Business targeting disability dollar

Minnie Baragwanath, CEO of Be. Institute in New Zealand, and former Paralympian swimmer Chris Holmes MBE at Hunter Stadium. Attending a conference at the stadium on disability access at sporting venues and attracting the “yellow” dollar. Picture Max Mason HubersHUNTER businesses could benefit from the ‘‘yellow dollar’’ by making themselves more physically accessible and inclusive to people with a disability, a conference in Newcastle heard on Thursday.
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International disability advocates joined more than 100 delegates for the Accessible Events = Smart Business Forum at Hunter Stadium.

It came ahead of the region hosting both the International Children’s Games next year and the Special Olympics Asia Pacific Games later this year.

One of the keynote speakers was Minnie Baragwanath chief executive of the Be. Institute in New Zealand.

Baragwanath, who is partially blind, said the Hunter could harness some of the $5 billion yellow tourism dollar.

‘‘People with a disability and their families travel,’’ she said.

‘‘If you’re not clearly accessible you may not lose one person’s business, you may lose three or four people because people do not travel alone.’’

She said accessibility was not just about wheelchair access.

‘‘There are people with hearing, sight, impaired mobility…who need hip replacements – they want someone to cater to their needs.’’

Ms Baragwanath said access also extended to the baby boomers who would have increased access needs as they aged.

‘‘That’s also the group that travels most often and has the most discretionary spending.

‘‘It’s a massive market opportunity.’’

The other keynote speaker was former British parlaympian swimmer Chris Holmes who was the Director of Integration for the 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic Games.

He spoke about spreading wheelchair seats throughout stadiums so people could sit with their families, having audio commentaries and seating vision impaired people near big screens.

However he said accessibility started with training staff to create a culture of accessibility.

‘‘So it’s not just an accessible but an inclusive experience,’’ he said.

‘‘It’s not just about mega-events it’s about events right down to the most local community event.’’

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Grant Maughan ultramarathon man 

DUDLEY’S Grant Maughan had hundreds of American’s shaking their heads and wondering ‘‘who the heck is this Aussie guy’’ this week after he finished second in the Badwater Ultramarathon, a 217 kilometre endurance race across Death Valley in California.
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Maughan, a 49-year-old professional sea captain, was second across the line in a field of 96 starters in the time of 24 hours, 53 minutes and 57 seconds.

The winner Portugal’s Carlos Alberto Gomes De Sá, 39, finished about 15 minutes earlier.

He described the feat – achieved in 46 degree heat – as the crown in his endurance career.

‘‘It was incredibly hard,’’ he said.

‘‘The first 42 miles (67 kilometres) are the hottest down below sea level in Death Valley.

‘‘If you make it through that then its a 5000 foot (1.5 kilometres) climb, then 4000 feet (1.2 kilometres) down into the next valley then another 5000 foot (1.5 kilometres) climb.

‘‘Then a long 30 mile (48 kilometres) leg to Lone Pine before the last really brutal 5000 foot (1.5 kilometres) climb to the finish.

‘‘The finish was epic with the top three spots on the the last mountain all close.

‘‘I managed to grind it out and moved into second going up then closed on the winner all the way to the end.

‘‘It was definitely the pinnacle of my endurance journey so far but the best part was everyone asking ‘‘who the heck is this Aussie guy’’.

Mr Maughan, who used this year’s Boston Marathon as a warm-up event, will head to Colorado in three weeks to attempt the Leadville Trail 100 run.

The event starts at higher than 10,000 feet (3048 metres) above sea level, finishes at 14,000 feet (4267 metres) and spans 100 miles (160 kilometres).

ENDURANCE: Grant Maughan is competing in several US ultramarathons.

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Ten takes another bite at breakfast show market

Wake Up hosts, from left, Nuala Hafner, James Mathison, Natarsha Belling and Natasha Exelby. Photo: Anthony Johnson Ten’s former Breakfast hosts, from left, Magdalena Roze, Paul Henry, Andrew Rochford and Kathryn Robinson.
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Eight months after axing its failed Breakfast program, Channel Ten is having another crack at the lucrative early morning TV market – launching a rival to Sunrise and Today called Wake Up.

Hosted by journalists Natarsha Belling and Natasha Exelby, and former Australian Idol co-host James Mathison, it will be broadcast from a surf club in Manly instead of a traditional TV studio.

The program has been created by TV “wonder boy” and former Sunrise producer Adam Boland, who took that show to No. 1 and turned hosts Melissa Doyle and David Koch into household names.

Wake Up will be the only breakfast show to feature local news in every state. Nuala Hafner will be the national news presenter, based in Melbourne.

