Bharti floors all with ISD tariffs
Gujarat Ambuja net dips 9% to Rs 54 cr
Policy pressure on banks to cut rates
Fillip for non-news print media
ONGC raises crude prices to $ 22 a barrel
Vidya Chhabria at Jumbo helm
BSNL to spend Rs 200 crore on image brush-up
Birla Corp threatens to walk out of Ijma
‘If you can count it, you don’t have it’
Foreign Exchange, Bullion, Stock Indices

 
 
BHARTI FLOORS ALL WITH ISD TARIFFS 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, April 22: 
Phone calls to the US and Europe will cost Rs 24 a minute from May 1 — 40 per cent less than the prevailing rate of Rs 40 per minute — when the Bharti Group begins commercial operations of its international long distance telephony services.

On Monday, Bharti Telesonic launched its International Long Distance Service (ILD) under the brandname, IndiaOne. VSNL, which earlier this month cut its call rates to the US to Rs 40 per minute from Rs 48 earlier, will now come under pressure to cut its rates again.

Bharti Telesonic is awaiting a commissioning certificate, which it expects to get by the weekend. The new rates have been cleared by Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai).

Bharti Telesonic has earmarked an investment of Rs 100 crore for the ILD project; it has already spent Rs 75 crore.

“Poorna Swaraj in telecom has been achieved today,” said Sunil Bharti Mittal, chairman and group managing director, Bharti Enterprises, signifying that the government monopoly in all the telecom services has now ended. Bharti Telesonic, a subsidiary of Bharti Televentures Ltd of the Bharti Group, will also venture into internet telephony.

“The majority of the PCO owners continue to charge Rs 48 per minute on calls to the US despite repeated complaints by consumers to Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd. This could be a problem which the consumers may have to face unless the two departments take appropriate action against the errant PCO owners,” said Mittal.

“The peak calling rate for US and the American sub-continent has come down from Rs 48 per minute during the last financial year to Rs 40 per minute after long distance telephony market was opened up for competition from April 1.

Apart from Bharti Telesonic, Reliance Communications and Data Access are other companies which have been granted a licence to launch ILD services; three others have letters of intent. These companies are likely to bring down the cost of ISD calls from India, which is one of the highest in the world.

“The tariff is still high. It is possible to bring it down to Rs 12-14 per minute. Our rates will be very competitive and we will aim to bring it down the ISD rates to international levels,” said Siddharth Ray, managing director of Data Access, the company that is expected to launch its ILD services shortly.

Bharti Telesonic, under the same brand name IndiaOne, had forced BSNL, the government-owned telecom major, to cut domestic long distance (STD) charges by over 62 per cent in January.

The company has signed bilateral agreements with nine international carriers — AT&T, Sprint, Teleglobe, Eirsalat (UAE), Belgacom, BT, SingTel, Itex and United Telecom, which account for 90 per cent of overseas call traffic coming to India.

The company already has interconnectivity with almost all cellular operators in the country and is negotiating interconnect agreements with BSNL and MTNL. Bharti is likely to offer its network to all carriers on a non-discriminatory basis.

N. Arjun, chief executive officer of Bharti Telesonic, said IndiaOne has contracted submarine cable capacity from Network i2i, the world’s largest undersea cable project being executed by Bharti and SingTel, and backed it up with a satellite connectivity to build in redundancy and provide world class service experience to customers.

“Soon, a host of new value added services like pre-paid IDD/ISD calling cards, free phone service and premium rate services will be provided to the Indian consumer,” he added. The company has laid approximately 14,000 kilometres of optical fibre cable, covering 90 cities. Current plans include another 14,000 kilometres over the next 12-15 months. Currently, IndiaOne has switches in nine cities, nodes in 90 cities, and intends to deploy 11 additional switches.

The company is bullish about the ILD market and expects to capture 5 per cent (Rs 350 crore) of the Rs 7,000 crore ILD businesses in its first year of operation. “The overseas calls market will be about 4 billion minutes next year. We expect to corner at least 10 per cent of that,” said Arjun. He expects the ILD sector to grow by about 15- 20 per cent annually.

“We have created a network absolutely parallel to VSNL’s. We are ready to start services but some of the clearances including security have yet to come,” Mittal told reporters here. In other words, consumers will not be able to enjoy the benefits that Bharti has promised till VSNL matches the rates.

