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H&E Equipment Services (NASDAQ:HEES)
Q4 2020 Earnings Call
Feb 17, 2021, 10:00 a.m. ET

Contents:

  • Prepared Remarks
  • Questions and Answers
  • Call Participants

Prepared Remarks:


Operator

Good morning, and welcome to H&E Equipment Services fourth-quarter 2020 earnings conference call. Today's call is being recorded. At this time, I would like to turn the conference over to Mr. Kevin Inda, vice president of investor relations.

Please go ahead.

Kevin Inda -- Vice President, Investor Relations

Thank you, Sarah, and welcome to H&E Equipment Services conference call to review the company's results for the fourth quarter and year ended December 31, 2020, which were released earlier this morning. The format for today's call includes a slide presentation, which is posted on our website at www.he-equipment.com. Please proceed to Slide 2. Conducting the call today will be John Engquist, executive chairman of the board of directors; Brad Barber, chief executive officer; and Leslie Magee, chief financial officer and secretary.

Please proceed to Slide 3. During today's call, we will refer to certain non-GAAP financial measures and we've reconciled these measures to GAAP figures in our earnings release and in the appendix to this presentation, each of which is available on our website. Before we start, let me offer the cautionary note that this call contains forward-looking statements within the meanings of the federal securities laws. Statements about our beliefs and expectations and statements containing words such as may, could, believe, expect, anticipate and similar expressions constitute forward-looking statements.

Forward-looking statements involve known and unknown risks and uncertainties, which could cause actual results to differ materially from those contained in any forward-looking statement. A summary of these uncertainties is included in the safe harbor statement contained in the company's slide presentation for today's call and is also included in the risks described in the risk factors of the company's most recent annual report on Form 10-K and other periodic reports. Investors, potential investors and other listeners are urged to consider these factors carefully in evaluating the forward-looking statements and are cautioned not to place undue reliance on such forward-looking statements. The company does not undertake to publicly update or revise any forward-looking statements after the date of this conference call.

With that stated, I'll now turn the call over to Brad Barber.

Brad Barber -- Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Kevin, and good morning, everyone. Welcome to H&E Equipment Services fourth-quarter 2020 earnings call. On the call with me today are John Engquist, executive chairman; Leslie Magee, our chief financial officer; and Kevin Inda, our vice president of investor relations. I will begin my presentation on Slide 4.

I'll briefly discuss our fourth-quarter performance, provide some color on our end-user markets and growth strategy. And then, Leslie, will review our financial results for the quarter and year in more detail. After, we will take your questions. Slide 6, please.

I'm optimistic that 2021 will be better for H&E and our industry. During the fourth quarter, demand in our end-user rental markets remained good and physical utilization increased sequentially from the third quarter. Our distribution business also performed well. Overall, our fourth-quarter performance reaffirmed our beliefs regarding the ongoing improvement in our business.

In terms of our financial highlights for the quarter, total revenues were down 9.3% or $32.5 million compared to a year ago. Adjusted EBITDA declined 19.8% or $25.2 million from a year ago, and margins were down 420 basis points to 32.2%, primarily due to increased sales volume from low-margin new equipment sales and lower rental gross margins. While revenues remain below pre-pandemic levels, we were pleased that the year-over-year declines improved. We also generated significant free cash flow again this quarter.

On to Slide 7, please. Let me now address our rental business. Physical utilization for the fourth quarter was 65.4%, a 160-basis-point improvement from the third quarter. Rates remained negative.

However, our sequential rate trend has stabilized, as we also mentioned last quarter. We continue to focus on adjusting the rental fleet size and mix as we prepare for what we believe will be a growth year for our business. As I stated earlier, demand in our nonresidential construction market has continued to improve, albeit activity is still below pre-pandemic levels. We expect this recovery to continue as we move further into 2021.

Activity on data centers, warehouses, distribution and wind and solar farms, healthcare and other verticals is strong. We expect industrial plants will also resume maintenance work, which was significantly postponed last year. The passing of a major infrastructure or highway bill would also be very positive for the industry. Lastly, both visibility and sentiment from our larger contract customers continue to improve.

Slide 8. Let me conclude by reaffirming our commitment to accelerate our growth strategy this year as we are pursuing multiple ways to accomplish this goal. First, this includes significant increase in the number of warm starts in 2021. Last year, we added four new locations.

