Thursday, April 12, 2018

Discussing Blockchain at ISTrade 2018

Barely had the Oilholic returned from Panama, that it was time to head 1550 miles east to Istanbul, Turkey for ISTrade 2018: The 3rd Energy Trading and Supply Conference on the banks of the Bosphorus. 

Yours truly was invited to speak and moderate a panel on the digitisation of energy trading here with a heavy emphasis on - you guessed it blockchain; an emerging and perennially hot topic at energy trading events which are rapidly beginning to feel like technology events!

More on that later, but first on to 'crude' thoughts, and it seems feedback from the great and good of energy trading in Turkey, on this splash and dash work visit to the country, reconfirms one's thoughts that oil is likely to stay in relatively predictable price bracket of $60-70 per barrel, even if geopolitical risk briefly props it up to $70 per barrel. 

Away from the crude price, ISTrade 2018 delegates also noted how trading arms of 'Big Oil' companies, and established commodities trading houses like Vitol, Gunvor and Glencore and the likes, are investing in blockchain and are being exceptionally candid about it.

It set the scene nicely to discuss energy trading in relation to emerging technology, and the Oilholic's take was that it's a one way street to process efficiencies and optimisation. The market can expect more of the same. To discuss the subject, this blogger was joined on the panel by Ashutosh Shashtri, Director of EnerStrat Consulting and Serkan Sahin, Manager, Europe and Africa Oil and Gas Research at Thomson Reuters.

Elsewhere, at IStrade 2018, a plethora of crucial topics were discussed. Here is the Oilholic's detailed report for Forbes from the event. One final point, before taking your leave, is to flag up a Rystad Energy research note that arrived over the weekend. The independent energy research and consulting firm reckons US oilfield services have more to lose compared to Chinese peers from current trade tensions between both countries initially fanned by President Donald Trump.

On April 3, the US published a list of approximately 1,300 Chinese exports that could see tariffs in the near future. Not to be outdone, the Chinese government promised and delivered additional retaliation.

These potential Chinese tariffs include plastics, petrochemicals, petroleum products and specialty chemicals. "For an oil and gas industry looking to rebound in a higher oil price environment, these tariffs necessitate monitoring. More specifically, oilfield service companies must now take pause," says Matthew Fitzsimmons, Vice President of Oilfield Service Research at Rystad Energy.

American companies Clariant, Ecolab, Hexion and NOV each have had significant revenues from China in the past few years. NOV brought in revenues upwards of $561 million during 2017 from their fibreglass and composite tubular businesses in China.

"The giant service company NOV was anticipated to have over $650 million in annual revenues from China for the remainder of the Trump presidency. A trade war between the two nations could certainly impact their ability to grow in this market," Fitzsimmons adds. 

Hexion, a chemistry company offering oilfield drilling chemicals, had $309 million in revenue from China during 2017. Rystad Energy estimates Hexion's Chinese business could grow to $350 million in 2019, if it were not impacted by trade tariffs. Continued Chinese and American trade tensions could have an adverse effect on these companies.

While less volume is at stake, the trade tensions also give reason for concern to Chinese service companies. Hilong and Drill Pipe Master are two pipe fabricators that were impacted by initial US tariffs. However, these companies have strong domestic customers and diverse international clients that will soften adverse effects from trade tensions.

Well there you have it, although many here in Istanbul are hoping things would calm down between the Trump White House and China, with cooler heads prevailing eventually. That's all from Istanbul folks! Keep reading, keep it 'crude'!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2018. Photo1: Glimpses of ISrade 2018, April 9-10, Istanbul, Turkey © Gaurav Sharma 2018. Photo 2: The Oilholic speaking at IStrade 2018. 

Monday, March 19, 2018

Meeting YuMi & getting Swiss chocolates packed

Technology, especially AI and robotics, were hot topics at the recently concluded IHS CERAWeek in Houston, Texas, US. 

They simply had to be, with a succession of ‘Big Oil’ and utility bosses stressing on the need for a more efficient optimised energy industry.

The annual event itself, now past its 37th year and counting, also saw its tech floor and space grow bigger in addition to the dialogues that took place. In the midst of it all, robotics and engineering giant ABB’s boss Ulrich Spiesshofer insisted that the Oilholic should not leave Houston without paying YuMi a visit. 

That would be the company’s small-parts assembly robot first introduced to the industrials market in 2015; and has been making waves ever since.

It has vowed US President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and even conducted Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli and the Lucca Philharmonic Orchestra at the Teatro Verdi in Pisa, Italy. 

True to his word, this blogger paid YuMi a visit and found it vowing and amusing CERA Week delegates in equal measure, by packing Swiss chocolates for them. (See video below)




According to ABB North America spokesperson Chris Shigas, the speed you see in the video is only 50% of what YuMi is capable of.  The company describes it as a ‘co-bot’. 

In Shigas’ own words: “It’s a collaborative, dual arm, small parts assembly robot solution that includes flexible hands, parts feeding systems, camera-based part location and state-of-the-art robot control.”

