Tag Archive | "Ford Motor Co."

Ford Pares Debt, Posts Record $1.69B Quarterly Profit


Ford Motor Co., the world’s most profitable automaker, is generating enough cash to pay off billions in debt after reporting third-quarter net income of $1.69 billion, the most in its 107-year history, reported Bloomberg.

By the end of the week, Ford will have paid down $10.8 billion in obligations this year and reduced its auto unit’s debt to $22.8 billion, the company said. New models like the Fiesta subcompact car are fetching high prices, helping to boost the automotive cash to $23.8 billion on September 30. By year’s end, Ford said its cash will about equal its liabilities.

“We continued to invest heavily in new products in the 2008 and 2009 time frame when we had, frankly, great need of our scarce cash,” Lewis Booth, Ford’s chief financial officer, said in an interview. “And we’re paying back debt faster than we’d hoped.”

Ford’s results topped the previous third-quarter high of $1.13 billion, set in 1997. Excluding some items, profit was 48 cents a share, beating the 38-cent average of 12 analysts’ estimates compiled by Bloomberg. The second-largest U.S. automaker had net income of $997 million in last year’s third quarter and adjusted per-share profit of 26 cents.

CEO Alan Mulally has revived Ford by improving quality and expanding offerings of the namesake brand. Ford, the only major U.S. automaker to avoid bankruptcy, won 15.1 percent of U.S. light-vehicle sales in the quarter, up from 13 percent two years ago, as buyers pay more for new models such as the Taurus sedan and Super Duty pickups.

“Ford has elevated its brand,” said Jessica Caldwell, director of pricing and industry analysis for automotive researcher Edmunds.com. “They’re attracting a more discerning buyer who has more income and can afford more options.”

Buyers of Ford cars and trucks paid an average of $30,636 per model in September, up 10 percent from five years ago, as they loaded up on options like voice-activated telephone and stereo systems, according to Santa Monica, Calif.-based Edmunds. That’s the highest average price Edmunds has recorded for Ford since the researcher began gathering such data in 2002, Caldwell said.

Higher average prices helped to add $400 million to Ford’s pretax automotive profits in the quarter, the company said. The Fiesta, which went on sale in June, commands $3,000 to $4,000 above its $13,995 base price as buyers choose options like leather seats, according to George Pipas, Ford sales analyst.

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Ford May Post Record Third-Quarter Profit on ‘Virtuous Circle’


Ford Motor Co. may report the biggest third-quarter profit in its 107-year history tomorrow as Chief Executive Officer Alan Mulally’s overhaul of the model lineup boosts the company’s share of the U.S. auto market.

Net income was $1.37 billion, based on the average projection of five analysts, up from $997 million and adjusted per-share earnings of 26 cents a year earlier, Bloomberg reported. Estimates for adjusted quarterly profit have risen to 38 cents a share, the average of 12 analysts, from about 34 cents a month ago.

The second-largest U.S. automaker won 15.1 percent of U.S. light-vehicle sales in the quarter, versus 13 percent two years earlier, according to Autodata Corp. Buyers are paying more on average for Ford vehicles as the company introduces new models like the Fiesta subcompact and features such as voice-activated phone and stereo controls.

“It’s a virtuous circle of the right products, targeted at the right customers with the right options,” said Brian Johnson, a Barclays Capital analyst, who rates the shares “overweight.”

Ford’s previous record for third-quarter net income was $1.13 billion in 1997.

The three-month period through September was Ford’s sixth straight profitable quarter. From 2006 through 2008, its losses totaled $30.1 billion as a collapse in sport-utility vehicle sales was followed by the most severe recession since the Great Depression.

Mulally, who arrived from Boeing Co. in September 2006, has revived Ford by boosting quality and fuel economy in its namesake brand.

Market Share Gains

Ford was the only major U.S. automaker to avoid bankruptcy in 2009 and is headed toward a second straight year of share gains in its home market amid the worst auto sales since 1982. The company hasn’t increased market share in consecutive years since 1992 and 1993. Ford said it gained ground among young buyers and consumers on the West Coast and in the Northeast, areas that typically favor Asian and European brands.

