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Anheuser-Busch Inbev SA. (NYSE:BUD)
Q2 2018 Earnings Conference Call
July 26, 2018, 9:00 a.m. ET

Contents:

  • Prepared Remarks
  • Questions and Answers
  • Call Participants

Prepared Remarks:

Operator

Welcome to the Anheuser-Busch InBev's Second Quarter 2018 Earnings Conference Call and Webcast. Hosting the call today from AB InBev are Mr. Carlos Brito, Chief Executive Officer, and Mr. Felipe Dutra, Chief Financial and Technology Officer. To access the slides accompanying today's call, please visit AB InBev's website now at www.ab-inbev.com and click on the Investors tab and the Reports and Filings page. Today's webcast will be available for an on-demand playback later today.

At this time, all participants have been placed in a listen-only mode and the floor will be open for your questions following the presentation. [Operator Instructions]

Some of the information provided during the conference call may contain statements of future expectations and other forward-looking statements. These expectations are based on management's current views and assumptions, and involve known and unknown risks and uncertainties. It is possible that AB InBev's actual results and financial condition may differ, possibly materially, from the anticipated results and financial condition indicated in these forward-looking statements. For a discussion of some of the risks and important factors that could affect AB InBev's future results, see Risk Factors in the company's latest Annual Report on Form 20-F filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission on the 19th of March, 2018.

AB InBev assumes no obligation to update or revise any forward-looking information provided during the conference call, and shall not be liable for any action taken in reliance upon such information.

It is now my pleasure to turn the floor over to Mr. Carlos Brito. Sir, you may begin.

Carlos Alves de Brito -- Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Maria. Good morning. Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to our second quarter and half-year 2018 earnings call. Today, I'd like to cover the results and highlights of our second quarter 2018 performance. Next, I'll take you through the results of our global sponsorship of the FIFA World Cup. Then, I'll spend a few minutes on how we'll organize ourselves for future growth before handing it over to Felipe to discuss our earnings.

Similar to our last two results conference calls, we will not go into all the details of each region's performance. We, therefore, encourage you to refer to the earnings press release we published earlier this morning, and we'll be happy to answer any questions regarding our markets during the Q&A portion of today's call.

So, let's start with the highlights. This quarter, we saw beer volume growth of 0.9% with especially strong performances in Mexico, China, and Western Europe, and the benefits around the world of our global sponsorship of the FIFA World Cup. Budweiser led the digital space as the global beer sponsor for the tournament, coming in ahead of all other brands and becoming the most talked about brand globally.

Budweiser's strength supported our global brand portfolio, which accelerated its teams and continues to grow faster than our total portfolio. Our brand building capabilities have been recognized at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, winning 23 awards, including two complete with top prize.

Healthy topline growth contributed to EBITDA acceleration, gaining to 7% growth, and we continued to expand our margins despite increase in marketing spent behind the FIFA World Cup.

Let me now tell you more about the results of the quarter. Our revenue in the Second quarter grew by 4.7%, with revenue per hectoliter growth of 4%, and are 5.4% on a constant geographic basis. This growth was led by Brazil, China, and Western Europe. In Brazil, we achieved healthy net hectoliter growth and the result of continued accreditation and annualization of price increases from the third quarter of last year. Growth was further enhanced by the uplift from the FIFA World Cup, which on the other hand was negatively impacted the truck drivers' strike, which held back our one growth in Brazil by three percentage points this quarter.

In China, our team delivered one of our best topline quarterly performance in the last three years as our high-end portfolio continues to accelerate and Budweiser resumed volume growth on the back of a strong FIFA World Cup activation. Our Western European markets also had a very strong volume in revenue performance this quarter, supported by share gains in the majority of our markets, good contributions from the FIFA World Cup, and favorable weather.

Our global and premium brands are leading the way across the continent, especially in the UK, where we saw double-digit volume and revenue growth despite a touch comparable. Our global volumes grew by 0.8% with own beer volumes up 0.9% and non-beer volumes up 0.5%. Volume growth was led by Mexico, which continued to show strong momentum across our portfolio with growth coming from all brands and all regions. Premiumization is a growing trend in Mexico, and as a result we have seen very strong growth from Michelob Ultra and Stella Artois.

In Argentina, we continue to see volume growth led by our core portfolio, with Quilmes Clasica and Brahma as a result of the successful application of the category expansion framework. In the U.S., while sales to wholesalers were softer between industry witness and logistics optimization, continued progress in our commercial strategy resulted in our best market share performance in almost four years. Our above premium brand portfolio continues to accelerate, increasing share by 100 basis points in the second quarter. Michelob Ultra once again led the way in our premiumization strategy as the top share gainer in the U.S. market for the 13th consecutive quarter.

We also saw very good contributions from our recent innovations, especially Michelob Ultra Pure Gold, Bud Light Orange, and Budweiser Freedom Reserve. Additionally, Bud Light improved it's share trends within the premium life segment for the fourth straight quarter while Budweiser maintained flat share of the segment for the second quarter in a row.

Gains in many of our markets were partially offset by a touch quarter in South Africa, where we saw declines of mid-single digits. This was a result of a difficult comparable as well as a challenging consumer environment. Nevertheless, we remain optimistic about our business and the outlook for the country as well as the growth opportunities for our global brand portfolio.

Our global EBITDA increased by 7% with a margin expansion of 85 basis points to 39.7%. This was driven by healthy topline growth, cost efficiencies and synergy capture, partially offset by increased margin spend to leverage our global sponsorship of the FIFA World Cup. Our normalized EPS increased by 16% to $1.10 per share.

Our global brands had a great quarter with revenue growth accelerating to 10.1% and 16.7% outside of their home markets. Budweiser delivered more than 10% revenue growth outside of the U.S., with the brand resuming volume growth in China and benefiting from a global sponsorship of the FIFA World Cup, which I will discuss in more detail shortly.

Stella Artois revenues were up by 9% as we launched a new brand campaign called Joie de Bière. It's for consumers to bring enjoyment to every day. Our growth was driven by a variety of markets as Stella Artois increased its penetration in new countries and gains relevance in the middle location. Corona once again led the way, with revenues up by more than 20% total and by more than 40% outside of Mexico. Our creative content successfully generated five times more impression this year compared to last year as we leveraged platforms and occasions that are true to the brand, such as Earth Day and Oceans Week.