YuMi weighs 38kgs and is the size of a small human being. It can [and does], operate without a protective cage with in-built health and safety features designed for it to work alongside human co-workers. The thought process and platform collectively give YuMi its name - “you and me” working together to create “endless possibilities,” as ABB suggests.

In fact, the Swiss chocolate nibbles you see YuMi pick and pack are pretty light compared to the 500 gram payload it can currently handle. 

Shigas said that thanks to its compactness, YuMi can be easily integrated into existing assembly lines thereby increasing productivity.

What created the real buzz for oil and gas folks at CERA Week was the fact that YuMi features lead-through programming, which, in simple terms, does away with the need for specialised training for operators. That opens up endless future possibilities for a plethora of industries.

Well, that’s all for the moment folks! But before the Oilholic takes your leave, a photograph with YuMi was in order for a keepsake, given it has rubbed shoulders with presidents and chancellors, and might soon be coming to a facility near you. We both also seem to be in matching attire, more by coincidence than by design, in this blogger's case at least! Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2018. Photo 1: ABB's YuMi at IHS CERA Week 2018. Photo 2: The Oilholic with YuMi. Video: YuMi packs Swiss chocolates © Gaurav Sharma March, 2018. 

Monday, March 12, 2018

Flurry of soundbites & final musings from Houston

As IHS CERA Week came to a close on Friday, the Oilholic published two Forbes interviews with a 'tech twist', given technology enabled process efficiencies and cost optimisation seem to be in overdrive in the oil and gas industry.

First off, it was a pleasure, yet again, to exchange views with engineering and robotics giant ABB’s boss Ulrich Spiesshofer.

In a wide-ranging interview, Spiesshofer noted: "We are taking the oil and gas industry from an automated into an autonomous operations sphere, where you have self-learning processes, where you use AI to augment human potential, to optimize the control loop for operations and maintenance." (Read the whole interview here.)

Secondly, yours truly also exchanged views with Peter Zornio, Chief Technology Officer of Emerson's automation division, who said the inexorable direction the energy sector was heading in via broad spectrum digitisation meant more business for his company.

"We are working on a proposal where we become a turnkey supplier directly looking at client equipment and alerting them when something goes wrong."

While Emerson is offering full-scale outsourcing, Zornio admitted the industry might not be ready for this level of optimisation. The whole discussion is available here.

With bags packed from CERA Week 2018, this blogger's two standout quotes from the event were uttered by BP CEO Bob Dudley and International Energy Agency's Executive Director Fatih Birol. Dudley reminded the audience of the importance of the integrated model in current climate, when he noted: "Our downstream business contributes billions of dollars to the dividend we give to our shareholders."

And Dr Birol, when asked what should US producers make of their new found clout in the oil and gas world with forecasts of American production exceeding that of market leaders Saudi Arabia and Russia, quipped: "They should enjoy!"

Finally, on a week-on-week basis, the oil benchmarks ended Friday (9 March) over 1% higher; read what you will into it – but one reckons, price oscillation in the $55-70 per barrel range is about par. 

That's all from Houston folks, as it's time for the flight home to London. But before the Oilholic takes your leave, here is a view (above) from Houston Rodeo 2018, which this blogger had the pleasure of visiting yet again. 

It's a fantastic affair that draws in thousands every year – with a carnival atmosphere, barbecues, fun rides, livestock on display topping up the rodeo – all with a very unique Texas flavour! Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2018. Photo 1: Houston's Skyline. Photo 2: Houston Rodeo 2018, being held in Texas, US © Gaurav Sharma March, 2018. 

Friday, March 09, 2018

Frackers on the side of geopolitical angels?

IHS CERA Week 2018’s day two and three whizzed by with plenty of more talking points, some predictable, and well some not so predictable, with the oil price seesawing in the backdrop. 

Both benchmarks spent much of Monday and Tuesday on the up, and all of Wednesday and Thursday shedding those gains, with speaker after speaker suggesting US shale and the country's oil and gas exports were not a fad. 

Among them was US President Donald Trump's emissary – Energy Secretary Rick Perry – who emphatically declared on Wednesday that American producers were now allies of energy deficient nations craving energy security. 

Here’s the Oilholic’s report for Forbes with Perry’s...er...Trumped up soundbites. That said the US Energy Secretary is right – even the most pessimistic of shale decline rate forecasts suggest elevated oil and gas production volumes are here to say for at least another 10 years. 

"The U.S. has now become a net natural gas exporter. Our producers export liquefied natural gas (LNG) to 27 nations on five continents. In the coming years, you can expect more of the same," Perry reminded CERA Week delegates and you can expect more of the same. 

On a related note, here’s the Oilholic’s Forbes research into what incremental volumes of US LNG exports mean for the market, and the profound changes new players on the scene are bringing about. It has the thoughts of experts from Baker McKenzie, S&P Global Platts, KPMG, IHS Markit and ABB. 

Switching tack to some interesting soundbites over the last couple of days, Qatar's Oil Minister Mohammed Al-Sada said both oil producers and consumers were losing due to oil price volatility either side of the price slump in 2014. "Neither very high nor very low prices are good for global GDP. So OPEC had to intervene responsibly," he said of the ongoing OPEC and non-OPEC oil production cuts.