“We’re not buying share at the bottom of the food chain,” George Pipas, Ford’s sales analyst, said in an interview. “People buying Fords today are generally more educated and affluent and they want and are willing to pay for nicer Fords.”

This year, Ford had 10.8 percent of the West Coast market for individual buyers, excluding fleet customers, up 0.9 point, and its share rose the same amount in the Northeast to 10.4 percent, Pipas said. In the Great Lakes region, which includes Detroit, Ford has a market share of 19.2 percent, up 2.3 percentage points this year, Pipas said. In the Central region, including Texas, Ford has 18.1 percent of the market, up 1.7 points.

Young Consumers

Ford has made the biggest gains among the youngest and oldest buyers, Pipas said. Through August, Ford had 12 percent of the market for 18- to 24-year-olds, up 1.4 points and scored the same gain to 17.7 percent of the market for buyers over age 75, its largest cohort, Pipas said. Ford’s lowest share is with 25- to 34-year-olds at 11 percent, up 1 point, Pipas said, citing data from researcher R.L. Polk & Co.

Ford boosted profit by cutting costs by $10 billion since 2005 and limiting factory output so it doesn’t have to discount its cars, Barclays’s Johnson said.

It also boosted revenue per-model by cutting discounts by 23 percent since 2008, according to Autodata, a researcher based in Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey. Buyers paid an average of $30,636 per model in September, up 10 percent from five years ago, Edmunds.com, a Santa Monica, California-based auto-pricing website, estimates.

“Ford was among the first to recognize that making money is more important than moving the metal,” Johnson said. “There’s now a general level of pricing discipline across Detroit, which is leading to higher average transaction prices.”

Fiesta Prices

The Fiesta subcompact, which went on sale in the U.S. in June, is fetching $3,000 to $4,000 above its $13,995 base price because buyers are ordering options such as leather seats, Pipas said. The Fiesta is commanding a higher average price than Honda Motor Co.’s Civic and Toyota Motor Corp.’s Corolla, Ford said.

“They’ve had a series of successful new products,” said Jessica Caldwell, director of pricing and industry analysis for Santa Monica, California-based Edmunds. “When you consistently come out with good products, then people start to believe you’ve really changed.”

Redesigned versions of the Focus compact car and Explorer SUV coming next year should also generate higher prices, Johnson said. That could offset discounts Ford may have to put on its F- series pickups while General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC try to sell down bloated truck inventories, he said.

In the second quarter, higher net prices added $1.1 billion to Ford’s pretax automotive income.

‘Revenue Story’

“At this stage, we see Ford as a revenue story much more than a cost story,” Adam Jonas, an analyst for Morgan Stanley, wrote in an Oct. 4 note. He rates Ford “overweight” and said the stock may reach $20 in the next 12 months. “We believe the shares do not properly discount a top-line set to grow 42 percent by 2015.”

Ford shares had their highest close this year at $14.46 on April 26, the day before the company reported a $2.1 billion first-quarter profit that beat analysts’ estimates. Ford rose 14 cents, or 1 percent, to $13.95 on Oct. 22 and has gained 40 percent this year.

Of 17 analysts covering Ford, 11 recommend buying the shares, 5 advise holding and 1 recommends selling, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. In January 2009, 1 analyst had a buy rating while 8 said hold and 3 said sell.

“Investors see its time to get back in because everybody recognizes they’ve done a great job,” said Mirko Mikelic, senior portfolio manager at Fifth Third Asset Management in Grand Rapids, Michigan, who owns Ford debt and is considering purchasing shares. “We’re definitely more positive on Ford than in the past. We’d like to see two more solid quarters.”

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Lincoln Dealers Reluctant to Upgrade Their Stores


Lincoln dealers say they are reluctant to invest in pricey upgrades to their stores until Ford Motor Co. reveals more details about Lincoln’s future lineup.

Ford is asking some dealerships to spend more than $1 million to remodel buildings and make other improvements to meet new standards that have yet to be spelled out, several dealer sources say.

“I say show me the money,” said Larry Taylor, owner of Beau Townsend Ford-Lincoln Mercury in Vandalia, Ohio.