Our plan is to add eight to 10 new locations this year. We will spread these branches out across our footprint, primarily in our existing geographies where we believe we would like to increase our service density in stable and high-growth markets. Second, we will continue to explore additional growth opportunities from tuck-in acquisitions of general rental businesses. Entering the specialty rental business is also part of our focus.

Any specialty acquisition or new location opening would be synergistic with our current lines of business and fleet mix. This opportunity -- this includes opportunities in both inside and outside of our existing geographies. Our 60 years in business have always been about equipment solutions, strategically growing our product lines and our ability to serve our increasing base of customers. We are ramping up this commitment in 2021, Leslie will elaborate more in her comments.

But with our successful upsizing of notes offered in the fourth quarter, our balance sheet is strong and will support our growth initiatives. I'll now turn the call over to Leslie to discuss our fourth-quarter and full-year 2020 financial results in more detail. Leslie?

Leslie Magee -- Chief Financial Officer and Secretary

Good morning, everyone, and thank you, Brad. Let's proceed to Slide 11 for our financial results. During the fourth quarter of 2020, the company completed its successful offering of $1.25 billion of new eight-year 3.875% senior notes and the repurchase and redemption of its previously outstanding 5.625% senior notes. The company's operating results for this quarter include a $44.6 million nonrecurring item associated with the premium paid to repurchase and redeem the old notes and the write-off of unaccreted, no discount, unamortized premium and related deferred transaction costs.

With that, I'll move on to more about fourth-quarter results. Our total revenues decreased 9.3% or $32.5 million to $315.6 million compared to the same period a year ago. Rental revenues decreased 15.1% or $26.6 million to $149.6 million from $176.3 million a year ago. The size of our fleet decreased by 9.2% or $179.1 million compared with the prior-year comparable period.

Rental rates this quarter declined 4.5% year over year, however, rates were down only 0.3% sequentially. As Brad mentioned, these results were consistent with the third quarter and indicative of continued stabilization. Our time utilization was 65.4%, compared to 69% a year ago, but increased 160 basis points, compared to 63.8% in the third quarter. Given lower physical utilization in rates, our dollar returns declined 250 basis points to 33.5% compared to last year.

Yet dollar returns improved sequentially, increasing 110 basis points from 32.4% in the third quarter. New equipment sales were better than our expectations, though still below year ago levels, down 10.3% to $55.1 million, compared to $61.4 million last year. The decline was primarily the result of a 29.6% or $8.8 million decline in new crane sales, partially offsetting the decrease was higher sales of new earthmoving and new other equipment. Used equipment sales increased 13% or $5.5 million to $47.9 million and was primarily the result of higher material handling, earthmoving and AWP sales.

Sales from our rental fleet comprised 93.5% of total used equipment sales this quarter, compared to 90.7% a year ago. Our parts and service segments generated $42.9 million in revenue on a combined basis, which is down 9.9% from a year ago. Moving on to a discussion of gross profit margins. Our gross profit decreased 17.6% to $106 million from a year ago and consolidated margins were 33.6%, compared to 36.9% a year ago, primarily because of lower rental gross margins and revenue mix.

Margins were also impacted by lower margins in other primary business segments. For gross margin detail by segment, rental gross margins were 45.1% during the quarter, compared to 50.3% a year ago and due to continued pressure on rates and time utilization. Margins on new equipment sales decreased to 10.5% during the quarter, compared to 10.8% a year ago as margins were lower in all major product lines with the exception of new material handling gross margins. Used equipment sales gross margins decreased to 31.1% from 33.3% last year, primarily due to lower margins in all categories, except other used equipment gross margins.

Margins on pure rental fleet only sales were 32.6%, compared to 36% a year ago. And parts and service gross margins on a combined basis were 41.2%, compared to 41.4% a year ago. Slide 12, please. Income from operations for the fourth quarter of 2020 decreased 13.4% -- 35.8% or 11.3% of revenues, compared to $41.3 million or 11.9% of revenues in the prior-year period.

Included in income from operations for the fourth quarter of 2019 was a $12.2 million noncash goodwill impairment charge. Excluding this charge, income from operations was $53.5 million or 15.4% of revenues a year ago. The declines in income from operations and margins were primarily a result of a 9.3% decline in revenues, lower gross margins, revenue mix and slightly higher SG&A as a percentage of revenues, despite a 7.1% decline in SG&A costs. Proceed to Slide 13, please.