“We are quite hopeful of getting all clearances from the department of telecommunications (DoT) soon,” the Bharti chief said.

   

 
 
GUJARAT AMBUJA NET DIPS 9% TO RS 54 CR 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Mumbai, April 22: 
Gujarat Ambuja Cements (GACL) has reported a 9 per cent decline in third-quarter net profit at Rs 54.38 crore compared with Rs 59.94 crore in the corresponding period of the previous year.

The erosion in bottomline, which happened in spite of a 11 per cent rise in sales at Rs 430.35 crore for the quarter against Rs 386.25 crore in the same period last year, was caused largely by a rise in expenditure. The company’s power and fuel costs rose to Rs 86.44 crore against Rs 79.46 crore last year. GACL, however, pointed out that while the quarter saw low cement prices, it had done “fairly well” in the face of mounting costs.

The company sold 20.01 lakh tonnes of cement against 15.42 lakh tonnes in the same period of the previous year, an increase of 30 per cent. A redeeming feature was the reduction in interest costs, which fell by around 32 per cent to Rs 21.83 crore from Rs 31.95 crore.

Investors disappointed with the results pounded the GACL scrip to Rs 199.85 on the BSE after it had opened at Rs 200 and peaked at Rs 203, a fall of 1 per cent. The counter recorded 789 deals on a turnover of Rs 3.63 crore.

Third-quarter operating profit declined to Rs 119.43 crore against Rs 130.56 crore. After setting side Rs 33.72 crore for depreciation, profit before tax stood at Rs 63.88 crore.

GACL said construction of its new plant at Chandrapur in Maharashtra has been completed. The unit, which is currently on a trial run, is expected to commence commercial production soon.

According to Anil Singhvi, whole-time director of GACL, the growth in demand for cement during the financial year has been “good”. The industry has produced and despatched more than 100 million tonnes.

The growth in demand for cement was around 10 per cent at around 100 million tonnes. It is expected to accelerate during this year on the back of a boom in housing and the expansion of highways across the country.

Hughes Soft net

The downswing in the market and pressure on billing rates pulled down the net profit of Hughes Software Systems by 17 per cent at Rs 52.2 crore last year.

Fourth-quarter (for the three months ended March 2002) net profit dipped 42 per cent at Rs 12.7 crore compared with Rs 22.1 crore in the same period previous year.

Net sales rose 18.3 per cent at Rs 234.9 crore during 2001-02. For the fourth quarter, sales dipped 6.45 per cent at Rs 58 crore. The company says it expects sales to grow 15 per cent during 2002-03.

   

 
 
POLICY PRESSURE ON BANKS TO CUT RATES 
 
 
FROM JAYANTA ROY CHOWDHURY
 
New Delhi, April 22: 
Alarmed by a fall in the growth rate of money supply—a factor that can severely impact the GDP growth rate, the finance ministry wants the RBI to tailor its upcoming credit policy in a manner that will force banks to lower their lending rates.

It also wants the Reserve Bank of India to relax lending norms in a manner which could lead to focused lending to certain key sectors—housing, roadways, power projects and oil and gas sectors.

“Mere tinkering with bank and repo rates or with CRR may not yield the impetus needed to bring down interest rates or to force the pace of credit offtake. This time we feel a focused approach is needed, though it is for the central bank to take its own decision,” officials said.

Finance ministry officials want these policy prescriptions as the growth rate for broad money supply, called M3 in technical parlance, is expected to fall to 13.4 per cent during the first quarter of financial year 2002-03, according to estimates drawn up by the finance ministry.

Officials in the department of economic affairs feel this is a significant fall from the M3 growth target of 14.5 per cent.

“This has mainly happened because RBI credit to the commercial sector has come down by a whopping 42 per cent by March this year,” they said.

Economists largely believe that cuts in administered interest rates, existing low inflation and the high liquidity which most banks suffer from would force interest rates to come down.

Ministry officials, however, feel a huge cut in interest rates by banks would not be advisable as short-term NRI deposits which constitute a major chunk of India’s forex reserves, could then fly off to other areas which promise higher or equal yield in real terms.