“They told us there would be no new products for about 24 months. I don’t know how the stand-alone Lincoln dealers are going to make it, especially those dealers who have to spend $2 million on their upgrades.”

Taylor is also a member of the Ford Lincoln Mercury National Dealer Council.

Ford plans to cut at least 200 of 1,200 U.S. Lincoln franchises, mostly in the top 130 metro markets, reported Automotive News. It wants to rehabilitate the sagging luxury brand with fewer, more profitable dealerships.

Ford has begun offering some Lincoln dealers cash – in one case about $1.5 million and in another just over $300,000 – to give up the franchise if they’re not in a “preferred location” or won’t make the recommended improvements.

“My facility is in excellent shape,” one dealer said. “I plan on doing nothing here but selling Lincolns – unless Ford comes up with a lot more money.”

Some dealers see tough negotiations ahead with the factory. Some are rejecting buyout offers as too low. And others wonder about the commitment to product. Ford has said it will spend $2 billion to upgrade Lincoln’s lineup.

No to status quo

Lincoln spokesman Christian Bokich said the “status quo is not an option” when it comes to the changes Lincoln wants to see in stores. If the dealers decline to meet new standards for facilities and customer service, they can negotiate a price to give up the Lincoln franchise.

If the two sides can’t agree on a price, the legal options become murky. But Ford’s real leverage could come from getting tough with incentive money if dealers refuse to comply.

At an October meeting with Lincoln dealers, Ford said Lincoln stores not in compliance with upgrade requirements by fall 2011 would face limitations on incentive money.

The negotiations come at a time when Ford is paying down $27.3 billion in debt, and the company intends to play hardball in forcing dealers to make a decision. But some dealers insist that Ford can’t make them invest or exit — especially if the settlement offers are unreasonable.

Ford has started meeting individually with Lincoln dealers to outline expectations for facility improvements and to offer cash compensation to some who choose to leave. Some stores would require more extensive investment than others.

The dealers who have met with Ford say the automaker wants a decision before Dec. 31.

2 cases in point

In one major metro market, a dealer said Ford offered him about $1.5 million to relinquish his Lincoln franchise.

The dealer asked for anonymity because he plans to keep selling Lincolns. But the dealer says Ford’s offer for Lincoln is “very low.” He owns a large Lincoln-Mercury dealership and sells nearly 1,000 new vehicles a year. The dealer earns nearly $2 million in annual profits. Ford’s offer, the dealer says, should be closer to $5 million.

“So they’re just offering me one year of earnings,” the dealer said. “For some stores that’s fair because they’re losing money, but for us, it’s not.”

The dealer rejected Ford’s offer and says he will not comply with Ford’s requested $2 million in facility changes.

A second dealer in the same market estimates Ford’s desired remodeling would cost at least $1.5 million. Ford offered that dealer just more than $300,000 to give up the franchise.

“‘Insulted’ isn’t a harmful enough word to describe it,” the dealer said. “It’s asinine. I’m getting my numbers together and going back. I’m not going to accept this.”

A Lincoln spokesman says there is no formula for compensation offers because offers are made on an individual and market-by-market basis.

Ford does have a Mercury formula, though. It’s based on the average number of new vehicles sold at a dealership from 2007 through 2009, times a per-unit amount that ranges from $1,500 to $2,500 depending on the dealer’s average percentage of Mercury sales as compared with the store’s total sales.

Some dealers are refusing Ford’s exit offers and are hesitant to upgrade stores because Ford has yet to reveal its future Lincoln products. Dealers say they can’t make a business decision without the facts.

At the October meeting, Ford told dealers it will take about two years to rebuild the Lincoln lineup and at least four years for many buyers to add Lincoln to their consideration lists.

Lincoln now sells three cars, two crossovers and a full-sized SUV. Supplier and company sources say Lincoln will add a vehicle based on Ford’s global compact car platform.

As Ford continues to meet with Lincoln dealers, it will slowly roll out specifics on the dealership requirements, dealers say.

“They showed us pictures and renderings, but nothing specific,” said Bob Tasca Jr., a Rhode Island dealer and head of Lincoln Mercury’s dealer council. “A lot of these details will be rolled out over the next year. There will be a plan and some type of time line.”