Additionally, we launched Corona Ligera in Australia, which is a mid-strength beer and is off to a very good start, supporting our efforts to achieve 20% of our beer volume in non and local space by 2025.

An achievement I'm especially proud to highlight is our success at this year's Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, the largest gathering of the advertising and creative communications industry. We won 23 awards, including two Grand Prix awards, the top prize. In total, our creative work from five markets -- Brazil, South Africa, the U.S., Germany, and Peru -- has been recognized. These recognitions are a testament to our relentless focus on brand building and creativity. We look forward to leveraging this momentum to further drive our brands.

In the first quarter 2018 results call, we took you through some of our plans to activate our global sponsorship of the FIFA World cup, the world's largest sporting event that brings together more than 3.2 billion around the world, according to FIFA. We leveraged sponsorship ads to tap into consumer excitement around this unparalleled occasion, and I'd now like to talk to you about the results.

Budweiser's global sponsorship as the official beer of the FIFA World Cup was the biggest campaign our company has ever done. We activated in more than 40% of our global parks in over 50 countries. This translated into sales as our revenue for Budweiser outside of the U.S. was up by more than 10%. We're also successful in building brand awareness in many of our new markets, where Budweiser has only recently been introduced, and are using this awareness to propel the brand toward future growth. We overachieved on all of our media targets, with Budweiser leading the digital space ahead of all other brands. It became the most talked about brand in all industries. We had 1.2 billion views of our online content and delivered ahead of our expectations on earned view rates in total earned views.

We further maximize our sponsorship asset by activating more than 40 of our local brands in more than 40 markets. These activations enabled us to elevate and extent core lager in more occasions to reach more consumers resulting in solid revenue growth contribution from our core portfolio. We created content designed to keep up with the latest development in the tournament and leveraged key influencers to achieve scale. Our global portfolio brands allowed us to produce creative content, such as a lively dialogue between brands in different markets, many of which are synonyms with their home countries' football teams. An example, you'll see on Slide 11, the content created between our leading brand in Panama and our leading brand in Belgium ahead of the game between the two countries.

In line with our culture of sharing best practices, we also ensured that we were making the most of great ideas. If something worked for one of our local brands in its home market, we quickly identified opportunities to do the same in other similar markets. We also executed global toolkits across similar brands and similar markets, such as the strategy to change the name of the sponsoring brand to its home country to resonate with consumers' national pride.

In summary, the FIFA World Cup exceeded our expectations and enabled us to make the most of our global sponsorship, by which more consumers build the awareness of our brands. We look forward to continuing this momentum.

I'd like to take a few moments to explain some changes to our organization before handing it over to Felipe. Following our successful combination with SAB, we're taking the next step and organizing ourselves for the future. We've learned a lot since our integration in what it will take for a company to continue to be successful. Today, I'd like to share our plans to enhance our focus on topline growth and value creation.

First, we're simplifying our geographic structure by moving from nine to six management zones. When we first integrated with SAB, we increased our total number of management zones to support the integration. Now, two years later, it makes sense to simplify the structure to be more effective. Some of our current zones will retain the same structure, while others will evolve. North America, Europe, and Africa will remain as is. The key changes for the other zones are as follows: The new Middle America zone will combine the current Middle America zone with the current APAC zone, India, Central America, and Caribbean. The South America zone will combine the current Latin America North and Latin America South zones, while Central America and Caribbean will move into our new Middle America zone. The new APAC zone will combine the current APAC North and APAC South zones. All changes will be reflected in our financial statements as of January 1, 2019, and Europe and Africa will continue to be reported as the combined EMEA region.

The next change is that we're bringing Marketing and ZX Ventures under a common global lead. In order to continue to grow, we have to anticipate the future. We believe a common global lead will help us achieve our objectives of updating market and consumer trends and adopting ZX Ventures' innovation approach more broadly. ZX Ventures will maintain its current independence in order to remain ahead of the curve, stay agile, and bring their products and experience to address emerging consumer needs.

We know that, when we take ownership of growth opportunities, results follow. Business improvement by our high-end company and ZX Ventures, and that's why we're adding two new members to our leadership team as designated owners of future growth opportunities. The first is the Chief Non-Alcohol Beverages Officer. This role will focus on supporting zone teams to accelerate the growth in our existing non-alcohol business, which represents more than 10% of our current volume.

The second new role is the Chief Owned-Retail Officer. This role will manage our existing owned-retail businesses, such our group blogs in several countries and thousands of [speaks Spanish] in Mexico, by shaping the strategy, coordination cross-market initiatives, and sharing best practices.

We believe these additions to our leadership team will effectively position us to capture additional growth in these key areas. We'll use the coming months to lead a smooth transition into the new structure. We remain focused on delivering topline growth, creating new occasions, and expanding the beer category. We believe that, by implementing these changes, we'll be better equipped to accelerate growth and be more responsive to our consumers and customers to bring them an even better experience. For more details, please refer to the press release we published earlier this morning.

I'd now like to hand over to Felipe, who will take you through more details on our financial results for the quarter. Felipe?

Luis Felipe Pedreira Dutra Leite -- Chief Financial Officer and Chief Technology Officer

Thank you, Brito. Good morning. Good afternoon, everyone. Let's start with an update on our synergies. In the Second quarter, we delivered $199 million of synergies, bringing the total synergies captured to date to almost $2.5 billion. Our total synergy guidance remains at $3.2 billion, to be delivered within the four-year period following the close of the combination. As a reminder, these synergies do not include any topline or working capital synergies.

We continue to expect that synergy capture should require approximately $1 billion of one-off cash costs to be incurred in the first three years after closing, of which $717 million has been spent to-date. Net finance costs in the quarter were $1.272 billion, compared to $1.628 billion in the second quarter of last year. The increase was due to a positive sing of $249 million from the mark-to-market losses linked to the hedging of our share-based payment programs, which were $264 million in the second quarter of last year, compared to a gain of $16 million in the second quarter of last year. We also year-over-year savings in our other financial results, as well as our acquisition expenses.

Our normalized effective tax rate for the second quarter was 24.8%, up from 21.3% in the second quarter of 2017, and bringing our year-to-date tax rate to 26.3%. This was mainly due to country mix as well as additional nondeductible the mark-to-market losses and changes in legislation in some of the countries in which we operate. Our effective tax rate guidance for the full year '18 remains in the range of 24-26%, which excludes the impact of any of any future gains and losses related to the hedging of our share-based payment programs.

