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Middle East Oil Producers Are Drowning In Debt

Middle East Oil Producers Are Drowning In Debt

Arab Gulf oil producers are losing billions of U.S. dollars from oil revenues this year due to the pandemic that crippled oil demand and oil prices. Because of predominantly oil-dependent government incomes, budget deficits across the region are soaring.

Middle East’s oil exporters rushed to raise taxes and cut spending earlier this year, but these measures were insufficient to contain the damage.

The major oil producers in the Gulf then rushed to raise debt via sovereign and corporate debt issuance. Bond issues in the region have already hit US$100 billion, exceeding the previous record amount of bonds issued in 2019.

Thanks to low-interest rates and high appetite from investors, the petrostates are binging on debt raising to try to fill the widening gaps in their balance sheets that oil prices well below their fiscal break-evens leave.

Saudi Aramco Taps International Debt Market Again

One of the latest issuers is none other than the biggest oil company in the world, Saudi Arabia’s oil giant Aramco, which raised this week as much as US$8 billion in multi-tranche bonds.

Aramco is tapping the international U.S.-denominated bond market for the second time in two years, after last year’s US$12 billion bond issue in its first international issuance, for which it had received more than US$100 billion in orders.

Saudi Aramco prefers to considerably increase its debt to cope with the oil price collapse than to touch its massive annual dividend of US$75 billion, the overwhelming majority of which goes to its largest shareholder with 98 percent, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Analysts warn that the dividend windfall from Aramco will not be enough to contain Saudi Arabia’s widening budget deficit if oil prices stay in the low $40s for a few more years.

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Oil Price Crash Costs Saudi Arabia $27.5 Billion In Revenue In 2020

Oil Price Crash Costs Saudi Arabia $27.5 Billion In Revenue In 2020

The oil price collapse is depriving Saudi Arabia of US$27.5 billion in oil revenues this year, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said on Friday, admitting that the current oil income is not enough to cover the Kingdom’s salaries bill.

Saudi Arabia had projected last year that this year’s revenues for the state would be US$222 billion (833 billion Saudi riyals), of which US$137 billion (513 billion riyals) would come from oil, the crown prince said in a speech carried by the official Saudi Press Agency.

However, after the collapse in oil prices, Saudi Arabia’s oil revenues actually dropped to US$109 billion (410 billion riyals), Mohammed bin Salman said.

Thus, the price crash—which Saudi Arabia itself helped to create by flooding the market with oil in April—cost the world’s top oil exporter just over US$27.5 billion in oil revenues this year.

“These revenues alone are insufficient to cover even the salaries bill estimated at 504 billion riyals in this year’s budget, not to mention the difficulty of financing other items which include capital spending by 173 billion riyals and social security benefits by 69 billion riyals as well as operation and maintenance bill estimated at 140 billion riyals and others, which means an economic recession and millions of jobs lost,” Mohammed bin Salman said in his speech.

The collapse in oil prices has forced the Kingdom to take some very unpopular measures such as tripling the value-added tax (VAT), reducing payouts to poorer households, and discontinuing cost-of-living allowances for state workers.

Earlier this week, Fitch Ratings revised down its the outlook on Saudi Arabia’s long-term foreign-currency Issuer Default Rating (IDR) to ‘negative’ from ‘stable’, citing “the continued weakening of its fiscal and external balance sheets, which has been accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic and lower oil prices, despite the government’s strong commitment to fiscal consolidation.”

Shell’s Largest Refinery Reduces Crude Processing Capacity By 50%

Shell’s Largest Refinery Reduces Crude Processing Capacity By 50%

Shell will halve the crude oil processing capacity of its largest wholly owned refinery in the world, Pulau Bukom in Singapore, as part of its ambition to be a net-zero emissions business by 2050 or sooner, the supermajor said on Tuesday.

Pulau Bukom hosts the largest wholly-owned Shell refinery globally in terms of crude distillation capacity, 500,000 barrels per day (bpd), and it also has an ethylene cracker complex with a capacity of up to a million tons per year and a butadiene extraction unit of 155,000 tons annually.