The show will begin later this year but Ten has not revealed the date.

“The show is looser than the other mobs’,” Boland said. “There’s scope for an adult conversation. When you take the straitjackets off, interesting things happen.”

Boland said Wake Up was modelled on FM radio shows and that it would rely heavily on social media and viewer interaction.

He described his final years at Channel Seven as “frustrating”, claiming that “no one was willing to take a risk” at Sunrise.

“Sunrise has an average of 14 guests [every day], who are booked the night before,” he said.

“Most of my producers will be working the early morning shift and we won’t be booking as many guests. This is Australia: chances are that some of those guests won’t be that great. We want to give [the hosts] the freedom to chat.”

Ten hopes that Wake Up – in addition to a slew of new local drama, reality, comedy and sport shows – will reverse its mid-year ratings slump, which has seen the network fall into fourth place behind the ABC.

Boland is also creating a late-morning program to be hosted by Ita Buttrose, Joe Hildebrand and others. It will also launch later this year.

Wake Up’s short-lived predecessor Breakfast, hosted by controversial New Zealander Paul Henry, was a critical and commercial flop, rarely drawing more than 50,000 viewers.

Boland said: “I think it was pretty obvious what went wrong with that show … and it was obvious to Channel Ten after 7 o’clock on the first morning.”

In addition to announcing Wake Up, Ten revealed that former Australian Idol co-host Osher Gunsberg – previously known as Andrew G – will host its local version of reality program The Bachelor, to debut later this year.

Steven Bradbury and Alisa Camplin have joined its Winter Olympics commentary team, and former batsman Sir Viv Richards will host the Big Bash League cricket with Ricky Ponting, Adam Gilchrist, Mark Waugh and Damien Fleming.

Wake Up is being launched as the established breakfast shows enter their toughest battle in years, with Today now threatening the once-unbeatable Sunrise.

Fewer than 10,000 viewers separate the two rivals, with Sunrise still in front.

It’s a far cry from 2006, when Sunrise was ahead by more than 200,000 viewers. Two years later, its lead halved to 100,000 and it has steadily declined ever since.

While Sunrise retains the national ratings crown, its win comes from its dominance in Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth. In Sydney and Melbourne, Today is the top-rating breakfast show.

Sunrise co-host Melissa Doyle will be replaced by Samantha Armytage around September, with Doyle to move on to other roles. Some in the industry view this as an attempt to “rejuvenate” Sunrise before the launch of Wake Up.

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The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

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Woolworths fails to master nuts and bolts

Company Accounts 2012.
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Woolworths has confessed to struggling with basic operational issues with its incursion into the $42 billion hardware sector – from a blowout in wages and selling unwanted stock to what store managers should do with the keys at the end of each day.

The chief of the loss-making Masters chain, Melinda Smith, said not even the experience and reach of its US joint-venture partner Lowe’s had prevented it from making early mistakes – with the fact that Christmas in Australia fell in summer, and not winter as in America, just another headache it had to contend with.

”With a new business as a start-up, a lot of these things, including the stock that you need to order, including every single process that we write … including what does the store manager do with the keys at the end of the day … It’s all built from scratch, and so there’s a lot that you don’t know,” said Ms Smith.

”We didn’t know a lot about the seasonal curve. We’ve got a great joint venture partner in America but when it’s Christmas time over there it’s also winter.

”Our Christmas time lines up with spring and Father’s Day so it’s quite a different seasonal curve and there’s no doubt there’s a heap of opportunities to better capitalise on that.” Ms Smith and Woolworths finance director Tom Pockett were forced to lay out all the challenges besetting Masters to analysts on Thursday, admitting actual losses would be more than expected when the chain was launched two years ago. Woolworths chief executive Grant O’Brien did not attend the investor update, where the market was advised that hardware losses would rise to $139 million from a forecast $81 million for 2012-13. Mr O’Brien is thought to be travelling overseas for work. Masters is now expected to record a pre-tax loss of $157 million for the last financial year against an original target of $119 million.

The business ran foul of optimistic sales projections for its stores that were up and trading as it went into fiscal 2013, while relatively higher wage costs for new store openings and lower margins had dragged Masters further away from its earnings targets.

Danks, Woolworths’ wholesale hardware business, has also suffered from similar factors and would see its 2012-13 pre-tax profit more than halve to $18 million.

The profit warning for Masters overshadowed an actual improved guidance for the Woolworths group, with profits now forecast to grow in the range of 5 per cent to 6 per cent, from previous guidance of 4 per cent to 6 per cent. Its sale last year of Dick Smith would realise total proceeds of $94 million and allow it to book a profit on the deal of $7.9 million.