Moving on now to earnings per share. Normalized earnings per share increased by $0.15, $1.10 this quarter from $0.95 in the second quarter of 2017. Gains from the mark-to-market adjustments linked to the hedging of our share-based payment programs as well as higher normalized [audio cuts out] were partially offset by losses from income tax expenses.

I will now take a moment to update you on our debt. Our net debt increased from $104.4 billion as of December 31, 2017, to $108.8 billion as of June 30, 2018. The increase in our net debt is consistent with prior increases made the first half of the year, given that the majority of our cash flow is generated in the second half of the year, as you'll see on Slide 23.

Our net debt/EBITDA rate increased from 4.8% as of December 31, 2017, to 4.87% as of June 30, 2018 as a result of an increase in our net debt as well as adverse currency fluctuations in our EBITDA translation. We continue to proactively manage our debt portfolio, of which 93% holds a fixed interest rate, 22% is eliminated in currencies other than the U.S. dollar, and are well distributed across the next several years.

The deleveraging around 2X remains our commitment. We remain on track in our deleveraging path and we will prioritize that repayment in our objectives. As you can see on Slide 24, our capital allocation objectives remain unchanged.

...

And with that, I will hand it back to Maria to begin the Q&A section. Thank you.

Questions and Answers:

Operator

Thank you. The floor is now open for questions. [Operator Instructions] Our first question comes from the line of Mitch Collett of Goldman Sachs.

Mitchell Collett -- Goldman Sachs International -- Analyst

Can you talk us through the potential drivers of EBITDA acceleration for the second half? You had the step-up in marketing for the World Cup. Can you perhaps quantify that? You've also had the gap between sales to wholesalers and sales to retailers, which you've said should converge on a full-year basis, and then the impact of the truckers' strike in Brazil. Can you maybe help us understand how those moving parts fading away can help EBITDA growth in the second half of the year? And then, secondly, your U.S. performance has shown a meaningful improvement in recent months, in the market data. Can you give us a bit more color on the drivers of that? Is it the new leadership? Is it your new capital expansion framework? Is it the success of some of your advertising campaigns? Can you just give us a bit of color to help us understand that improvement? Thank you.

Carlos Alves de Brito -- Chief Executive Officer

Okay. In terms of our second half, as guided in previous quarters, we expect the second half to accelerate. The reasons are a couple. First, as we said before, there would be a concentration of more sales and marketing frontloaded in the first half to support the FIFA World Cup sponsorship. That is something we're very happy with the result, so it was a good call. The second one is that there was a technical delay in shipments in the U.S. given that the STRs, or the numbers in the marketplace in terms of sell-outs, are much better than the STWs. On the other hand, as we said in our guidance for the year, in reference to the U.S., that STWs and STRs will converge for the full year.

Of course, you can expect that that will happen in the second half so it can converge for the full year, given that delay in the first half. The other reason is that Brazil had the truckers' strike. The strike took three percentage points in the second quarter of our volume growth in Brazil. So, beer volume growth in Brazil was 1.7% growth. The FIFA World Cup, of course, helped us. But, without the truckers' strike, volume growth in Brazil could've been 4.7%. So, that is a one-off of three percentage points from that base.

We also have some easier comps in some markets. For example, U.S. hurricane season last year was very active in the second half. If it's normal this year, that will provide an uplift there. Moreover, we continue to leverage everything we've learned about category expansion framework, like we did in Argentina, and the results are there, like we do in other markets. The global brands continue to grow and accelerate their growth. If you put all of this together, that gives a lot of solid foundation. That's something we've been saying since the beginning of the year, that the second half will see results accelerating.

In terms of your second question, you answered most of it yourself when you said that the numbers in the market for sellouts are much better than the shipment numbers. The reason for that is that there's a very tight trade market in the U.S. these days. Given that we have inventories along the system, every time we see an opportunity to optimize logistics, to minimize distribution costs, we do it. But, the important thing here is our guidance that STRs and STWs will converge for the full year.

In terms of STRs, you're right. We had a very good quarter. STR improved. Share improved. We had our best share rating in the last four years. The brands are in a better place, which tells me that the strategy is showing up and working. For example, this strategy was able to offset 50% of the segment mix shift in terms of share hit that we're taking in other quarters. This quarter is 50% offset by the growth, especially on the above core brands that grew a few percentage points. So, Michelob Ultra is going very well with a lot of distinctions. Old innovations we have this year -- be it Pure Gold, Bud Light Orange, and Budweiser Light extensions with the Reserve series -- all work very well and were all rated as the top innovations in the U.S. market in its first half.

Again, very good news on the STR front. Some technical delay in the STWs, given the freight market and how tight it is. But again, we'll converge for the full year and therefore will catch up strongly in the second half.

Mitchell Collett -- Goldman Sachs International -- Analyst

Can you give a dollar number to the amount of additional marketing spend made in the first half?

Carlos Alves de Brito -- Chief Executive Officer

Well, no. That would be considered sensitive. We can say we're very happy with the volume progression. We expect the benefit of the World Cup in terms of annual volumes to be around 45 BPS, which is a sizable volume when you think about global volumes on an annual basis. So, we're very happy. It was the best World Cup we've done thus far, because every World Cup we learn a bit more about Budweiser as a brand. We use the World Cup as an opportunity to introduce Budweiser in many new markets, like Nigeria, South Africa, Columbia, Peru, Ecuador, and also to grow in the existing markets. If you look at our UK performance, a lot of it was driven by Budweiser and Bud Light performances. Brazil, the same thing. Thank you.

Mitchell Collett -- Goldman Sachs International -- Analyst

Thank you.

Operator

Our next question comes from the line of Trevor Stirling of Bernstein.

Trevor Stirling -- Sanford C. Bernstein Limited -- Analyst

Hi. First, concerning the debt, Felipe, am I right in understanding this year there was roughly a $4 billion increase? Last year, there was a $1 billion increase, but there was also $5 billion inflow from SAB disposals. This year, there's a $1 billion hit from the tax time phasing. So, actually the debt performance this year is better on an underlying basis than last year? Am I right on the math on that? Secondly, Brito, back to the STW/STRs, you also refer to an impact from the phasing of Easter and the fact that Fourth of July fell midweek, and that was actually a 1.3% headwind. Does that mean, if I look at underlying STR trends in the U.S., it's more like 1.8% rather than 3.1%?