As Shell is looking to cut carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and is transforming its refining business for the new future, it will cut the crude processing capacity at Pulau Bukom by about half, the company said. In that new future, the Pulau Bukom Manufacturing Site will be one of Shell’s six energy and chemicals parks, and will pivot from a crude-oil, fuels-based product slate towards new, low-carbon value chains.

“Our businesses in Singapore must evolve and transform, and we must act now if we are to achieve our ambition to thrive through the energy transition. Our decisive action today will help Shell in Singapore stay resilient and build a cleaner, more sustainable future for all of us,” said Aw Kah Peng, Chairman of Shell Companies in Singapore.

The reduced refinery capacity in Singapore will result in fewer jobs at the site, Shell said, while a Shell spokeswoman told Reuters that the supermajor would cut around 500 jobs by the end of 2023. Currently, Pulau Bukom employs around 1,300 people.

Shell is implementing a new downstream strategy to reshape its refining business towards a smaller, smarter refining portfolio focused on further integration with Shell Trading hubs, Chemicals, and Marketing.

As part of this strategy, Shell has sold the Martinez Refinery in California to PBF Holding Company for US$1.2 billion.

Shell is also set to shut down its 211,000-bpd refinery in Convent, Louisiana, after failing to find a buyer for the site.

$65 Oil And $5000 Gold: Traders Expect Volatility In Key Commodities

$65 Oil And $5000 Gold: Traders Expect Volatility In Key Commodities

The year of the pandemic put two commodities under the spotlight, but for different reasons. Gold prices hit an all-time high in August, while crude oil slipped into negative for a day in April, when demand crashed and inventories soared.

Both oil and gold have seen much volatility this year. Oil prices started 2020 at over $60 a barrel, dipped to the low teens in April – with front-month WTI Crude futures settling one day at a negative price – and rose to $40 in the summer, staying rangebound since then. The crash in demand pushed oil lower, while increased uncertainty over the economic and oil demand recovery, as well as the fears of a second COVID-19 wave, pushed investors to seek safe havens such as gold, driving the precious metal’s price to an all-time high of $2,075 an ounce last month.

The wild rides in the two commodities could represent buying opportunities, analysts argue, expecting oil and gold to rise in the medium term.

For oil, the uptrend may not come as soon as it could in gold, because of the heightened concern about the stalled demand recovery. Still, investment banks and analysts expect prices to increase from current levels over the next one to two years, especially if an effective vaccine hits the markets in 2021.

For gold, low or negative interest rates, continued economic stimulus, and the perception that gold is a hedge against uncertainty about the economy and the upcoming U.S. presidential election are expected to drive prices higher.

Alissa Corcoran, Director of Research at Kopernik Global Investors, told MarketWatch’s Myra P. Saefong that the short-term volatility in commodities could be an opportunity instead of risk.

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California’s Renewable Energy Conundrum

California’s Renewable Energy Conundrum

Amid a heatwave in the West, the largest U.S. solar state, California, is grappling with power issues and with keeping its electricity grid stable as demand exceeds supply. And in a looming renewable future, those power disruptions just might be a sign of things to come.

California energy consumers were warned of rolling outages as there is insufficient energy to meet the high demand during the heatwave, the California Independent System Operator (ISO) said over the weekend.

The warning to Californians about the outages and strained grid should serve as a warning for policymakers and system operators across the United States and elsewhere: a rush to boost renewable energy power generation should be coupled with – and even preceded by – more careful planning on how to ensure the reliability and stability of the power grid.

California’s Struggles With Power Reliability

In the case of California, where solar power supplies more than 20 percent of electricity as per the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the rolling outages this week were the worst such outages since the 2000-2001 energy crisis in the state.

Some blame the current power crisis on California’s aggressive renewable energy rollout and retirement of natural gas-powered plants. Others say that there is a way for the state to reconcile renewables with reliability, although this would not come in the near term and certainly not soon enough to help with the current power supply issues.

It would seem that California has put the renewable cart before the proverbial horse.