Of the country’s $ 54 billion foreign exchange reserves, nearly 35 per cent are in the form of short-term deposits by NRIs of up to a year’s time.

The whole problem lies in the fact that NRIs keep money in Indian banks and even in rupee-denominated dollar accounts simply because these offer higher returns in dollar terms compared with European and US banks. “If rates are reduced, there will be some outflow immediately,” officials said.

However, the chambers as well as the Prime Minister’s advisory council on trade and industry have been clamouring for deep rate cuts as well as relaxations in lending norms. They feel it could help them out of the current low growth trap. Industrial production is expected to fall to about 3.2 per cent by the end of July.

Industrialists say though the bank rate currently stands at a low of 6.5 per cent and the prime lending rate ranges between 11-12 per cent, the fact remains that most of them are borrowing money at a rate of 15-16 per cent.

Most worrying remains the fact that the borrowing rate for road projects remains at a high of 14 per cent while that for the power sector a whopping 16 per cent.

Infrastructure growth, many economists and finance ministry officials feel, is being stunted by such high effective rates of interest.

   

 
 
FILLIP FOR NON-NEWS PRINT MEDIA 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, April 22: 
The Union Cabinet is likely to allow up to 74 per cent foreign direct investment in non-news print media.

The Cabinet is, however, likely to retain the status quo on disallowing entry of foreign investors into the news-based print media, as this has turned into a virtual political minefield with various parties expressing widely divergent views on the issue.

The decision to permit up to 74 per cent FDI in the non-news segment will allow publication of Indian editions of magazines like National Geographic, Nature, Car & Bike, as well as printing of their translations in Indian languages.

Besides newspapers and news magazines which will remain outside the purview of this decision, current affairs magazines like Fortune and Life will be kept out. The logic behind this move is that even these magazines can influence local thinking on a variety of issues.

There was speculation earlier that the government might allow a stake of up to 26 per cent in the non-news, non-current affairs print media segment. The sudden move to raise this ceiling to 74 per cent has taken many by surprise.

However, top officials connected with this decision said that initially the committee of secretaries had recommended FDI of up to 100 per cent, a figure that was later toned down on political grounds.

In anticipation of the Cabinet decision, many local media groups have already started holding talks with various foreign journals. Sources said a Delhi-based magazine group is already in talks with National Geographic for an Indian edition.

Media groups had been lobbying and counter lobbying on the issue of allowing FDI into the print media for the last one decade. While certain media barons are dead set against allowing any FDI in the newspapers and newsmagazines, others have all along proposed limited entry.

At one stage a compromise proposal had been suggested where FII holdings were to be permitted up to a ceiling. Over a year ago, the information and broadcasting ministry had suggested opening up the sector to FDI, a proposal retracted later.

However, none of this has found widespread acceptance in political circles.

   

 
 
ONGC RAISES CRUDE PRICES TO $ 22 A BARREL 
 
 
BY PALLAB BHATTACHARYA
 
Calcutta, April 22: 
Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Ltd (ONGC) has increased the price of its crude to $ 22 per barrel from $ 16.5 per barrel in March. The new rates will come into effect retrospectively, from April 1.

A senior official said the hike is an interim measure until a new price formula is worked out between the refiners and the largest domestic crude producer.

ONGC, he said, wants 100 per cent import price parity because the administered price mechanism (APM) has been discarded. “Under the new scenario, we are entitled to raise prices on the basis of international price movements. But since there is resistance from the refining companies, we are waiting for a price formula that benefits all of us,” the official said.

For the next two years though, ONGC has decided to sell its entire crude production to downstream oil companies like Indian Oil, Bharat Petroleum and Hindustan Petroleum on terms that have been fixed by the government.

“This does not mean that we will be content with the cost-plus pricing that worked under APM. We have, quite justifiably, asked for a pricing arrangement based on current international prices,” the official added.

However, sources say the refining and marketing companies have not agreed on the price formula the crude producer has been clamouring for. “It will increase their input cost by 15-20 per cent,” ONGC sources said.

A big bone of contention is the ONGC’s demand for a rate that matches the C.I.F price of imported crude — cost of transport, insurance and freight — paid by refiners. The refiners, on the other hand, have rooted for the FOB price charged by international crude producers.