Carlos Alves de Brito -- Chief Executive Officer

Well, on the second question, you're right. When we spoke about the industry, we said that the industry in the U.S. was impacted by the timing of the holidays -- both the Fourth of July and Easter. So, in the U.S., it was down by 2.4%. You can take 1.3% from those two holiday shifts, so you'd get to an industry of -1.1%, which is pretty much in line with last year, for example. Yes, that's what we wanted to convey.

Luis Felipe Pedreira Dutra Leite -- Chief Financial Officer and Chief Technology Officer

On the first one, your math is right. For this year, out of the $4 billion increase that is coming from almost $7.8 billion of cash flow from operations. We had some M&A related outflows this year. The partial settlement for the Dominican Republic put option as well as some other M&A related activities, accounting for about half a billion, while last year we had an inflow and proceeds from CE disposals of about $7.9 billion. Debt flow from operations was $7.3 billion, slightly lower than the $7.8 billion of this year. Last year, there was a significant currency headwind of $3.6 billion or so, while this year we had about $700 million tailwind currency wise.

But, it's also true, if you go back one year before -- meaning 2015, December net debt position, to 2016 June net debt position -- you would also have seen an increase there. Meaning, you can go back in time from December to June, there is always this increase despite M&A related activities on the net debt position. So, that is completely liked to the seasonality of our cash flow.

Trevor Stirling -- Sanford C. Bernstein Limited -- Analyst

Super. Thank you very much, Felipe.

Operator

Our next question comes from the line of Fernando Ferreira of Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

Fernando Ferreira -- Bank of America Merrill Lynch -- Analyst

Hi, everyone. Thanks for the questions. Can you quantify on your growth numbers what the impact of the World Cup, both on topline and EBITDA, for Q2? Or, if not, maybe what's the spillover impact that you would expect for Q3 from the World Cup? Secondly, related to China, can you talk about your margins there and now should we think about the potential to continue to expand profitability there going forward, given the slowdown with the pace of margin expansion this year? Thank you.

Carlos Alves de Brito -- Chief Executive Officer

In terms of the FIFA World Cup, we have most of the -- let's say 80% -- impact already accounted for in the second half. The balance comes in the second quarter and the third quarter. As said before, it was around 45 BPS in terms of global annual volume, which is very sizable given our base. So, we're very happy with it, and it's 80/20 between the second quarter and the third quarter. In terms of China, it was a great quarter for China, delivering one of the volume and share performances in the last three years. The business delivered organic EBITDA growth of 6.3%. There was a 20 BPS margin contraction off of a base of 35.6, which is very high. This was also seen at the phase of marketing spend, associated with the FIFA World Cup.

So, all normal. China is doing well. Budweiser back to growth. Our company growing triple digits, led by Corona. We're leading commerce. We have a higher share in e-commerce that is online than we have in the offline business in the traditional channels. So, very healthy business. Revenue grew 6.8% in this quarter, with a healthy mix between volume growth and revenue growth -- volume growing 3%, revenue growing 3.7%. Again, great quarter for China.

Fernando Ferreira -- Bank of America Merrill Lynch -- Analyst

Great. Thanks, Brito.

Operator

Our next question comes from the line of Edward Mundy of Jefferies.

Edward Mundy -- Jefferies International Ltd. -- Analyst

Good morning, afternoon, everyone. First, on the new organization structure for future growth, it appears to be a new lead toward a more decentralized model -- my read of it -- with a commercial agenda at its own level. Are you able, at this stage, to share some examples of what's going to change in terms of helping to drive the commercial agenda? Secondly, I was just looking at the adage -- Miguel Patricio made an analogy that, when describing the marketing leadership changes, that you changed the roof of the house when it's sunny, not when it's raining. I'm interested in your comments and perspective on that comment, as to you how you feel about your current marketing position.

Carlos Alves de Brito -- Chief Executive Officer

I agree with Miguel. I think you implement changes on things that are going well, because you're trying to anticipate the future as opposed to react and be behind the curve. You're trying to be ahead of the curve. In both marketing and total company, I think that applies. In marketing, if you look at our global brands, you should look at everything we learned in this combination. If you look at all the prizes we got for creativity, which is something we've been pushing the company the last four years -- and why are we pushing for more creativity? Because of the clutter and the fragmentation of media base. It's clear for us and everybody that the only way for you to stand out and continue to be relevant is to have content delivered in a creative way. Today, as we all know, people are very distracted. They look at things in seconds and if you don't capture their attention, yo'ure gone. They swipe to the next one.

So, the fact that marketing is delivering global brands and two kits for our core lager brands, the fact that we're being recognized for our creativity, and the fact that we're able to have more market peers in our senior leadership team, that's all a testament of what Miguel has been pushing, together with us, in terms of the company being more consumer centric and more connected to our brands and everything we do. That's a big testament for that.

In terms of the new organization, same thing. With two years inter combination that we planned very carefully for because of the geographic dispersion -- that's why we increased the number of zones -- we all knew internally that this would be temporary. And now, two years into this, not only the synergies are coming at a faster pace, but also the learnings and the people retention is going well. So, we decided to, again, take advantage of this momentum to implement the changes and go back to six management zones and do the people moves in a quick way so there's no anxiety on the table. And, being very transparent with you -- outside world -- so there is no misconception about what this represents.

The zones going from nine to six brings simplicity. Bigger zones will also enable more best practice sharing at the local level and more opportunities for people to grow within their zones, even before they go to global. ZX and Marketing coming under one lead, with ZX keeping its independence, will help us infuse in the larger company what ZX has been developing in terms of flexible teams, ways or work with innovation, testing portfolio of new disruptive bands into the bigger company, and having more relevance because of being more scalable. Also, adding two new positions in terms of new areas of growth -- it's upstream in terms of owned-retail and going beyond beer in terms of non-alcohol beers. So, this restructuring is about growth, simplicity, and topline. We're very glad to be able to move at this point, given that we have momentum and things are going well.

Edward Mundy -- Jefferies International Ltd.-Analyst

Great. Thank you.

Operator

Our next question comes from the line of Sanjeet Aujla of Credit Suisse.