The blame game and the debate about how exactly to cope with reliability in a heavily renewable power grid highlight the fact that meeting clean energy goals and reducing emissions should be made only after careful planning on how to ensure reliable power supply to customers and how to prepare the grid for an increased share of solar and wind power.

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Huge Debt Payments Come At Worst Time Possible For Canadian Drillers

Huge Debt Payments Come At Worst Time Possible For Canadian Drillers

The collapse in oil prices has significantly deteriorated Canada’s oil companies’ finances and has made repaying their debt more challenging. Over the past decade, Canadian firms have borrowed money to survive the previous oil crisis of 2015-2016 and boost production post-crisis. But now the second price collapse in less than five years is leaving Canada’s oil patch, especially the smaller players, extremely vulnerable as debt maturities approach.   

This year, the oil crash coincides with the highest-ever annual debt maturities in the Canadian energy sector, according to Refinitiv data cited by Reuters. In 2020, oil and gas firms have to repay US$3.7 billion (C$5 billion) in debt maturities, up by 40 percent compared to last year.  

The debt pressure adds to the Canadian energy sector’s new predicament with low oil prices, low cash flows, and low overall demand for crude oil due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Some companies are set to default on debts, while others are looking at restructuring options and refinancing. Banks are not generally too keen to own energy assets. But the banks may be the ultimate judge of who can refinance, who can stay afloat, or who can go belly up in this crisis, legal and industry professionals told Reuters.

Some of Canada’s oil and gas firms had not overcome the previous crisis when this one hit.

According to Bank of Canada’s recent Financial System Review—2020, the COVID-19 crisis led to widespread financial distress in all sectors, but “Canada is also grappling with the plunge in global oil prices, which hit while many businesses in the energy sector were still recovering from the 2014–16 oil price shock.”

The energy sector has the most refinancing needs over the next six months, at US$4.43 billion (C$6 billion), and faces the most potential downgrades, according to Bank of Canada.

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How Saudi Arabia Caused The Worst Oil Price Crash In History

How Saudi Arabia Caused The Worst Oil Price Crash In History

  • Saudi Arabia made good on its promise to flood the market with oil after the collapse of the previous OPEC+ deal in early March.
  • The Kingdom’s oil exports jumped by 3.15 million bpd to 11.34 million bpd in April.

Saudi Arabia made good on its promise to flood the market with oil after the collapse of the previous OPEC+ deal in early March, exporting a record 10.237 million barrels per day (bpd) in April 2020, up from 7.391 million bpd in March, data from the Joint Organisations Data Initiative (JODI) showed.  

Total oil exports from Saudi Arabia, including crude oil and total oil products, also soared in April – by 3.15 million bpd to 11.34 million bpd, mostly due to the surge in crude oil exports, according to the data released by the JODI database, which collects self-reported figures from 114 countries.    

Production at the world’s top crude oil exporter also jumped in April—to over 12 million bpd, at 12.007 million bpd, the database showed.

After flooding the market with oil in April and contributing to the oil price crash, OPEC’s de facto leader and largest producer, Saudi Arabia, agreed that same month to a new round of OPEC+ cuts in response to the demand crash and plunging oil prices. Saudi Arabia had to reduce its oil production to 8.5 million bpd in May and June under the OPEC+ deal for removing 9.7 million bpd of collective oil production from the market. 

According to OPEC’s secondary sources in the latest Monthly Oil Market Report (MOMR), Saudi Arabia slashed its crude oil production in May to the required level of 8.5 million bpd.  

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The Unique Ways Oil Companies Are Looking To Avoid Bankruptcy

The Unique Ways Oil Companies Are Looking To Avoid Bankruptcy

Many U.S. shale firms have cruised through the past couple of years by borrowing money and drilling new wells, making the United States the world’s top crude oil producer. The strategy worked for a while, especially when oil prices were around $60 a barrel.  

But this year’s oil price crash exposed the financial vulnerability of many U.S. shale companies who are now fighting for survival. All producers across the U.S. patch pulled back production volumes in April and May in response to the collapse in prices.    

For some oil and gas firms, reduced capital budgets will not be enough to save them from defaulting on debt or seeking restructuring as cash flows are shrinking, while the window of access to capital markets and new debt remains, for the most part, closed.