Shares in Woolworths fell 1.1 per cent to $33.32.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

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New CSL chief keeps the faith

Paul Perreault, the new boss of pharmaceutical giant CSL, has a message for those who believe the $31 billion company is overvalued or should start buying businesses: it’s not and it probably won’t.
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Mr Perreault said CSL had looked at 200 buying opportunities last year but was wary of ”lemons”. It made two big acquisitions under previous boss Brian McNamee’s leadership.

”The investment community always get excited when they see something like that [an acquisition] and then the next year they get disappointed because it’s hard to grow on top of it,” Mr Perreault told BusinessDay.

”So the organic growth story for CSL is still very strong and that will be supplemented by the future products in our portfolio.”

He added CSL’s share buybacks had been ”very successful” but another was a matter for the board.

Mr Perreault, an American who this month took over the top job, said Australia was an expensive country that had coped well during the financial crisis but faced challenges if the mining sector slowed.

”You’ve survived a financial crisis quite well. Mining, banking have been stellar sides of the business.

”Manufacturing has been a bit of a tough go. Retail has been up and down. Housing has been too high, probably, maybe a bit of a bubble that needs to be watched.

”I’ve seen it in other countries, including the US, where things get out of whack from a real estate perspective.”

He added that there were differences between the US and Australian housing markets.

”My impression is that people are still out spending [in Australia]; the restaurants are still full … coffee shops seem to be going well,” he said.

”It’ll be interesting to see how the mining goes, because that’ll be a big swing. The banks are still doing pretty well.”

CSL, the one-time government-owned vaccines group, is one of Australia’s top 10 companies.

And the recent departure Dr McNamee has not stopped its shares reaching new record highs.

But the share price surge, from about $40 a year ago to $64.46, has led analysts to call the company overvalued and question its growth.

CIMB director, healthcare, Derek Jellinek said Mr Perreault had ”his work cut out for him” and that Dr McNamee had exited at a great time.

But Mr Perreault said: ”I think we’re great value. We add value.

”My goal is to have a sustainable, growing business that services the patient.”

Formerly the head of the company’s chief money-spinning business CSL Behring, Mr Perreault said there were opportunities in haemophilia and developed markets. CSL would also invest more in sales and marketing and research and development.

Retail shareholders comprise about one-third of CSL’s share register and Australia is home to about 1800 of its 11,000-strong workforce, but 89 per cent of CSL’s sales in the 2012 financial year came from operations outside of Australia.

Despite a bruising conflict with unions last year, Mr Perreault said CSL planned to boost local jobs.

”We love it here in Australia, we’re not looking to exit … we want to do more, we want to hire more people but we also need to have the right balance of productivity along with the employment that we offer for people,” he said.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

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Industrial relations tension flare

Tensions in Australia’s coal sector are threatening to flare again, with Swiss company Glencore Xstrata on a collision course with unions over a plan to change the workplace deal at its Collinsville mine in Queensland.
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The plan stems from Glencore’s decision to dump Thiess as the mining contractor at Collinsville, and continuing efforts to return the mine to profitability for the first time in more than a year.

The decision to axe Thiess and bring mining operations in-house takes effect on September 1, and Glencore is seeking to use the changeover to reset the existing workplace arrangements for staff.

It has written to mine workers, saying that ”flexible workplace agreements without restrictive work practices” were ”critical to the mine’s future viability”.

The company said it believed it could continue to employ people who were ”committed to our future vision for the mine”.

”We have no set preference for any specific type of labour agreement but any agreement must be modern, flexible and without restrictions,” the company told workers in a letter.

The message drew a stern rebuke from the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, which warned Glencore not to make veiled threats to the workers.

CFMEU Queensland district president Stephen Smyth said Glencore would need to renegotiate the workplace deal ”in the usual way” by talking to workers, if it wanted to changes.

”The industrial regulation at the mine will not be a matter of your preference. It is a matter of law and the law provides that the current agreement will apply,” he said.

The marginal nature of the coal industry is exacerbating an industrial relations atmosphere that was tense long before the industry came under financial pressure. BHP and Mitsubishi had strikes over the past few years at their joint-venture coalmines in Queensland, and unions remain far more involved in east coast coalmines than the iron ore mines of WA.

A Glencore official told a Senate inquiry in April that more than 30 per cent of Australian coalmines were unprofitable in the current economic conditions, although falls in the dollar since would have eased some of the pain.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

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Fudge builds 10% stake in AJ Lucas

One of Australia’s richest businessmen, Paul Fudge, has snared a 10 per cent stake in AJ Lucas, extending his spread of shale and coal seam gas interests to Europe in the process.
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Mr Fudge, through his privately held Pangea Resources, pocketed $660 million from the sale of a coal seam gas permit to Origin Energy in 2009. Since then he has extended his interests in the sector, as well as ploughing money into buying racehorses and establishing a stud on the Southern Highlands, south-west of Sydney.