Sanjeet Aujla -- Credit Suisse Securities (Europe) Ltd. -- Analyst

Hi, Brito. First, on the U.S. and the improved share performance, you've done many line extensions over the years in the U.S. Many of them haven't stuck. What gives you the confidence that the new commercial initiatives will stick beyond this year and this time next year. We're not talking about a tough comp in the U.S. If you could take that one first, please.

Carlos Alves de Brito -- Chief Executive Officer

I think what gives me confidence is that the U.S. since last year, under the new leadership, is tackling innovation in a different way. There are many concepts. There's a portfolio of concepts being tested as we speak, even last year. So, we're not reliant on one or two big ones. And then, if we fail, or if it succeeds, it's only one or two. We rely on a portfolio of things that have been tested in different regions and different channels in different states. Only then, we decide to scale up. That's where Bud Light Orange came from, the Reserve collection came from, and Pure Gold. So, all the things are coming from this new idea that we have to be more agile. We have to test many concepts at the same time and not rely on one or two ideas. We have a broad portfolio of concepts, knowing that most of them will fail in the test concept. But then, one or two will come.

So, I'm more confident because today I feel we have a portfolio and ways of work and modus operandi that's more in tune with how fast the world moves today.

Sanjeet Aujla -- Credit Suisse Securities (Europe) Ltd. -- Analyst

Got it. Going back to the capital expansion framework, you tend to hold up Argentina as a bit of an example of how best practice has been imbedded into some of your legacy markets. Can you perhaps just talk about how that framework has been applied to Brazil in particular and what sort of successes or learnings you have from that, in that particular market? Thanks.

Carlos Alves de Brito -- Chief Executive Officer

The same thing. In Brazil, we're doing the same thing. If you look at what's happening with Brahma and the way it has been repositioned to be the national classic lager, before that it was converged to easy drinking that really didn't belong to the brand. So, it's going back to the classic lager. The World Cup and soccer sponsorship is a big thing for classic lager brands. It's part of our toolkit. Easy drinking is more about cold cues and about innovation. And then, you have also brands like Brahma Extra, Ligera, and things that are going very well. Applying the toolkits we have for richer reward, which is another one of the segments we have within the category's extension framework.

We're also applying those kits to our global brands. Brazil is another example. Global brands are another example. The U.S., we're trying to apply [audio cuts out]. So, toolkits last quarter because company language. But it's the different partitions within the category framework about the country cluster and their missions within each cluster, and that became company language. When people draw their three-year and one-year plan, they resource the location, and they have that in mind. The dialogue was made easier because now we're comparing things that are more similar to each other.

For example, another best practice we started last year was what we call growth champions, which is something that supply and procurement has been doing for a long time. It's getting global specialists from different themes and verticals within supply to exchange best practices and continue to ride the road to more efficiency and quality. We're doing the same now with growth champions, which is all about topline growth. But now, with the common language and the country clusters, we're comparing clusters and markets within similar clusters, and then the comparison is much more effective.

Sanjeet Aujla -- Credit Suisse Securities (Europe) Ltd. -- Analyst

Got it. Thank you.

Operator

Our next question comes from the line of Caroline Levy of Macquarie.

Caroline Levy -- Macquarie Capital (Europe) Ltd. -- Analyst

Thank you. Good morning. Could you just talk a little bit about Argentina, Felipe, please? How much risk do you see to going to hyperinflation. We've been through some bad experiences in Venezuela with a lot of multinationals, where they've written that down to zero over the period of three to four years of trying to salvage a business. How is this different? What is your view on that? And then, could you, Brito, address whether you think the World Cup had much relevance in the U.S. and how much that could grow over time? How World Cup impacted the U.S.? A final one, you've appointed someone head of owned-retail, which I thought was really interesting. Can you elaborate on why and how that could have a significant impact on AB? That would be great.

Luis Felipe Pedreira Dutra Leite -- Chief Financial Officer and Chief Technology Officer

I think, aside from hyperinflation or not, it is very hard, if not unfair, to compare the political and economical situation between the two countries -- Argentina and Venezuela. Honestly, inflation in Venezuela is one of the smallest problems the country is facing. That is much more driven by institution than democracy, all related to that. On the technical aspects of hyperinflation scenarios, hyperinflation discounting requires that no monetary assets, such as components of inventory, property, plants, and equipment -- no monetary liabilities -- be restated using an inflation index. That is what it is. As a result, certain lines above EBITDA and the depreciation line may be impacted. They're not finalized with the quantification of moving to hyperinflation accounting.

If and when we apply hyperinflation accounting to our Argentina operations, then we will identify the impact separately in our financials and we report with the IFRS standards when appropriate.

Carlos Alves de Brito -- Chief Executive Officer

In terms of your other two questions, owned-retail is something that we see as an opportunity because we already have today more than 10,000 owned-retail blocks in different formats in different countries and these are all being managed on a local basis. Doing very well, but at this point, the same way at some point we went upstream and localized some operations like can manufacturing, glass manufacturing -- just because we felt like some monopolies and duopolies and other -opolies needed to be challenged. That was good for us -- multi facilities, as well.

We feel the same way about going downstream. We're not saying, at this point, we have any view on that in the sense of expanding in that way. We just feel that we already have a critical mass that needs to be managed and we'd likely use our base and whatever comes out of that base in terms of expansion, also to build our brands. Not only to be points of sale, but also to build -- like other brands have done -- to use own stores to build brands, brand experiences, and category. We feel it's the role we have as market leader and owned-retail could be a very important thing for that.

In terms of World Cup in the U.S., it's growing every World Cup as people get more and more interested in soccer, or futbol. Families have their kids playing soccer, so even adults are getting more and more connected. We also have people here from European heritage that appreciate soccer. This time, the U.S. was not in the World Cup, and given the time of the games, that was not ideal. But, 2026, it's coming to the U.S. again. This time, we sponsored locally relevant with Bud Light and with Estrella Jalisco.

So, it was very good for both brands. You see that our STRs are in very good shape. Hard to say exactly what was the World Cup impact, but that was in the mix as well, knowing that this time the World Cup in the U.S. was not as big as last time. The U.S. was not part of it. But, again, it's growing every World Cup. It's beginning to make more sense in the U.S. market as well. We just hope next year the U.S. is back.

Caroline Levy -- Macquarie Capital (Europe) Ltd. -- Analyst

Thank you.

Operator

Our next question comes from the line of Olivier Nicolai of Morgan Stanley.