Net loss was $14.6 million or $0.40 per diluted share in the fourth quarter of 2020, compared to net income of $21.9 million or $0.61 per diluted share in the fourth quarter of 2019. Adjusted net income was $16.6 million or $0.46 per diluted share, compared to $31.9 million or $0.88 per diluted share a year ago. The effective income tax rate was 37% in the fourth quarter of 2020, compared to 18.4% a year ago. On an adjusted basis, the effective tax rate was 22.3% in the fourth quarter of 2020 and 18.4% in the fourth quarter of 2019.

Please move to Slide 14. Adjusted EBITDA was $101.6 million in the fourth quarter, compared to $126.8 million a year ago, a decrease of 19.8%. Adjusted EBITDA margins declined 420 basis points to 32.2% this quarter compared to a year ago for the same reasons as I discussed on Slide 12, income from operations. Next, Slide 15.

SG&A expenses for the fourth quarter of 2020 decreased by $5.5 million or 7.1% to $71.7 million. SG&A expenses in the fourth quarter of 2020 as a percentage of total revenues were 22.7%, compared to 22.2% a year ago. Employee salaries, wages, payroll taxes, employee benefit costs and other employee-related expenses decreased $5 million, primarily as a result of lower commissions and incentive pay combined with headcount reductions. Bad debt expense decreased $1.2 million and promotional expense decreased $0.9 million.

Offsetting this decrease was a $1.8 million increase in liability insurance. And expenses related to the greenfield branch expansion increased $1.7 million compared to a year ago. Next, on Slide 16. On this slide, you'll find capex and cash flow for the 12-month period ending December 31, 2020.

Our gross fleet capex in the fourth quarter was $37.1 million, including noncash transfers from inventory. Net rental fleet capex for the fourth quarter was negative $7.7 million. Gross PP&E capex for the fourth quarter was $1.4 million and net was negative $0.4 million. Our average fleet age as of December 31, 2020, was 40.9 months.

Free cash flow for the fourth quarter of 2020 was $79.2 million, compared to $100.9 million a year ago. Next, Slide 17, please. At the end of the fourth quarter, the size of our rental fleet based on OAC was $1.8 billion, a 9.2% or $179.1 million decrease from a year ago. Average dollar utilization was 33.5%, compared to 36% a year ago, reflecting lower time utilization and rates, yet improved from the third-quarter dollar utilization of 32.4%.

Proceed to Slide 19, please. Our recent notes refinancing and upsizing further strengthened our balance sheet and capital structure. We continue to operate with ample liquidity and no near-term maturities. At the end of the fourth quarter, we had zero outstanding balance under our amended ABL facility, and this is a $216.9 million decrease since December 31, 2019.

We had $741.3 million of cash borrowing availability at quarter end, net of $8.7 million of outstanding letters of credit. Our excess availability was $983.5 million at the end of the fourth quarter, which is the measurement used to determining if our springing fixed charge is applicable. With excess availability of almost $1 billion, we have no covenant concerns. We also had more than $300 million of cash on hand at year-end.

Therefore, we have a very solid balance sheet to support the growth plan Brad discussed earlier. Proceed to Slide 20, please. Let me quickly review our full-year 2020 results, which include a noncash goodwill impairment charge of $62 million that was identified during the first quarter of 2020 in connection with an interim goodwill impairment test necessitated by our identification of certain impairment triggering events associated with the impact to our business from COVID-19 impact. The company's results also include a fourth quarter $44.6 million nonrecurring item associated with the premiums paid to repurchase and redeem the old notes and the write-off of unaccreted discount, unamortized premium and related deferred transaction costs.

Beginning with top line, total revenues decreased 13.3% or $179.2 million to $1.2 billion in 2020 from $1.3 billion in 2019, with declines in all business segments, excluding used equipment sales, which increased 9.9% or $13.8 million. Gross profit decreased $96.6 million or 19.3% to $402.6 million from $499.2 million in 2019. Our gross profit margin decreased 260 basis points to 34.4%, largely due to lower rental margins than a year ago. Margins in all business segments were down versus 2019 and was partially offset by a positive shift in revenue mix, as lower margin new equipment sales declined 30.1% in comparison to a year ago.

