day in a very positive way, which we’re fortunate and proud to be a part of. The economy still seems to be coming along nicely, is not as strong as what everybody would like to see, but it's going in the right direction, and the cash flow that we continue to grow through this investment does allow us to make an important investment and growing that dividend. I know, I’ve told some of you the story before.
Last earnings call that I think, I did in Kellogg Company was one where I was very proud to announce that it was our 43rd year of increasing the dividend. And that's the model for this Company, I mean, we have long enough tell you we're in our 43rd year of increasing the dividend, but I will wiggle on my grave when somebody does say that in a happy way. I don't know if you can (inaudible) be happy. But let's hope for that. So, on that note, I really like to open it and rather take your questions and just share with you all of my thoughts. Dan?
Daniel Ford – Barclays Capital Inc.
And as always there is a microphone will be going around the room for any of you and do have questions. And I’ll start if off. Can you talk a little bit about the PUC review process and the stakeholder process for defining the Classic 7 expenditure strategy, and what the replacement generation?
Thomas J. Webb
That's a very good one. It starts how informally where the Commission is encouraging us get ready, if those 7 Classic plant’s 940 megawatts are going to disappear from the system, and you're going to have to mothball them, if you haven't brought them fully up to speed, when you get to the 2015-ish period, but the truth is, we’ll make decision well before that, because we want to put plants in place around either the mothball or the closure whatever it may be.
So we are well under way thinking what would be the substitute for that, it would probably go through a CON, Dan, I mean, its close anything over $500 million that's for generation capacity, for example, is in our Energy Law as – if there’s a mechanism in the law called Certificate of Necessity. And we abbreviate that as a CON, I apologize for the abbreviation. We will probably use that tool where we will look at our need informally show the Commission what we're looking at to make sure we’re lined up on all the different choices you could have.
So informally lined up, and then we’ll formally make that request enable them give us an authorization, so that we can proceed and be certain about the recovery would occur. If there is a new construction here, which is likely, some –in some fashion new construction, we’ll also need an air permit in all those normal things that you would go through. And we would target to put something in place, probably around ‘15 or ‘16 to meet the needs, because I think that will line up pretty well.
Daniel Ford – Barclays Capital Inc.
Pretty straightforward process (inaudible).
And kind of along the same lines, would there be at these existing sites, so would you have to get new sites or how that kind of work?
Thomas J. Webb
It's a good question.
And would it be picking units, would they be [CT], what type of plants are we talking there?
Thomas J. Webb
The reason I say it's good question, we’re looking at all those alternatives right now to figure out, what would be the best for our customers, I can tell you one driving for us will be, make sure we keep a fuel diversity. So where we go here, we want to do what we've been trying to do for some time have a balance of coal, a balance of gas, a balance of 10% renewables and we have our long-term contract on the nuclear side, and so and so on, so we’ll have all those things.
So we’ll look at all the choices, we’ll look at transmission, there’s lot of difficulties with that, and the major issue, I think with that other than we’re on a Peninsula and we only have a few bottlenecks that we can come through. The major issue with that is, I think that our customers would like to own the capacity rather than rent it, which is what you're doing when we bring it in from outside the State.
And that also brings jobs to the state that are a little bit stronger in that way. So that's one alternative we’ll look at, we’ll look at an alternative that you named a couple, which I had great one is just build Greenfield. If we were to build Greenfield, I suspect what we would do is use an existing site. Faster process, more acceptable process where we have units today, people are pretty excited about the jobs in that area, because they know what they are used to dealing with the construction, and with the ultimate tax base that they would like to have.
But if you [believe] and look at things like if you could use some of our peakers or even acquire peakers are something like that, and do that more efficiently and upgrade those. So the answer to your question is, haven't chosen, looking at a lot of alternatives, but the message is we will need to do something, and we're working very quickly on that, and it's not in the plan yet.
So one of the things we’ll have to consider it gets – its in add to the $6.6 billion, and some of that may be all in the plan, some of it could be slightly outside, what to reprioritize and make sure we watch that base rate growth that's our desire, nobody has asked us to do that, and I'm sure, we can figure that out, so watch that spot. As we go through the next several months, we’ll define that more carefully as we tell you what we’re taking to our Commission will be very public, and let you know what the alternatives are, and why we've chosen what we have.
What's the current status of the Classic 7? They’re just running, and what fuels – if that coal-fired plants (inaudible), where do you spend in terms of potential retirement, mothballing or whatever with your coal supply?