“Our argument is clear. The refiners may pay only crude prices to international producers at the loading point. But they also pay other charges when the crude is brought into the country. So, the landed price is higher than the FOB price. We want this parity,” ONGC sources said.

ONGC is expected to hold another round of meetings next week with the public sector oil companies in an effort to find a solution to the imbroglio.

Sources said efforts are on to work out a compromise system on the new prices, acceptable to all sides.

“Under the new formula, the downstream oil companies may have to agree to a price that adds either freight or insurance charges to the current f.o.b price. They will not have to bear charges that are based on c.i.f prices of imported crude,” the sources said.

There are indications that ONGC, which produces a little over 24 million tonnes of crude, could charge more for its high-quality output coming from Bombay High.

Oil flares up

The price of oil climbed here today amid supply concerns raised by the appointment of Opec secretary general Ali Rodriguez as head of Venezuela’s state-owned oil company and by recent us bombing on Iraq.

Reference Brent North Sea Crude for June delivery firmed up 32 cents to $ 26.17 a barrel. In New York, light sweet crude may-dated futures gained 20 cents on Friday to $ 26.38 a barrel.

Prices rose again following news late last week of the appointment of Rodriguez as chief executive of state-owned oil giant Petroleos de Venezuela, a move that is expected to ensure Venezuela remains a key player within the cartel.

Rodriguez is expected to quit his job at the 11-member producer group, which slashed supply last year to buttress prices, but not for some time, an Opec spokesman said in Vienna.

US military action against air defences in northern Iraq on Friday also left the market with a firm tone.

   

 
 
VIDYA CHHABRIA AT JUMBO HELM 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Mumbai, April 22: 
Vidya Manohar Chhabria today succeeded her late husband Manohar Rajaram Chhabria at the helm of 10 Jumbo group companies in India.

In her maiden address to group business heads, she stressed on a three-point agenda namely, enhancement of profitability of group companies, emphasising on human resource management and improving the reputation of the group. Chhabria emphasised that there will be no change in the business vision, policies and priorities of the group. “All the projects and programs that the founder chairman had initiated will be implemented in total earnestness,” she reiterated.

Earlier, escorted by her three daughters—Bhavika Godhwani, Komal Wazir and Kiran Chhabria—Vidya Chhabria arrived at 10 am at Hamilton House, the group’s corporate headquarters in Ballard Estate.

Her first day in office was marked by back-to-back board meetings starting with group flagship Shaw Wallace Ltd, and followed by meetings of nine other boards, where the agenda was the same—co-opting her on the board of the group companies as the chairperson and director.

Her initiation into the hurly-burly corporate world today began with tributes to her late husband Manu Chabbria, as board members recalled his contribution to the company. The thirteen days of mourning was over yesterday, but a few religious ceremonies had to be completed, as a result of which today’s press conference was cancelled at the last moment.

Addressing group business heads, she reiterated that there would be no change in the business approach or strategy of running the company. “She asked officials to single mindedly devote themselves to the projects and programmes,” sources revealed.

She recounted the contribution of her late husband and said while some of the work was completed during his lifetime like the successful restructuring of Shaw Wallace, a few tasks still remain to be done.

   

 
 
BSNL TO SPEND RS 200 CRORE ON IMAGE BRUSH-UP 
 
 
FROM M. RAJENDRAN
 
New Delhi, April 22: 
Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) is planning an image makeover—and it will be expensive.

The government-owned telecom major is ready to stump up Rs 150-200 crore to shake off the label of being just another stodgy public sector corporation. It is already scouting for a public relations outfit to spruce up its image.

The makeover has become necessary because the telecom major is squaring off for a battle with a clutch of spry and savvy private companies like the Reliance and Bharti groups that offer the full range of telecom services from cellular to fixed line services with internet thrown in. Many of them are also looking to spice up their offering with some other value–added products like broadband services.

BSNL, which draws the bulk of its revenues from fixed line services that it offers all over the country except for the two metropolises of Delhi and Mumbai, has started foraying into cellular services and is looking to offer limited mobility services to its 53.2 lakh fixed line subscribers. BSNL’s new chairman and managing director Prithipal Singh voiced the need for a set of media managers at a meeting in Bangalore early this month with the chiefs of its nine telecom circles.