Olivier Nicolai -- Morgan Stanley & Co. International Plc -- Analyst

Hi. Good morning. On Mexico, what's your view on the consumer by month? Should we expect your margins to recover going forward, now that you have some extra capacity coming online? Just to follow-up on the cash flow, you expect an acceleration in EBITDA growth in H2, assuming Q1's box rate, where should we expect net debt/EBITDA ratio to be at year end? Thank you.

Carlos Alves de Brito -- Chief Executive Officer

We had another amazing quarter in Mexico, but not only did we have double-digit revenue growth and high-single digit volume growth, but our portfolio worked on all cylinders. We had growth on all brands, no exception, in all regions of the country, no exception. That is another one of those examples where category expansion framework was applied in terms of defining better the domains in the brands that are playing classic lagers as a drinking and rich reward profile.

In terms of the economy, for us, we're brewers and not economists. But, we can say that the macro indicators show moderate growth trend in this quarter. It was helped by a consumer environment and consumer confidence. There was a little bit of a blip with the presidential elections. But, now that the president is elected -- President Andres Obrador -- we see that his first communications are very solid in terms of pursuing the government that will be very responsible in terms of public finances and independence for the central bank. That has been received, if you look at the currency -- that has reacted well after he was elected and after his first speech on Election Day.

Mexico continues to be a country that amazes us. It's also true that remittances continue to be very high, so that helps the economy. Our business continues to fire on all cylinders in Mexico. Now that the election is over, and the president has put a stake in the ground in terms of what he intends to do in terms of economic policies, I think everybody feels better about the future of the country. And so do we. Great market for us.

Luis Felipe Pedreira Dutra Leite -- Chief Financial Officer and Chief Technology Officer

On the second one, we're not guiding at this point for net debt/EBITDA for year end. However, as EBITDA accelerates and as you have seen that historically second half cash flow generation accounts for 65-75% of total full year cash flow generation, we do expect second half generation to be much stronger, on the higher end of this range. Also, due to some technical issues that caused cash taxes in the first half of this year, payments should be higher than prior years. That said, our optimal capital levels points to a net debt/EBITDA around 2X and we remain on track to deliver to that point. Also, as we think about debt profile and currencies overall, you have also to account for the fact that we have a benefit mix of currencies that mitigates the affects risk. 42% of our debt is in currencies other than U.S. dollars, and then you also have to account for the translation that EBITDA figures into U.S. dollars.

Nevertheless, maturities are well distributed. We have an average duration of over 12 years and only $2 billion coming due in 2018 and '19, which is basically nothing in comparison to our numbers. In terms of interest rates, again 93% of that is fixed at a very favorable level and liquidity levels also stay around $17 billion, which is plenty of cash -- more than we'll actually need in the coming years.

So, we remain on track for deleveraging and approximately half a turn of net debt/EBITDA reduction per year through the combination of EBITDA growth as well as that paydown. That is it.

Olivier Nicolai -- Morgan Stanley & Co. International Plc -- Analyst

Thank you very much.

Operator

Our next question comes from the line of Robert Ottenstein of Evercore ISI.

Robert Ottenstein -- Evercore Group LLC -- Analyst

Thank you very much. First, a clarification of a prior question. Brito, if I heard you right, you said in the U.S., if you adjusted for the timing of holidays, industry STRs would've been down more like 1.1%. Is that correct?

Carlos Alves de Brito -- Chief Executive Officer

That's correct.

Robert Ottenstein -- Evercore Group LLC -- Analyst

And therefore, is it also safe to say, given that you lost about 35 basis points or so of market share, that your STRs, so adjusted, would be down more like 80 basis points or so? Is that a fair?

Carlos Alves de Brito -- Chief Executive Officer

Well, that could be -- I didn't go that far because that would be too much speculation. But, given the industry numbers that are public, and the holidays that are also public, and the way they move -- and the days of the week that got moved here and there, it was easy for anybody to calculate that 1.3% was taken away in terms of growth, away from the industry. So, that was what we were trying to explain. The industry went down by 2.4%. If you take 1.3%, it would be like 1.1%, which is even slightly better than what was industry numbers from last year, which was 1.3%. So, that was the comment. Yes.

Robert Ottenstein -- Evercore Group LLC -- Analyst

Right. And I was trying to make the additional connection that making the similar adjustments for you would bring you down something like 80 basis points.

Carlos Alves de Brito -- Chief Executive Officer

80 basis points? No, because --

Robert Ottenstein -- Evercore Group LLC -- Analyst

[Crosstalk] Right, because you lost 30-35 basis points on market share.

Carlos Alves de Brito -- Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, I know, but the industry would be better -- 35 basis points from a better industry would mean more STRs. So, it would benefit everybody if the holiday shift had not happened.

Robert Ottenstein -- Evercore Group LLC -- Analyst

Got it. Can we talk a little bit about the Corona brand, which is obviously doing extremely well? You're doing a line extension in Australia. I'd love to hear about the overall Corona strategy, the line extension. Could you remind us what percentage of Corona sales are now sold outside of Mexico? Do you think that Corona has the potential, like Budweiser, over time, to have more sales outside of Mexico than in Mexico?

Carlos Alves de Brito -- Chief Executive Officer

Robert, Corona has been surprising us every time. It continues to be the growth leader among our global brands, especially outside of Mexico -- but, in Mexico as well it continues to growth. Corona Ligera that we did in Australia is a recognition that Australia is one of the biggest markets we have for Corona. Corona has close to 6% share of total market. It's an amazing brand. And the mid-strength beers in Australia is a segment that's growing. And having Corona 3.2 EBZ is something that will get Corona in that segment as well and allow consumers that are looking for this kind of EBZ to choose Corona as opposed to what they have today, in which they have no choice in that kind of EBZ. It was a move to try to extend Corona in new occasions and trying to get that frequency up and continue to build an amazing platform.

If you look at Corona today, it has less than 1% share in most markets, with only two exceptions. Australia is one of them and Chile is another one -- Canada, in a much lower level, is another one. And now, Columbia is also a place where Corona is beginning, in terms of share of total market, to be more and more representative. Corona was hardly to be found. That's how potent this brand is as it travels outside of Mexico. We see that it can get to very interesting numbers and margins. It gets to be a very strong premiumization opportunity for us.

Robert Ottenstein -- Evercore Group LLC -- Analyst

And sales of Corona outside of Mexico would be about 5% of Corona sales -- for your sales?