Adjusted EBITDA for 2020 decreased 16.6% to $394.8 million from $473.2 million in 2019. Adjusted EBITDA as a percentage of revenues was 33.8% compared with 35.1% in 2019. Our net loss was $32.7 million or $0.91 per diluted share, compared to net income of $87.2 million or $2.42 per diluted share in 2019. Excluding the impact of the 2020 first-quarter goodwill impairment charge and a nonrecurring item of $44.6 million associated with the repurchase and redemption of the old 5.625% notes in the fourth quarter, net income in 2020 was $50.1 million or $1.39 per diluted share, compared to net income of $96.4 million or $2.67 per diluted share in 2019, excluding the fourth-quarter 2019 goodwill impairment charge.

The effective income tax rate was 21.1% in 2020, compared to 24.7% in 2019. Excluding the above-mentioned charges, our effective tax rate for the 12-month period ending December 31, 2020, would have been 23.1%. Free cash flow was $307.1 million in 2020, compared to a use of free cash flow of $6.7 million in 2019. The improvement in free cash flow was largely the result of lower net capital expenditures and lower acquisition investment in 2020 compared to a year ago.

We completed no acquisitions during 2020, compared to the completion of one acquisition for $106.7 million in 2019. Our net capex in 2020 declined to negative $2.8 million, compared to $221.5 million in 2019. And lastly, we also continued our dividend payment each quarter with total dividends paid of $1.10 per common share during 2020. And while dividends are always subject to approval by the board of directors, it is our intent to continue the dividend policy.

With that, let's now move into questions. Operator, please provide our instructions for the Q&A session.

Questions & Answers:


Operator

Thank you. [Operator instructions] Our first question comes from Steven Ramsey with Thompson Research Group. Please go ahead.

Steven Ramsey -- Thompson Research Group -- Analyst

Good morning. We'll be curious to hear more on the fleet size coming down and with visibility improving and opening an increased number of branches for 2021, can you share how much capex will be devoted to new fleet this year? And just any thoughts on capex for the year.

Brad Barber -- Chief Executive Officer

Sure, Steven, good morning to you as well. As I said in my prepared comments, we're moving back into a growth mode. We continue to sell out of the fleet last year. Nice healthy margins, maintained in a continued very young rental fleet age.

As we move forward, we said eight to 10 locations is our expectation. So really comfortable about the eight. We've got many of those slated for Q2 openings that we'll be announcing. As it pertains to total capex guidance, maybe the best way to frame that for you would be, last year, we said we would reduce our fleet mid-to-upper single digits.

I think we reduced about 9%, 9.5%. This year, I think we're probably thinking more in the mid-single-digit growth. If we're going to go a little higher or a little lower, it'd probably be on the higher side is our current visibility. And as it -- as far as the breakout of those numbers is concerned, we've always talked about greenfields being rule of thumb, $10 million in fleet capex Year 1 and $1 million of PPE.

So it will be dependent on how many of those we punch out. We feel very, very comfortable about the number of eight, and I think we'll be happy to start announcing those here in short order.

Steven Ramsey -- Thompson Research Group -- Analyst

Great. And I guess, to add on to that, thinking about the increased focus on specialty fleet, I believe a partnership has been discussed. Maybe you can share more on the partnership and on the capex that will be devoted to the specialty fleet? And maybe if you could share more on, as you invest in a specialty fleet, maybe how that fleet will be dispersed to branches or certain geographies, certain project types?

Brad Barber -- Chief Executive Officer

Sure. Look, I think the bigger announcement is that we have absolutely broadened our focus to consider, and we are actively looking for specialty opportunities. As we've said, anything we enter will be synergistic. You know that groundworks that you're speaking of, obviously, highly regarded, high-quality trench product, very well complements that 25% earthmoving fleet we have.

Anything we do with specialty will be relatively small compared to our overall investment at this point in time. So we're going to move slowly into those opportunities. We're also considering opportunity for acquisitions in specialty business. Again, it would certainly be synergistic with our existing product mix and customer base.

So it's going to be a slow process as we enter the specialty business. But we've realized that certain segments of specialty can be a little bit more resilient, and they also overlap and allow additional revenue opportunities with some existing customers.