Specifics wanted

At the meeting, Ford told dealers that maintenance for four years or 50,000 miles, such as oil changes, will be included in the price for all Lincoln vehicles. Also, beginning Jan. 1, a new slate of owner privileges, such as providing the same Lincoln model loaner vehicle for Lincoln warranty work, better roadside service and a dedicated team of Lincoln customer service people will kick in.

Dealers also must agree to wash and detail every Lincoln vehicle at every service visit.

Ford is telling dealers that it would like a distinct look for Lincoln showrooms, but Ford and Lincoln franchises can share a rooftop.

Lincoln spokesman Bokich said: “The key to success is consistency.”

But an East Coast Lincoln-Mercury dealer said: “They cannot force us to upgrade. So you’ll get a stalemate that results in two classes of dealers — the fools who upgrade and the ones who are at acceptable levels but haven’t upgraded.”

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Ford to Buy Back Some Older Model Windstars


WASHINGTON – Ford Motor Co. has agreed to buy back some of its recalled older model Windstars that have corroded axles, reported The Detroit News.

In August, Ford said it would recall 462,750 1998-2003 Ford Windstar minivans over concerns that rear axles could corrode and fail.

This week, Ford told dealers it would buy back some vehicles — rather than repair them.

“At our discretion, the remedy we offer may involve repurchasing a customer’s vehicle at a price we believe either matches or exceeds market value,” Ford said in a fact sheet posted on the government’s website.

Ford is notifying owners of the repurchase possibility in letters currently getting mailed.

Ford currently expects to have replacement axles in the first part of 2011. Until then, it is providing rental cars to customers to those with cracked or perforated axles noting it poses an increased risk of a crash. Customers will get to use the rental cars at no cost until the parts are available for the fix.

Ford won’t buy back any vehicle purchased after Aug. 26 and will discontinue the repurchase offers as more replacement axles become available. Ford said it plans to repurchase primarily the oldest vehicles — and ones that have cracked or perforated axles.

Ford dealers have the parts to fix vehicles that don’t have cracked or perforated axles.

The recall covers vans sold or registered in 21 “Salt Belt” states — including Michigan — and Washington, D.C.

Ford spokesman Wes Sherwood said Friday it wasn’t clear how many vehicles Ford would buy back. He said the decisions would be made on a “case by case” basis.

The recall also covers about 113,000 Windstars in Canada.

Under the recall, Ford dealers will inspect and install rear axle reinforcement brackets in most cases.

In May, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opened an investigation into the 1999-2003 Windstar after receiving 234 complaints alleging rear axle failure in Windstars, including two alleging that the failures resulted in minor crashes.

Many of the vehicles have more than 100,000 miles and there are concerns that after years of running, “corrosion can weaken the rear axle” and possibly crack it, leading to crashes.

In a Detroit News interview this week, NHTSA Administrator David Strickland praised Ford’s action.

“With Ford making the decision to buy back (some) Windstars from this axle issue, we asked them to take a look back in August,” Strickland said. The decision — and others by other automakers — show they are putting the safety of customers first.

NHTSA said 96 percent of the complaints were from “Salt-Belt” states — where state road agencies treat roadways during the winter.

The states covered by the recall where the vehicles were originally sold or now registered are: Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia and Wisconsin, plus Washington, D.C.

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Technology Helps Ford Increase its Average Revenue Per Vehicle 14%


DETROIT – Ford’s growing reputation as a technology-driven brand is helping the automaker wring more money out of every car it sells, the automaker’s vice president of product development, Derrick Kuzak, said today.

During a speech to an auto electronics show here, Kuzak said Ford’s average revenue per vehicle jumped 14 percent from 2008 to 2009, to $26,100, Automotive News reported. He attributed roughly one-third of the increase to new technologies such as the Sync in-car communication system, which gives drivers hands-free ability to operate the media system and mobile devices.

“Technology has been fundamental to our improved brand and business,” Kuzak said.

Other reasons for the increase in revenue per vehicle, he said, are improved pricing and more customers opting for pricier trim levels.