Earlier this week, a Fudge-controlled entity, Belbay Investments, disclosed a 9.9 per cent stake in AJ Lucas, the troubled driller and contractor, which has its foot on potentially valuable coal gas and shale assets in Europe.

At Lucas’ closing price on Thursday of $1.20, Mr Fudge’s holding is worth $33 million. Prior to the recent placement and rights issue, Mr Fudge held about 2 per cent of the company’s capital.

Mr Fudge was an underwriter of the retail investor component of AJ Lucas’ $148.8 million placement and rights issue which was conducted last month.

That raising followed the sale of a 25 per cent equity in its potentially valuable Bowlands prospect in the UK to local utility Centrica, formerly known as British Gas.

That reduced Lucas’ direct and indirect holding in Bowlands to 43.5 per cent, with Centrica to fund the next round of exploration on the Bowlands prospect.

The funds raised have helped recapitalise the Lucas balance sheet, which was under pressure since its drilling and contracting arms are losing money.

After making his money in textiles, Mr Fudge was an early mover into coal seam gas in Queensland, where he still has extensive acreage, as well as in the Northern Territory and NSW.

His NSW acreage is adjacent to AGL tenements at Taree on the mid-north coast, but onerous government regulation has locked much of this land up for the time being.

The share issue was priced at $1.20, a steep discount to its price of $1.60 prior to the issue, although since the issue was completed the shares have traded around the issue price.

Mr Fudge’s emergence with a major stake in AJ Lucas comes as the UK Energy Secretary said this week shale gas could cut domestic gas prices by as much as a quarter.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

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Billabong debt holders threaten to pull plug

Billabong’s new chief executive, Scott Olivet, speaks to reporters in Sydney on Thursday. Photo: Steven SiewertBillabong’s senior debt holders are believed to have threatened to pull the company under unless it signed a deal that would involve a $40 million upfront payment.
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The US hedge funds Oaktree Capital Management and Centerbridge Partners, which bought a portion of Billabong’s debt from its senior lenders for a 10 per cent discount in the past month, put their competing proposal to the company on Wednesday. They submitted another plan on Thursday, which was also rejected by Billabong.

This was after the $294 million refinancing deal was signed with Altamont Consortium.

Insiders suggested it was inferior to the Altamont proposal and a plan from another suitor, the former US Billabong executive Paul Naude and the private equity firm Sycamore Partners.

”They didn’t even chase Billabong up the aisle, they knocked on the honeymoon suite,” a Billabong insider said of the Wednesday submission. The hedge funds were thought to have pressed Billabong to accept their offer or face the possibility of being cut off from accessing debt.

Billabong chairman Ian Pollard said Oaktree and Centerbridge’s proposal had a ”high level of conditionality” that the firm could not entertain.

”We had no piece of paper that had any numbers on it, let alone a proposal,” Mr Pollard said about the hedge funds’ earlier advances.

He said he would talk to Billabong’s lawyers about what responsibilities the board had to its shareholders if the pair were to submit another plan.

Billabong said late Thursday the second proposal was “not an offer that is capable of acceptance”.

Investors continued to cheer the Altamont deal, sending Billabong stocks 9 per cent higher on Thursday, to 36.5¢, after they soared 34 per cent on Wednesday.

Revelations about the last-minute scramble came as Billabong unveiled its incoming chief executive, Scott Olivet.

Mr Olivet, who was installed in the top job as part of the Altamont deal, said Billabong still had value in its brands. ”This has been a balance sheet story for too long,” he told a press conference in a Billabong store with Mr Pollard and outgoing chief executive Launa Inman.

”It’s time to turn this back to a brand transformation and a brand strength story, and a story of continuous business improvement. So it’s time to go on the offence.” Mr Olivet was coy about making changes to the company’s transformation strategy, which was rolled out by Ms Inman last year.

But the former Oakley executive said the new arrangement, which would see the consortium become about 40 per cent owners, would give Billabong the freedom it had been lacking to push through changes. He did not rule out further job cuts or store closures, but said most of the cost cutting would come from the supply chain side of the business.

Morningstar analysts said there was still too much uncertainty surrounding Billabong despite the refinancing deal.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

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Jobs to go as Aurizon looks to slash costs

Australia’s largest listed rail company, Aurizon, will strip more than $230 million in costs out of its business over the next two years, resulting in job losses and property sales.
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The company, formerly known as QR National, also announced that it would retain its small intermodal business that specialises in shifting container freight. Analysts had speculated that Aurizon would sell or close the business, which has struggled to turn a profit since it was established in 2007.