Thomas J. Webb
I'll put it in perspective for those that don’t know. We have a lot of gas-fired plants, we sold our nuclear plant, and we have a long-term PPA with that, et cetera, et cetera. And we have five large coal plants that are in the process of being fully emissionized, half that work is done and half is yet to go, so that's all underway. These seven units that make up about 940 megawatts are coal, they're actually good, they're small, and they have been economical before the gas prices, if you go back just less than a year, these coal plants are being dispatched every day. So they were good base load generation, economical plants to run, they weren't the kind that kind of just set there and were never turned on, I know those are out there too.
However with gas prices and marginal prices and MISO is low as they are, they're not dispatched as often, they are, but it's a little less frequent. So, the status is, we've announced that we will move toward mothballing, and the reason for that is to create more time to watch what happens on the environmental laws to watch what happens in the market, because its possible that they could be economical again, or projected to be. So they could be the best deal for our customers. If you made me guess right now, I guess what everyone would be here the easy choice is gas.
So if it’s still turns out to be that way, that mothball will evolve into closure of some or all of those plants, because again we might find an economical way to upgrade one or two with them and keep them in the plan, and that have to build as much new capacity. So, seven small coal plants, they have been economic, the cost of upgrading those, we think makes them noneconomic, but we got to watch how things evolve, we have a little bit of time, I’d say we have another year or so to make the final decision on that, and that would part of the final decision on the new base load that we put in place. And to you earlier question, probably wouldn't just put peakers in place, we will be some form of base load, so combined cycle with those gas unit.
Coal supply under contract for those plants, for the seven currently and what does the duty or overall if will [stop burning].
Thomas J. Webb
Right. We've sort of planned that into our thinking. So, our coal contracts and our rail contracts already consider the fact that these would be mothball, and we already considered where prices are today, and where MISO marginal prices are, so we schedule accordingly. Now for our big five coal plants, we actually little earlier this year, I think had some record high coal piles. So little bit snow and you could had some good ski slopes all setup if you wanted that would be coming soon.
So we are fortunate to being able to work with good partners in our rail companies and coal suppliers, and we’re able to address that in a fashion that we can work, because it was a mild winter you weren't burning as much and because of the shift to gas generation you weren't burning as much. We were able to balance that out in a very economical way for our customers, and we’re pleased to be able to do that. So we’ve been able to manage through those issues, I know you must have seen a lot of companies talking about record high coal piles.
Right. Could you talk about the types of regulatory mechanisms that you’re going to seek in the next rate case along the lines of the sales tracker, capital recovery tracker something along there?
Thomas J. Webb
Yeah, I’ll give you some ideas, and I don't want to be definitive here, because we haven't filed a new rate case yet. And I will tell you, we're having the standard typical discussions with the key players in rate cases, including the commissioners, including the key staff members, so that they can brief, be briefed and give us feedback. So we do things that are constructive, and that will be received well. Here are the things that we are thinking about.
First, the main reason we go in as we’re picking up the next slice of capital investment. So I’d say the rate case would probably be 80 plus percent capital investment. Second, we are going to talk about a few trackers, because as you know on the electric side of the business through some – Appeals court judge we loss the ability to have decoupling for the electric business, but the Appeals court judge was very clear, he’s [explain] reading a law, the law said gas it doesn't call out electric.
So, we will, as we're being encouraged to go to a tracker, because he suggested the Commission has full authority of a tracker. So we look at some tracking mechanism to replace what would have been decoupling for electric. We’ll do a few other little things like that, but here is a big one that we're going to try, we've been encouraged to try, and that is to look for capital tracker, now because that's the bulk of our cases. We are not going to do something that's a long duration, because we don't want to make it hard for people, so we’ll probably construct something around a couple of years. All designed to say that during the first year it look like a normal rate case, and whatever you capital is, you recover it, [use] self implementation in the final order.
When you get to the end of that first year, then we would ask for another amount of money that would cover the second year for capital only, and call that a tracker so it still be audited and review carefully by the Commission’s staff after its done to make sure just like other pass throughs, that we did what we said and costs were the same, and if there were different, there are good reasons, and it shows all that kind of thing.
I'm not certain, how that will be received, but if that becomes a popular technique, I will admit there actually won't be any for us to go back to the routine annual rate case, which we're doing primarily for CapEx, because now you have that covered. So, it probably would result and not going back for at least couple of years since that's the main reason for the rate cases. So those are coupled features that we’d probably be in this rate case and for other detail we’ll be making that available as we come up to that time, which is not in the two distant futures.
Daniel Ford – Barclays Capital Inc.
All right, there aren’t any more questions.
Thomas J. Webb
Daniel Ford – Barclays Capital Inc.
We do have a breakout session, it's going to be in the roadside suite, if you have any more for Tom, and I'd like to thank Tom very much for the presentation.
Thomas J. Webb
And let me and by thanking you and all of you. Appreciate it.
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