Those firms who choose not to seek (or are not forced to seek) protection from creditors via Chapter 11 restructuring could look at other options to avoid bankruptcy, some of which may be a little unconventional.

Today, unconventional may be an understatement when it comes to describing the oil industry’s state of affairs. All options – regardless of how (un)common they are – are on the table for struggling oil producers.

Industry consolidation, private equity firms acquiring assets or distressed companies, banks ending up holding oil and gas assets, or power utilities buying their providers of energy could be some of the options that oil firms might consider, Suzy Taherian, who worked with Exxon and Chevron at the start of her career, writes in Forbes

Mergers & Acquisitions Hit By Uncertainty 

U.S. shale firms have fewer financing options now than they did in the 2015-2016 downturn. Thus could drive consolidation in the industry with some attractive M&A opportunities emerging, according to Robert Polk, principal analyst with Wood Mackenzie’s U.S. Corporate Research team, covering Lower 48 independents.

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Oil Market Heading For Months Of Deficit

Oil Market Heading For Months Of Deficit

The oil market is set for a deficit from August onwards, even after OPEC+ eases the current cuts that are up for a tentative extension through July, Rystad Energy analysts said on Friday.

Assuming that global demand recovery continues in the coming months, the oil market will still be in deficit even after the OPEC+ group relaxes the current cuts from 9.7 million bpd to 7.7 million bpd, as currently planned, Rystad Energy’s Head of Oil Markets, Bjornar Tonhaugen, said, as carried by Oilfield Technology.

“That will ensure a fundamental support for prices, while also spurring a quicker reactivation of curtailed US oil production, and eventually frac crews ending their holidays early,” Tonhaugen said in a note.

“Indications show that a bit more than 300 000 bpd from shut US production is actually coming back online already from June as a result of the current price levels,” he said.

Some U.S. producers have already restarted some curtailed production as prices have rallied in recent weeks and as they need the cash from operations, regardless of how little.

The market deficit coming this summer, however, doesn’t mean that there will be a global oil supply crunch, because inventories and floating storage have yet to begin depleting.

“So, even if demand exceeds supply for a while, that does not mean that we really have a problem to source oil. Oil is there, lots of it, waiting to be drawn from storage facilities,” Rystad Energy’s Tonhaugen said.

Improving global oil demand and faster-than-expected production curtailments from outside the OPEC+ pact are set to push the oil market into deficit in June, according to Goldman Sachs. Yet, there is little room for an oil price rally in the near term because of the still sizeable oversupply of crude oil and refined products, Goldman Sachs said in a note in the middle of May.

Earlier this week, Russia’s Energy Minister Alexander Novak said he expected a shortage in the oil market in July.

The Shale Suffering Has Only Just Begun

The Shale Suffering Has Only Just Begun

Oil Demand

A few weeks before the summer driving season begins, U.S. gasoline consumption has plummeted to levels last seen in the late 1960s, due to the lockdowns to contain the spreading of the coronavirus.

With demand for motor fuel plunging, refiners are cutting crude processing, and crude oil storage capacity in America is filling fast. The glut is set to worsen in the coming weeks, and storage capacity at Cushing, Oklahoma, could be full by the middle of May, analysts say.  

The fast demand destruction in the pandemic threatens to fill up storage across America soon, forcing oil prices lower and forcing oil producers to idle more rigs and curtail more production than initially thought.  

Total U.S. petroleum consumption stabilized in the latest reporting week to April 17 at 14.1 million barrels per day (bpd), up slightly from the 13.8 million bpd estimated consumption in the previous week, which was the lowest weekly consumption level in EIA’s statistics dating back to the early 1990s.

But crude oil and gasoline inventories continued to jump while crude refinery inputs continued to drop, according to EIA’s latest inventory report from this week.

U.S. crude oil refinery inputs averaged 12.5 million bpd during the week ending April 17, which was 209,000 bpd less than the previous week’s average. Refineries continued to cut run rates and operated at 67.6 percent of their capacity. To compare, refiners would typically operate at more than 90 percent capacity just ahead of the summer driving season. But this year, the summer driving season is postponed and is expected to be very weak.