A few public sector corporations have farmed out their public relations portfolio to PR managers. For instance, Adfactors handles the Indian Airlines account while Corporate Voice Shandwick has the mandate for Airports Authority of India.

Earlier, Perfect Relations handled the CMC account before the Tatas picked up a strategic stake and management control in the IT major. Some public sector units like BPCL and UTI called for a pitch from PR firms but then withdrew the offer of the mandate. However, most of the large PSUs like NTPC, NHPC and Bhel rely on their own corporate communications network.

Meanwhile, BSNL has also appointed a senior level officer with independent charge of marketing and media.

Sources in the company said, “We have decided to appoint a public relations agency that will be responsible to enhance the image of the company in India and also abroad. Until now, we were tied by various rules and regulations that did not allow our officers to tom-tom all the good work we had done like setting up of highest number of Village Public Telephones (VPTs) despite major constraints.”

“The PR agency will be given a clear brief: it will have to popularise our value-added services. This is lacking in our current set-up because of various additional responsibilities. The whole aim of appointing a deputy director general (marketing) is to segregate the advertising and image-building exercise which is a practice followed by the corporates,” sources added.

The telecom major plans to launch a special campaign in the year through various medium. A few PR agencies like Perfect Relations have already approached BSNL to secure the mandate.

“We have not decided who will be our PR agency. But we expect to appoint an agency soon. Currently, we are in the process of inviting the PR companies; we will then ask a few of them to make presentations. Customer satisfaction is the main motto of our service in every area and this will have to be taken forward by the agency,” said Anil Jain, deputy director general of BSNL.

BSNL, which is the largest telecom company of the country, has installed 70,755 VPTs which is more than twice the previous year’s achievement of 34,317 VPTs.

   

 
 
BIRLA CORP THREATENS TO WALK OUT OF IJMA 
 
 
BY AMIT CHAKRABORTY
 
Calcutta, April 22: 
M. P. Birla group company Birla Corporation, which owns two jute mills, has threatened to withdraw from the Indian Jute Mills Association (IJMA), alleging lack of seriousness on the part of the association in implementing the tripartite agreement on productivity-linked wages.

Birla Jute and Soorah Jute, the two mills owned by Birla Corporation, and Hastings Jute owned by the Kajarias, had put up notices for implementing the tripartite agreement. But a subsequent circular issued by the IJMA’s chief advisor, human resource development, keeping the implementation of productivity-linked wages “pending till further review’’ has irked the Birla management.

Though the company has not said anything in so many words about withdrawing from the IJMA, the hard-hitting letter issued by Birla Corporation managing director K. C. Mittal, alleging “lack of co-ordination, cohesion and understanding,’’ within the association, is being considered as a “real threat to the body,’’ a top official said.

“It is unfortunate, but true, that because of visible differences of opinion, the IJMA has over the years been losing clout in the government and other institutions and such action worsens the situation. It is also becoming apparent that the association more often than not seems to serve the interests of just a few without much though to the interest and future of the industry as a whole,’’ Mittal noted.

Mittal said the introduction of productivity-linked wages, which was the highlight of the recently concluded tripartite settlement, could be of “great assistance to the industry plagued by low productivity and high wages’’. It may be noted that the IJMA chairman Sanjay Kajaria had resigned from his post last week on the same issue. Sources close to the former IJMA chief believed that Kajaria may follow the Birla group and withdraw from the jute body.

In a simultaneous development, a number of jute mills, including the Govind Sarda group, have become members of IJMA. This is significant since the IJMA had so far kept mills that defaulted in statutory payments and did not follow the earlier wage agreements out of its fold. Sarda, who now owns about six mills, is alleged to be one of the top defaulters in the industry. The inclusion of Sarda is also believed to have prompted a number of other traditional IJMA members to do a rethink on continuing within the association.

Meanwhile, the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, the trade union wing of the BJP, which is not a signatory to the tripartite agreement on productivity-linked wages, is opposing its implementation.

   

 
 
‘IF YOU CAN COUNT IT, YOU DON’T HAVE IT’ 
 
 
FROM SATISH JOHN
 
Mumbai, April 22: 
Rakesh Jhunjhunwala, 42, is one of the smartest investors in the Indian stock market. Over the years, he has built a reputation on bourses as a very shrewd and canny man who possesses the ability to single-handedly move the prices of shares he fancies.