Kuzak said one-third of people who bought a Ford, Lincoln or Mercury said the Sync system helped sway their decision. He said Ford will continue to use technology as a differentiator – including its new MyTouch system, which runs on the next generation of the Sync platform.

MyTouch, now offered on the Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX crossovers, provides navigation, entertainment, Bluetooth and climate controls all connected through a touch screen.

Kuzak said Ford plans to offer MyTouch on 80 percent of its vehicles within five years, including the 2012 Focus.

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Marketer of the Year: Ford Motor Co.


NEW YORK – It was arguably the darkest hour for American automakers: Struggling with the collapse of the global economy, the U.S. government in 2008 bailed out General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group with generous loans that incited rancor and debate across the country. Not so with Ford.

It seemed rather a risk for the iconic marketer to turn down the Troubled Asset Relief Program; it wasn’t as though the brand that Henry built wasn’t in trouble like its Detroit counterparts – it lost $14.6 billion in 2008, reported Advertising Age. But turning down the funds turned out to be a sage move.

When asked just how much declining TARP funds was worth, Ford marketing chief Jim Farley doesn’t hesitate: “I think it was worth more than $1 billion of coverage and customer interest,” he said. “If I had to go out and advertise, it would be that kind of bill in paid media. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”

Most top marketing officers would kill for $1 billion in free goodwill. But for Mr. Farley, that was just the beginning of a long road that helped the grand dame of automakers survive the Great Recession – with a little bit of luck, a little bit of timing and a little bit of chutzpah. Ford is now firmly entrenched back in the No. 2 spot for U.S. sales among automakers, with 17% of the U.S. auto and light-truck market in the first nine months of 2010, behind GM, according to Automotive News, an Ad Age sibling.

The company’s products are better than ever, promoted and marketed by a revamped strategy headed by Mr. Farley. U.S. yearly sales are up 17% through August, which is more than double the industry-wide gain of 8.4%. Ford’s $4.7 billion profit in the first six months of this year is the company’s largest since 1998.

Meanwhile, Ford’s ability to secure the commercial loans that helped it avoid a government bailout has led to huge perception gains. An Oct. 1 Rasmussen Reports survey, for example, found 55% of survey respondents said they are more likely to buy a Ford because the company did not take TARP funds, a stunning figure nearly 18 months after the fact.

“This is a scrappy team, a surviving team,” Mr. Farley, 48, said of the marketing group that he took over in 2007. “When they got some crazy new leader, they stayed with him.”

Back in 2007, when CEO Alan Mulally was trying to recruit Jim Farley from Toyota, where he had led marketing for the luxury brand Lexus, they met in Dearborn, Mich., and Mr. Farley was impressed with the plan the new CEO had in mind.

“He pulled out a document and there were, like, 200 individual models on it. But he said to me, ‘You see this blue oval? We are going to focus on Ford, and take Ford and integrate it globally,'” Mr. Farley said of his meeting with Mr. Mulally. “As a competitor, I was always scared that Ford was going to do that.”

But the bigger concern was a cultural one. Mr. Farley, a self-described “freak,” was worried he wouldn’t fit in at Ford.

“By ‘freak,’ I mean that I like bottom-up ideas, creative thinking at the client, not the agency. I expect our team to come up with new ideas and I expect that to flow up from the bottom. I was worried the culture would reject me like a bad organ,” Mr. Farley said. “Alan just said, ‘Jim, we’ll stand back to back. Like Wyatt Earp.'”

Instead of wondering whether he would fit in with the culture of Ford, Mr. Farley changed the culture.

“Some people here thought we should talk about technology or history – ‘We need to talk about Henry Ford!’ – instead of telling the consumer how good the product is,” he said. So Ford reprised its “Swap Your Ride” campaign, where it has Honda and Toyota owners test drive Fords, and used the testimonials in its advertising. It launched the 2011 Explorer crossover on Facebook and created a campaign called the Fiesta Movement, which loaned out the small car to young social-media-savvy bloggers across the country to let them seed and spread the word long before the car was set to launch in the U.S.