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Unprecedented Demand Destruction Marks The Return Of The Super Contango

Unprecedented Demand Destruction Marks The Return Of The Super Contango

Super Contango

These days, every corner of the oil market is “unprecedented”—from the demand destruction to the supply surge and the resulting glut. The oil futures curve is no exception and is also in a state never seen before.   This is the super contango, the market situation in which front-month prices are much lower than prices in future months, pointing to a crude oil oversupply and making storing oil for future sales profitable.  

The last time a super contango appeared on the market was during the previous glut of 2015. During the peak of the 2008-2009 financial crisis, the super contango hit a record—the discount at which front-month futures traded compared to longer-dated futures was at its highest ever.

The double supply-demand shock of the past month threw the oil futures market into another super contango. And this super contango is already beating previous records.

The super contango is representative of the state of the oil market right now: the growing glut with shrinking storage capacity as oil demand craters, OPEC’s leader and the world’s top exporter, Saudi Arabia, intent on further cratering the market with a supply surge beginning this month. Storage costs are surging, and so are costs for chartering tankers to store oil at sea for future sales when traders expect demand to recover from the pandemic-hit plunge.

The market structure flipped into contango in early February, when the Chinese oil demand slump in the coronavirus outbreak led to lower estimates for oil consumption. A month and a half later, oil consumption is set to plunge by 20 million bpd, or 20 percent, this month. Add to this the Saudi supply surge, and here we have what analysts expect to be the largest glut the oil market has ever seen.

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The Race For Arctic Oil Is Heating Up

The Race For Arctic Oil Is Heating Up

Arctic LNG

Despite climate concerns and environmentalist backlash against exploration for oil and gas in pristine sensitive regions of the Arctic, companies continue to explore for hydrocarbon resources in the Arctic Circle, in Russia and Norway in particular.

The largest Russian energy companies are looking to explore more Arctic oil and gas resources on and offshore Russia, while Norwegian and other Western oil firms are digging exploration wells in Norway’s Barents Sea.

Those companies lead the development efforts to tap more Arctic oil and gas resources as legacy oil and gas fields both offshore Norway and onshore Russia mature.  

Russia’s biggest energy firms Gazprom, Rosneft, Novatek, and Lukoil, and Norway’s oil and gas giant Equinor, as well as Aker BP and ConocoPhillips, are the top oil and gas producers in the Artic region, data and analytics company GlobalData said in a new report. Gazprom is the undisputed leader in Arctic oil and gas production, followed, at a long distance, by two other Russian firms, Rosneft and Novatek, GlobalData’s estimates show.

Russian firms are ramping up exploration in Russia’s Arctic, while Equinor and other Western companies drill exploration wells in Norway’s Barents Sea, hoping for a significant discovery that could add to the Johan Castberg oilfield—a massive discovery which was made in 2011, but which hasn’t been replicated in the Barents Sea so far.  

Yet, both Russia and Norway face specific challenges in getting the most out of their respective Arctic oil and gas resources. 

In Russia, the government has made Arctic oil and gas development a key priority and offers tax breaks for firms exploring in the area.

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UK’s Guardian Bans Ads From Oil, Gas Firms In World’s Media First

UK’s Guardian Bans Ads From Oil, Gas Firms In World’s Media First

Guardian paper

UK newspaper Guardian will not accept advertising money from the fossil fuel industry, even if this means a financial hit for the media, making it the world’s first large news organization to ban oil and gas adds.

The Guardian has been active in recent years in covering climate change and reporting on the climate crisis. Last year, the Guardian changed its style guide to use stronger language to describe the climate emergency, using words such as ‘climate crisis’ and ‘climate emergency’ instead of ‘climate change.’

Now the Guardian is outright banning advertising money from oil and gas companies, with immediate effect, the newspaper said on Wednesday.

“Our decision is based on the decades-long efforts by many in that industry to prevent meaningful climate action by governments around the world,” the company’s acting chief executive, Anna Bateson, and the chief revenue officer, Hamish Nicklin, said in a joint statement.