Carlos Alves de Brito -- Chief Executive Officer

It's more, but at this point we're not giving that number out. But, it's more.

Robert Ottenstein -- Evercore Group LLC -- Analyst

Okay. And then, how are you feeling about Brazil, both on the macroeconomic level and what you're seeing in terms of the economy as well as your own brand and commercial momentum?

Carlos Alves de Brito -- Chief Executive Officer

In Brazil, we've had some tough years the last few years. This year, the first quarter was very tough but then the second quarter is much better and we continue to see opportunities in the second half. With regards to operations, we continue to believe that the country has much to offer. And now, our ideas on premiumization and new occasions for beer on our core lager being strengthened with our category extension framework. So, there are a lot of opportunities in Brazil. There is a lot of good things on the macro side. You see currency going -- the value came back a lot as well.

There is an important election this year in Brazil, and the visual will only start getting a bit more clear by the end of August, when TV starts in Brazil and Brazil will have public funding for campaigns. So, candidates can go on TV and explain what their platforms are. That starts at the end of August and the elections are in October. So, between the end of August and the beginning of October is when we'll have a better reading of who the lead candidate is. Today, 50% of the population, when polled, are still undecided. It's still too early to call. But, this will bring some volatility in terms of currency and consumer confidence.

But again, always a great business in Brazil. We're used to volatility in Brazil, as we are in Argentina. So, our people are used to doing Plan B or Plan C. We have a strong portfolio of brands and strong team, and we'll continue to invest in returnable package, in capacity, in premium brands, and in expenses. So, nothing has changed in our long-term view of Brazil.

Robert Ottenstein -- Evercore Group LLC -- Analyst

Thank you very much.

Operator

Our next question comes from the line of Tristan van Strien of Redburn Partners.

Tristan van Strien -- Redburn (Europe) Ltd. -- Analyst

Hello, gentlemen. About your mainstream brands in Africa, I'll start off with Carling Black Label. It had a well-deserved Grand Prix award at Cannes. How is the brand doing in South Africa relative to the market? Related to that, it seems like the one-liter bottle pack hasn't really taken off in South Africa. What is the issue? Is it a consumer issue, a distribution issue, or trade rejection? Secondly, can you give some more color on your pricing strategy in Africa in general? There seems to be a lot of inconsistency with price list changes on a regular basis in South Africa and Botswana. You don't seem to be taking pricing in Nigeria in an inflationary environment. More affordability seems to be giving a bit of a steroid injection. I guess it all seems a bit extreme and short-term, so any color would be helpful to help me understand that.

Carlos Alves de Brito -- Chief Executive Officer

First, in terms of pricing strategy, I'm not going to comment because it's a local issue and of course competitor sensitive. In terms of the Carling Black Label, it fell as our biggest brand in South Africa. The one-liter bottle was introduced not only for Carling Black Label, but also to support our core lagers. The one-liter bottle has helped us to continue to bring new news into the core lager space. It's just that it has been tough to read because with its price increase that we implemented on March 1st, given that the excise was double the inflation of 10% -- so double pretty much of CPI of 5.5 -- there was a lot of noise this quarter.

When you think about this quarter, we had many things that were one-offs that made this quarter a very tough comp, as expected. First, we had a price increase in 2017 -- that was in July -- that brought the volume to Q2 last year. Second, we had a price increase this year that was in March because of the tax excise increase that brought volume from Q2 of this year to Q1 -- so already a double hit right there.

Than, you had Easter in '18 that went from Q2 to Q1. That was a global phenomenon, of course, but in South Africa Easter is an important date for selling beer. Then you had the excise that was two times CPI. It's always a bit higher than CPI. It's true, but this time it was almost two times. And, of course, it put more pressure on the price increase of March 1st. And, last year, because of that same phasing of price increase, one grew double digits in South Africa. So, when you put all of this together, this second quarter -- for me -- is not a fair reflection of what's happening in the marketplace because of all of these double, triple, quadruple hits that hit this second quarter.

Having said that, there was price movement on Carling Black Label ahead of other brands, and our guys are reexamining that price move. The brand continues to be very healthy and continues to lead our market over there. We also introduced 9-10 ML pack with sealable for Castle Light, which is doing very well in the more premium side of the market. It's now available in 80% of the appropriate part and growing significantly. As we saw in other markets, when we introduced a bigger pack in a maturity market like South Africa is, especially in some segments, this normally tends to increase industry and tends to have the core lager brands because it's a new user bringing to an otherwise segment of the market where not many news come very often.

That's something that normally works very well. With Castle Light, the idea of the resealable bottle tends to be a sharing bottle. So, that's a new thing. We're also going to be introducing global brands that are growing very fast in South Africa. If today there is one disadvantage we have in South Africa, it's that the high-end segment's growing like it is around the world. And we have, as you know, because of the brands we have to sell -- even before we had to sell those brands, SAB had a very low share within that segment. With this segment growing, the mix shift is against us. But, of course, we're recovering very fast now with all pre-global brands in South Africa and going from almost a zero participation to now around 20% participation and that segment growing every quarter.

So, we also have some actions that we'll take on line, which as at the bottom of the price ladder, that also has a role to play. We have a full portfolio in South Africa, as you know, high end is growing. We never had representation in the high-end market. Global brands are not there. As you fix our share in the high-end market, then things will add up in a different way. We're keeping share within the core brands, but the mixed shift -- because of the high-end growth and underrepresentation in that segment, it's the thing we need to focus as well to continue to support the core brands.

Tristan van Strien -- Redburn (Europe) Ltd. -- Analyst

Thank you very much for that color, Brito.

Operator

Our next question comes from the line of Andrea Pistacchi of Deutsche Bank.

Andrea Pistacchi -- Deutsche Bank AG-- Analyst

Hi. First, a clarification on the higher cash tax charge that held back cash generation in H1, to understand whether this is a phasing issue that penalized H1, will benefit H1, or whether it's a one-off increment this H1, which will therefore come out next year. Secondly, on the U.S. and Stella, a lot of your portfolio in the U.S. seems to be moving in the right direction, but Stella seems to have slowed a bit. So, if you could talk about why you think this is and plans to address it?

Luis Felipe Pedreira Dutra Leite -- Chief Financial Officer and Chief Technology Officer

On the first one, it is both. At the same time, we had a one-off that's credit in 2017 first half. We had the one-off tax payment in 2018 first half as a big swing in there. But, both are consistent with the guidance we provided on a full year basis, for both years.