Steven Ramsey -- Thompson Research Group -- Analyst

Excellent. And then, one more for me on new sales being very strong this quarter. We had heard this from contacts in our channel checks. I guess, what is your view driving new sales of equipment? Do you think it has legs to last into this year? And maybe just any thoughts philosophically, does this tell you anything different about the secular shift to rental? This seems in opposition to that increased secular shift in challenging markets, but maybe I would be curious to hear your take on that.

Brad Barber -- Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, that's a very good question. And I don't believe it's an opposition to penetration increasing. The majority of those -- that nice Q4 we had from a relative standpoint were crane sales. And it didn't take many cranes to add up a large amount of dollars.

That being said, oil has started, maybe whether it's a recovery or just stabilization, but everyone is familiar where crude pricing is currently. I think it's at the highest point it's been in about a year. Energy broadly and, of course, oil very specifically drives crane opportunity. So I would say that if oil and energy continue to stabilize and increase, then I think our crane sales are likely to increase.

If they do not, I think we are going to be pretty directly tied to what we see in the energy markets. Outside of that, within our distribution business, keep in mind that we're a Komatsu distributor in two states, Louisiana and Arkansas. So that's always been earthmoving is a much more consistent marketplace than is the volatility of some of what you see in the crane markets. So it's a smaller piece of our revenues, more consistent piece and we think it will be steady as it has been now for a couple of years.

Steven Ramsey -- Thompson Research Group -- Analyst

Excellent. Thanks.

Operator

Our next question comes from Steven Fisher with UBS. Please go ahead.

Steven Fisher -- UBS -- Analyst

Thanks. Good morning, guys. I just wanted to ask about pricing. Was there any particular region or end market where the pricing stood out in the quarter? Is that minus 4.5% a reflection of the business broadly?

Brad Barber -- Chief Executive Officer

It's a reflection of the business broadly, Steven. As you said that year-over-year number, as we moved later into the COVID times has not helped us in the year-over-year measurement. That being said and as I referred to on our last call, our view is that rates were stabilizing and not likely to further degradate. And so we were slightly down sequentially.

I would share with you, and we don't like getting into months. But we saw in January, our rates were actually flat over December. That's a good indicator and further support that we think rates have stabilized and are not likely to continue to decrease. And in fact, our view is that as we get out of Q1, we should move into a position where we see the opportunity for rates to start to incrementally improve.

Steven Fisher -- UBS -- Analyst

OK, that's helpful. You beat me to the next question. So I guess, then just in terms of your fleet expectations, are you -- because you talked about the overall capex growth, but are you expecting to grow your fleet on a same-store sales basis? Just kind of trying to figure out if it makes sense to add fleet if rates are still declining? Or do you anticipate, like I said -- like you said, after Q1, are you anticipating that rates are actually going to grow and that will support growing the fleet at each branch? How are you thinking about that?

Brad Barber -- Chief Executive Officer

Sure. We're absolutely planning for same-store growth. It is our anticipation that utilization is going to continue to improve and allow us to achieve improved pricing. It's never our plan to have capital spending when we think we're facing a continued decline in rates and/or soft utilization.

So our outlook is pretty positive. Now that being said, I think we are going to be a little challenged here in Q1. We started the year just under 60% utilized. As you know, the seasonality of Q4, particularly the holidays around Christmas and New Year, are always the seasonal low point.

Every week of January, utilization improved. The first two weeks of February improved over January. And as anyone watching the national news can see today, we've been more severely impacted by winter storms than we have been for the last few months or last few years for that matter. Actually, the last few days, we've had approximately 40% of our locations closed due to weather.

So notwithstanding this recent last week, week and a half of harsh, severe weather, our view is that utilization is going to continue to trend like it was in January, which is consistently up. That, combined with rates that are basically flattish right now, should turn into rate that are incrementally positive going forward.

Steven Fisher -- UBS -- Analyst

That's helpful. And we do hope your folks are staying safe and warm. Just maybe one last question. Do you have a sense of what the backlogs at your construction customers are doing? Are they growing at the moment? Are they holding flat or declining? Because I think there's at least some debate around this among investors because it seems like there is a lot of positive sentiment out there.