“Jim Farley has done a superb job,” said longtime automotive advertising and marketing executive Peter DeLorenzo, who now runs AutoExtremist.com. “When he came to Ford, he came at the perfect time. The company was already focused on a new course thanks to Alan. Farley took all the constituents of marketing and got them on the same page. He took some risks with the advertising, and Ford’s products are getting better by the month. It worked out. The marketing and advertising has all come together nicely.”

Among the bigger risks? A truck campaign for the F-150, which went against everything one is used to seeing in an ad for a pickup truck, Mr. DeLorenzo said. “It’s witty, it’s well written, and it makes tremendous use of Denis Leary’s voice-over. It’s almost cerebral in a way.”

Ford actually cut U.S. ad spending in 2009 as it consolidated its focus on the Ford and Lincoln brands, though it raised network TV, print and internet spending, according to Ad Age DataCenter. U.S. measured media spending for the first half of 2010 was $530.2 million, up 10.9% from $478.2 million spent in the same period of 2009, according to Kantar Media.

It also merged advertising and public relations; gone is the church-and-state separation. “We’re now praying together,” said Mr. Farley.

Its commercials, featuring everyman Mike Rowe, the host of Discovery Channel’s “Dirty Jobs,” are a hit and it tapped social media to launch the Fiesta in China — a move that inspired the U.S.’s Fiesta Movement.

“Other than Facebook, China has the largest social-media sites in the world,” Mr. Farley said. “So we imported 100 Fiestas and started a campaign that asked people to take a picture of themselves with the Fiesta if they saw it on a street, and spread it around.”

Some of those same practices will be adopted globally and domestically when Ford launches the next-generation Focus.

Meanwhile, Ford’s ad agency, Team Detroit, a consortium of five WPP shops, has its roots in JWT’s first efforts for Ford a century ago. And at a time when the single-holding-company model is often knocked in the ad industry, Mr. Farley and Team Detroit Chief Creative Director Toby Barlow enhanced a model Mr. Farley developed at Toyota called Train, in which the agency taps the best talent it can find – even if it means dipping outside of WPP.

“Toby is the coach of a fantasy league and he gets to pick the dream team every time we have a project,” Mr. Farley said. “It allows us to have a freshness in the agency-client relationship over and over again.”

Mr. Farley said it could be as diverse as bringing in a creative who worked on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle campaign to work on a Ford F-150 truck assignment, or hiring an artist who does country-western CD art to work on a brochure.

“It hasn’t been perfect,” said George Peterson, president of the automotive research firm AutoPacific, citing Lincoln. “The Lincoln launches, even though they threw a lot of money around, it still doesn’t seem to have resonated yet with people around the country. There are examples of launch-and-leaves out there where Ford just cannot keep enough weight on a product.” For instance, Ford Flex was launched in the first week of the recession and isn’t nearly up to the level of the other models.

Still, Mr. Peterson, a Ford owner himself, said he likes what he sees.

“One, they have focused their marketing message,” he said. “Two, they are not only marketing to prospective customers, but to their present customers as well. I receive plenty of direct mail and emails from Ford. Three, their outreach has never been better. They’re probably doing more television than anybody expected, especially with the Mustang and the Fiesta.”

Ford is also an industry leader in onboard technology with its SYNC in-car communications and entertainment system, co-developed with Microsoft. Mr. Farley called mobile marketing the most underrated technology right now.

“People are spending hours on their devices with all this cool data and content, and we’re not part of the conversation,” he said. “There hasn’t been this kind of moment in modern marketing since TV in the 1950s. We haven’t seen such a quick flip of media consumption like that, and we as marketers haven’t caught up. The smart companies, like General Mills, are going to application people and making it work.”

Mr. Farley said he envisions a day where something like SYNC “becomes a revenue platform. Not only for us, but for companies that develop applications. Five to 10 years, tops. Who would have believed we’d be talking about us, a car company, being a leader in that technology?”

Mr. Farley pauses for a moment.

“Can you imagine?” he says. “My grandfather was an employee of this company [he owned a Ford dealership]. I love the brand, I love the products. This is for the marketing and PR team at Ford who all responded to a crisis in a way that no one could predict. The fact that we’re sitting here talking about [this] is the coolest thing I could ever think of.”

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