Carlos Alves de Brito -- Chief Executive Officer

On Stella Artois U.S. you're right. On the other hand, one of the reasons why we reorganized the high-end side of our business in the U.S. was exactly because of this. This was one of the top reasons why. In the U.S., different than other countries, our high-end business invests a lot of time in managing our craft business that's within the high end. Our craft business in the U.S. is much bigger and much more diversified than in other countries. We have 12 craft partners. Our craft business is doing very well and growing way ahead of the segment -- growing double digits in a segment that, this quarter, was flat -- craft segment. So, we're doing very well.

But, because of that focus on the craft, Stella sometimes was being left with not the attention it deserves. So, Michel and his team decided to reorganize the high end. Given the size of everything in the U.S., they chose three high end subunits to bring focus. That is the craft, which is what we always had, Stella in our main point brands, and beyond beer with things like Spike Seltzer. So, from now on, given that the brand health metrics are at an all-time high and consumer reference and penetration and frequency is at an all-time high, we are going to now -- with the new high-end structure -- have more focus on Stella, a group of people that will really live and breathe Stella.

What you're seeing with Stella is that some markets -- like Florida, New York, and Texas -- are experiencing very good growth. But, some of the markets need to also follow. And again, bringing more attention will allow us to have more of a national focus.

Andrea Pistacchi -- Deutsche Bank AG-- Analyst

Very clear. Thank you.

Operator

And, ladies and gentlemen, we have time for one more question. Our final question will come from the line of Simon Hales of Citi.

Simon Hales -- Citigroup -- Analyst

Thanks. First, when I look at the overall H1 EBITDA growth of 6.8%, there were lots of moving parts that were holding that back, from the shipping phasing in the U.S., World Cup spend, high freight cost, trucker strike, etc. Can you give us a broad look at what you think the real underlying growth rate was in EBITDA for the half, when we strip out some of those one-offs? And then, secondly, going back to the U.S., Brito, I'd be interested in your general thoughts and comments around brand equity now for your premium light brands. We talked around the full year about how the Dilly Dilly campaign had got people talking about Bud Light again. What are your consumers saying to you now about the equity of those brands?

Carlos Alves de Brito -- Chief Executive Officer

In terms of the first half EBITDA, you're right. We had the STW difference in the US. We had the FIFA investment phasing in the first half. We had trucker strikes. We had things that were one-offs, clearly. The STWs, because our guidance is cycle merged. FIFA because it's over. And the trucker strike because we think and hope it's a one-off, never to happen again at that sort of scale. That took three percentage points of our growth in Brazil, one of our very profitable markets. That is something we don't expect to happen a second -- that's why we also guided for a second half where things would accelerate.

Bud Light in the U.S. -- if you look at some of the brand message with the Dilly Dilly campaign, you'll see that we've had growth in consideration for the first time since 2015. We've also seen, if you look at ROI, our share within the premium light segment is now, for a second quarter, getting better. The same with the past four-week extension. And now, again, consideration for the first time since 2015 back to positive. And Bud Light continues to lead social conversations in the second quarter, ahead of all brands in the U.S.

So, we're in a very good space -- and having the benefit of having some line extensions like Bud Light Orange that's, in many places, out of stock already. And Bud Light Lime being reintroduced with now all natural. So, all these things have the better brands. We're very excited about where Budweiser's going. If you look at Budweiser, it has kept a flat share now for the past two quarters within the premium segment. It continues to lead with incredible content, winning also multiple Lions at the Cannes festival. And looking forward the brand will continue to win in the cultural calendar with the Freedom Reserve we had in Q2 for the second year.

But also, now in Q3, connecting to iconic brands in the U.S. that is Budweiser and Jim Beam with cocreation that will be available now in the third quarter. So, lots of good news for Budweiser, for Bud Light. But again, the solution in what's happening and working best in the U.S. is that we're playing a portfolio game, not a Bud and Bud Light game. I think that's important to say. So, there's a lot to be said about Michelob Ultra, which tends to be the biggest share gain in the U.S., now with a line extension that's also one of the biggest share gainers in ROI. We have the high ends that are now being split in different focus areas to drive Stella, for example, stronger. And we have our crafts that are growing double digits in a market that's now flat as a total U.S. market for craft.

So, the portfolio game is the one that will guide us to win in the U.S., not only Bud and Bud Light, but being in a better place and will always be very important for our overall game in the U.S.

So, thank you for your questions. Thank you, everybody, for participating. In summary, the second quarter, delivered solid results and we saw improved trends in many of our key markets. We're pleased to see our global brand portfolio accelerate its growth, especially Budweiser, as a result of a successful FIFA World Cup activation.

Looking forward to the second half of the year, we continue to expect our growth to accelerate as we leverage our learnings of the category expansion framework and share best practices across our markets. However, we're never completely satisfied with our results, thus we're making organizational changes to accelerate growth and continue our strong track record of value creation. We remain excited about the long-term prospects of our geographic footprint, our brand portfolio, and our worldwide zones. We believe we're well positioned to continue growing the global beer category.

...

So, thank you very much. Enjoy the rest of your day. See you next quarter. Bye-bye. Back to Maria.

Operator

Thank you. This does conclude today's earnings conference call and webcast. Please disconnect your lines at this time, and have a wonderful day.

Duration: 78 minutes

Call participants:

Carlos Alves de Brito -- Chief Executive Officer

Luis Felipe Pedreira Dutra Leite -- Chief Financial Officer and Chief Technology Officer

Trevor Stirling -- Sanford C. Bernstein Limited -- Analyst

Olivier Nicolai -- Morgan Stanley & Co. International Plc -- Analyst

Robert Ottenstein -- Evercore Group LLC -- Analyst

Andrea Pistacchi -- Deutsche Bank AG-- Analyst

Edward Mundy -- Jefferies International Ltd.-Analyst

Sanjeet Aujla -- Credit Suisse Securities (Europe) Ltd. -- Analyst

Mitchell Collett -- Goldman Sachs International -- Analyst

Caroline Levy -- Macquarie Capital (Europe) Ltd. -- Analyst

Tristan van Strien -- Redburn (Europe) Ltd. -- Analyst

Fernando Ferreira -- Bank of America Merrill Lynch -- Analyst

Simon Hales -- Citigroup -- Analyst

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