You mentioned it yourself and other rental companies. But just kind of curious how much of that optimism is a function of what's actually happening in backlogs today? Or is it in anticipation that those backlogs will eventually turn later this year with just general economic optimism and eventual reopening of the economy?

Brad Barber -- Chief Executive Officer

Sure. Well, I think it's -- there are some geographical challenges here, right? California is a little bit more suppressed today, a little bit further lockdown due to COVID than maybe most of our other geographies. That's a timing issue. It's certainly not an issue of demand in the marketplace or opportunity going forward.

Broadly, on nonres commercial construction across the majority of our footprint, I think the sentiment is high because people have jobs in hand. There's work being performed and they believe there's more work going to be performed. And then, the last comment I would add is around the industrial sector, particularly shutdown turnaround-type maintenance work in 2020. Most facilities postponed every bit of maintenance they possibly could to preserve cash, not knowing where we were going, basically nine, 10 months ago.

So as we sit here today, I believe that work is going to come back. I think there's some level of pent-up maintenance demand. So I think the industrial sector will be better. And should oil continue to hit on the trajectory, it's been on, that's going to be a really nice opportunity for us and all of our competitors in the sector, particularly on the rental side of the business.

Steven Fisher -- UBS -- Analyst

Terrific. Thanks very much.

Brad Barber -- Chief Executive Officer

Thank you.

Operator

[Operator instructions] Our next question comes from Stanley Elliott with Stifel. Please go ahead.

Stanley Elliott -- Stifel Financial Corp. -- Analyst

Hey, good morning, everyone. Thank you for taking the question. Can you comment on the SG&A levels kind of in the coming year because you had such an unusual year -- last year and then with growth kind of looking to really reaccelerate pretty meaningfully here in the second quarter on? Is there any guidance any -- anything like that that you could share with us?

Leslie Magee -- Chief Financial Officer and Secretary

Sure. Good morning, this is Leslie. So we ended the full year of 2020 at 24.7% of revenues. And I would say for 2021, we would expect some slight pressure on SG&A as a percentage of revenue.

And some of that is going to be driven by the warm start growth plan that Brad has talked about.

Stanley Elliott -- Stifel Financial Corp. -- Analyst

Perfect. That makes sense. And then, when you think about -- we've heard from some other companies about larger projects resuming that had been postponed. Are you all seeing that in your book? And I was curious kind of how that relates to the comments around improved visibility and sentiment?

Brad Barber -- Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. We certainly are seeing that in our book of business. In addition to seeing jobs that have been postponed or pause restart or start as expected, we've also seen opportunities kind of get reignited in conversation around additional projects, particularly in the Gulf Coast. So it's really been all of the above, but it's a general improvement in that area.

Stanley Elliott -- Stifel Financial Corp. -- Analyst

And then, lastly, in terms of the weather that's plaguing much of the U.S. right now, looking back historically, I would assume that during the recovery phase or when things are starting to fall out, that's actually could be a boost to the overall business. Just wanted to see if that was the case or not.

Brad Barber -- Chief Executive Officer

Sure. It could be some level of a boost that, listen, I think it's going to be viewed as more pent-up demand. I spoke about our utilization trends improving every week of January. The first two weeks of February improving over our high points in January.

And now we've been paused just a bit. So that work is going to come back immediately as soon as this thaws. As far as additional work from power lines or trees that are ice falling down, it's going to be very incremental. But notwithstanding that, we see our utilization continuing to improve as we roll through the first quarter.

Stanley Elliott -- Stifel Financial Corp. -- Analyst

Great. Guys, thank you very much. Appreciate it.

Operator

This concludes our question-and-answer session. I would like to turn the conference back over to Brad Barber for any closing remarks.

Brad Barber -- Chief Executive Officer

Sure. We'd like to thank everyone for taking the time to get on our fourth-quarter and full-year 2020 call today, and we look forward to speaking to you on our next regularly scheduled quarterly call. Thank you.

Operator

[Operator signoff]

Duration: 35 minutes

Call participants:

Kevin Inda -- Vice President, Investor Relations

Brad Barber -- Chief Executive Officer

Leslie Magee -- Chief Financial Officer and Secretary

Steven Ramsey -- Thompson Research Group -- Analyst

Steven Fisher -- UBS -- Analyst

Stanley Elliott -- Stifel Financial Corp. -- Analyst

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