He is also accused by many as being one of the senior members of the bear cabal that reigned in the 90s. He vehemently denies it, saying it is bunkum. “I am realistic, not pessimistic. You can make more money buying stocks than selling them,” he says in a matter-of-fact way.

His views on the markets are now well known. With almost 98 per cent of his personal investments in equity, Jhunjhunwala is one of the most bullish investors in the market today. He is believed to have acquired sizeable stakes in Crisil, the rating major (more than 5%) and a host of other stocks, like Shaw Wallace. He’s hit pay-dirt more often than not. “It is difficult to predict the depth, but I can predict the direction.” And, after a pause, he says the market will go “upwards”.

India, after 1992, has never had a bull run in the real sense of the term. “In my opinion, we may have seen the beginning of a long-term bull market after a decade of lateral and downward movement. I believe the Indian stock exchanges are poised where the Dow was in 1990.”

Markets, he says, will chug along despite the political convulsions that keep rocking the government. “Markets are greater than a budget,” he says.

To back his argument, he points to the Rs 13,000-crore investment made by FIIs last year. These investors, he believes, have no where to go, but to keep pouring funds into emerging markets. He hopes a portion of the pension funds and the Rs 6 lakh crore worth of household savings will trickle into bourses. “These will surely propel the sensex into uncharted territory,” he opines.

Even as he chats, his eyes are rivetted at three trading screens and Reuters’ stock quotes. His sidekick is close at hand, taking orders and punching them into the terminal. “How is it relevant?,” he says when prodded into disclosing the size of his personal investment portfolio. He parrots oil baron John Paul Getty’s famous one-liner: “If you can count it, you don’t have it.”

He plays the market, armed with his prized BSE broking card. What would surprise many is that he is a first-generation stock-broker. In 1985, he borrowed Rs 5,000 from his brother, a chartered accountant like him, to invest in the market. He has never regretted his decision despite the highs and lows of business. His bureaucrat father was against him making a career in stock market and wanted his chartered accountant son to follow his elder brother, and plod his way up the career ladder as a straight-laced number-cruncher.

“I’ll live in the markets and die there.”. His run-ins with the late Big Bull Harshad Mehta are the stuff that legends are made of. However, he dismisses the market gossip, saying it was, at most, “a difference of perception”. “It is like playing cricket and you are in different camps. You don’t have to take it too personally.”

He quotes Harshad’s famous statement: “India Inc is a turnaround story”. “Unlike in commodities, where prices go down, the demand goes up. “In shares when prices go down, demand goes down and when prices go up, demand goes up.” “Harshad’s observation on the way bourses behave was a subtle and important one,” he says.

On his clients, he is more forthcoming. “I have only one client and that’s my wife”. He is chary about taking more clients. “I don’t want to manage money for others, as I don’t want to be answerable to others.”

“Capital production as a religion, Absolute return as a passion. Realism as a conviction . Rigidity as a taboo.” It is more than an advice. His wife’s money is at stake, after all.

   

 
 
FOREIGN EXCHANGE, BULLION, STOCK INDICES 
 
 
 
 

Foreign Exchange

US $1	Rs. 48.92	HK $1	Rs.  6.20*
UK £1	Rs. 70.79	SW Fr 1	Rs. 29.25*
Euro	Rs. 43.48	Sing $1	Rs. 26.50*
Yen 100	Rs. 37.60	Aus $1	Rs. 26.05*
*SBI TC buying rates; others are forex market closing rates

Bullion

Calcutta		Bombay

Gold Std (10gm)	NA	Gold Std (10 gm)Rs. 5060
Gold 22 carat	NA	Gold 22 carat	   NA
Silver bar (Kg)	NA	Silver (Kg)	Rs. 7820
Silver portion	NA	Silver portion	   NA

Stock Indices

Sensex		3390.25		+25.85
BSE-100		1689.70		+ 4.06
S&P CNX Nifty	1104.15		+ 3.85
Calcutta	 114.77		+ 0.61
Skindia GDR	 543.12		- 2.74
   
 

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