The Guardian has also recently pledged to become a carbon neutral organization at a corporate level by 2030, and to almost entirely divest its Scott Trust endowment fund from fossil fuels.  

Guardian Media Group (GMG) generates 40 percent of its revenue from advertising, so rejecting ads from oil and gas companies would be a financial hit to the organization, the managers said.

“The funding model for the Guardian – like most high-quality media companies – is going to remain precarious over the next few years. It’s true that rejecting some adverts might make our lives a tiny bit tougher in the very short term. Nonetheless, we believe building a more purposeful organisation and remaining financially sustainable have to go hand in hand,” Bateson and Nicklin said.  

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Germany Aims To Close All Nuclear Plants By 2022

Germany Aims To Close All Nuclear Plants By 2022

Nuclear plant

Germany is going forward with its plan to phase out nuclear reactors by 2022 as another nuclear power plant is going offline on December 31.

Power company EnBW has said that it would take the Philippsburg 2 reactor off the grid at 7 p.m. local time on New Year’s Eve.

This leaves Germany with six nuclear power plants that will have to close by 2022.

In the wake of the Fukushima disaster in Japan in 2011, Germany ordered the immediate shutdown of eight of its 17 reactors, and plans to phase out nuclear power plants entirely by 2022.

The Philippsburg 2 reactor near the city of Karlsruhe in southwestern Germany has provided energy for 35 years. The Philippsburg 1 reactor—opened in 1979—was taken offline in 2011.

Over the past few years, nuclear power generation in Germany has been declining with the shutdown of its nuclear plants, while electricity production from renewable sources has been rising.

In January this year, Germany became the latest large European economy to lay out a plan to phase out coal-fired power generation, aimed at cutting carbon emissions—a metric in which Berlin has been lagging in recent years.

A government-appointed special commission at Europe’s largest economy announced the conclusions of its months-long review and proposed that Germany shut all its 84 coal-fired power plants by 2038

Germany, where coal, hard coal, and lignite combined currently provide around 35 percent of power generation, has a longer timetable for phasing out coal than the UK and Italy, for example—who plan their coal exit by 2025—not only because of its vast coal industry, but also because Germany will shut down all its nuclear power plants within the next three years.

The closure of all nuclear reactors in Germany by 2022 means that Germany might need to retain half of its coal-fired power generation until 2030 to offset the nuclear phase-out, German Economy and Energy Minister Peter Altmaier said earlier this year.

Trump Follows Up On His Promise To Protect Syrian Oil

Trump Follows Up On His Promise To Protect Syrian Oil

Trump

The United States has moved more equipment from Iraq into Syria to boost the protection of the oil and gas fields in eastern Syria currently under the control of Kurdish militia, Turkish media reports.  

A logistics convoy of pick-up trucks, minibusses, ambulances, and 100 rigs filled with fuel oil crossed the Iraqi-Syrian border at Al Waleed on Saturday, according to footage obtained by Turkey’s Anadolu Agency.

This weekend’s maneuver was the second deployment of the U.S. Army in Syria’s oil provinces this month after the army moved heavy construction equipment and armored vehicles into Syria on December 4 and 5. 

The Kurdish SDF forces control most of Syria’s oil. Before the war, Syria was producing 387,000 barrels of oil per day, of which 140,000 bpd were exported.

In October, U.S. President Donald Trump claimed that the U.S. had taken control of the oil in the Middle East, tweeting that “The U.S. has secured the Oil, & the ISIS Fighters are double secured by Kurds & Turkey.”

The President did not elaborate on what he meant by “securing the oil,” but speculations about the President’s statement assume he was referring to the U.S. special forces that have been—and will continue to be—in control of oil and gas fields in Deir Ezzor. Related: Are Energy Stocks Hot Again?

President Trump has vowed to protect Syrian oil fields from ISIS, and the United States may leave 500 troops in northeastern Syria and send in battle tanks and other equipment with the purpose to help the Kurds in the area to protect oil fields that used to be controlled by Islamic State during its so-called caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria.

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