Chief executive Lance Hockridge sought to allay jitters about subdued growth in China – the final destination for most of the coal Aurizon hauls from mines to ports in NSW and Queensland.

”We certainly do not deny that there is a more subdued environment,” he told investors at a briefing.

”It is, in our view, a low-growth environment, but it is not a zero-growth environment. We just caution that while the world is more subdued … it certainly hasn’t come to an end from a growth point of view.”

Almost three years since it was floated, Aurizon will begin another round of cost-cutting aimed at shedding the last remnants of its past as a government-owned rail business.

The company would not put a figure on the likely number of job cuts, but revealed it would strip out $100 million in ”support costs” over the next two years – more than half of which would be from lowering its labour bill.

The cuts to its labour bill will involve a combination of laying off workers, not replacing staff who leave of their own accord, outsourcing work to third parties and reducing contractors.

Aurizon will also reduce real estate costs by up to $25 million, part of which will be done by selling property assets.

As part of the cost-cutting, Aurizon is aiming for more than $130 million in ”productivity improvements” over the next two years, including up to $70 million in labour savings.

The company has made clear that it is seeking greater ”labour flexibility” from renegotiating enterprise agreements over the next two years. All but one of Aurizon’s 19 labour agreements, which cover about 88 per cent of its 8000-strong workforce, will expire by the end of next year.

Shares in Aurizon rose almost 4 per cent to $4.55 on Thursday in response to the latest shake-up.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

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O’Brien’s DIY nightmare

It was a masterclass in coming clean as Woolworths boss Grant O’Brien (pictured) finally confirmed the open secret in the market: the Masters hardware chain is costing a little more than Woolies anticipated. After stripping out earnings from its Danks hardware distribution unit, Masters losses this year would come in at $157 million. That’s a lot of nails, screws and paint. O’Brien happened to be overseas for the bad news, but we’re assured it was on business.Number’s up
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Even so, Woolies’ move into telcos was short-lived. The dial-in number handed out to dozens of fund managers and stockbroking analysts for the earnings update turned out to be a residential number in the suburbs of Sydney.

Just who happened to be on the other end wasn’t picking up last night and the message bank was full. No doubt this was due to Australia’s finest retail analysts leaving their level-headed responses at not being able to get onto the conference call.Silver lining

While Masters’ sales had come in substantially short of its targets, one of Woolies’ hardware executives, Mark Burrows, was able to find a silver lining. For those who managed to get onto the conference call Burrows said the the Home Timber and Hardware brand – which is supplied by Woolies – has won the much-coveted Roy Morgan Hardware Store of the Year award.Pulling the plug

It was a big day for Woolies as the retailer finally lost its inner nerd. It officially severed ties with its Dick Smith business after Nick Abboud’s private equity play Anchorage Capital posted the remaining paperwork after last year’s acquisition of the electronics chain. Within minutes of the deal going through, Woolworths finance director Tom Pockett was reportedly seen sifting wildly through his desk looking for one of those medium-voltage-capacitor-fuses thingies.Options limited

Whoever prepares the ASX filings at Wilson HTM may not be too popular with senior management. Executives at the stockbroker will have to work that little bit harder to cash in on 2,600,000 share options after a paperwork glitch.

The stockbroker this week discovered the mistake in an Appendix 3B submitted in February, which wrongly said executives would be able to exercise the options at a share price of $0.31866. It should have said the ”strike price” would be $0.26886, in line with the offer letters given to staff. Despite the error, Wilson said it would stick with the higher strike price.On track

Aurizon’s fat controller, Lance Hockridge, caught the XPT from his base in Brisbane for a powwow with analysts in Sydney. Apart from announcing another round of cost cutting, Hockridge was quick to offer ”commiserations” to those nursing the Blues’ narrow loss to Queensland. For investors, the blow of another home defeat was softened by the promise of at least another $230 million in savings.Clash of titans

Spotted at ANZ Stadium for the State of Origin clash was Manly supporter Tony Abbott and chief cane toad Kevin Rudd. NSW boss Barry O’Farrell was getting privatisation tips from Lazard investment banker John Wylie.Locked in

Still on sport, CBD may have put a few offside on Wednesday with an item on new Lion boss, Scottish-born Stuart Irvine, choosing a team. Rest assured, your fill-in CBD columnist is a fan of the round ball, too, and has already locked in this year’s membership for the Western Sydney Wanderers.

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The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

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