Bob Dudley, CEO of oil giant BP, admitted: "Our downstream business effectively funds the billions of dollars we pay in dividends."

Additionally, he noted that the UK oil & gas industry was going through "a renaissance; after remarkable, painful restructuring in the North Sea was behind it."

Dudley, also reiterated his stance from IPWeek a fortnight ago that his company and the rest of the energy industry is in a race to lower carbon emissions, not a race to lower emissions. ‏

Elsewhere, here's the Oilholic's Forbes interview with BP's Chief Scientist Dame Angela Strank on the crucial topic of gender diversity in the oil and gas business, and the vital need for the industry to continue to promote and emphasise the importance of STEM career pathways. 

And before one takes your leave, here's a glimpse of a Formula E car (above right) on display at the CERA Week tech floor. Pretty slick, bring on the electric car revolution! That's all for the moment from Houston folks! Keep reading, keep it 'crude'!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2018. Photo 1: US energy secretary Rick Perry at an IHS CERA Week 2018 press briefing. Photo 2: Formula E car on display at CERA Week's technology floor, Houston, Texas, USA. © Gaurav Sharma 2018.

Monday, March 05, 2018

The Fatih & Mohammed show enlivens CERA Week 2018

The Oilholic is back in Houston town, for IHS CERA Week, one of the oil and gas industry’s premier event, and so far its all about the tussle between US shale producers and OPEC/non-OPEC ‘supergroup’. 

Before the things gained traction on the first day of the week-long event, the International Energy Agency (IEA) emphatically declared the US would dominate oil production over the next five years, and is well on its way to becoming the world’s number one oil producer ahead of Russia and Saudi Arabia. (Here’s the Oilholic’s Forbes report). 

The IEA’s inimitable Executive Director Dr Fatih Birol also pointed out that describing the think-tank as an ‘oil consumers’ club’ is becoming clich√©d these days as four of its members – the US, Canada, Brazil and Norway, were accounting for much of the world’s oil production growth.

Meanwhile, OPEC Secretary Mohammed Sanusi Barkindo, who is also in town, made it known that the OPEC/non-OPEC production cut underpinned by Saudi Arabia and Russia has been a success, and making a tangible impact in rebalancing the market.

So post-luncheon, both men took to the stage with Daniel Yergin, Vice Chairman of IHS Markit, for  a delightful, somewhat testy but good natured, exchange. 

Barkindo declared the OPEC and non-OPEC production cut has been “efficient”, “surpassed expectations” and “brought optimism to the market.”

Birol said that optimism was most apparent in the US, with shale producers, well...producing at a canter, and positioning themselves to cater to robust oil demand from India and China. Providing an undercurrent to his stance, was the news that India was taking it first US natural gas consignment, a mere nine months after inking an agreement to import American crude. 

Of course, Birol warned that oil and gas investment was lagging, with 2018 investment valuation projected to rise by only 6% on an annualised basis. 

Barkindo declared that was “not in the interest of the global economy.”

Via production cuts, the 24 OPEC and non-OPEC producers were providing “insurance and stability” to the global market; a move that was open to “all producers,” he added. 

Of course, US producers driven by the spirit of private enterprise, are not really queuing up to join anytime soon. So what should they do? “Enjoy”, quipped Birol, to peals of laughter in the room. 

And so it went, but the Oilholic suspects you get the gist. Elsewhere on day one, Total CEO Patrick Pouyann√© said in the crude industry size does matter, and that a lower price environment gives bigger players opportunities to make strategic acquisitions. 

“It’s good to be a large integrated oil and gas company. Key to success is stable investment, regardless of oil price,” he added. 

Plenty more to come from CERA Week, but that’s all from Houston for the moment folk. Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2018. Photo: (Left to right) IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol, OPEC Secretary General Mohammed Sanusi Barkindo and IHS Markit Vice Chairman Daniel Yergin speak at CERA Week 2018 © Gaurav Sharma 2018. 

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Crude musings at Platts LOF & IPWeek

A plethora of ongoing events meant the Oilholic ditched the comforts of suburbia last week and camped out at London’s Park Lane, with its row of hotels playing host to some crude events. 

For starters S&P Global Platts’ London Oil Forum 2018 made for an interesting Monday (19 Feb). Talk of the forum was, of course, the eastward direction of crude cargoes, as more and more oil tankers from the US head to Asian shores. There was tacit agreement among delegates at the Platts event that North American crude production will continue to grow, dominated by shale, leading to a relative surge in US exports.

Chris Midgley, Global Director of Analytics at Platts, noted: "Lot more US crude will move into Asia, primarily lighter crude for independent Asian refiners with less complex kit."

Platts' own observation, in tandem with those of rival data aggregators, also suggests that global production is growing a lot lighter. That's because the OPEC and non-OPEC production quota cut took heavy and medium crude exports to Asia into a net decline in 2017.


Additionally, Platts expects 2020 to be hugely disruptive from a crude cracking standpoint as nearly 3 million barrels per day (bpd) of fuel oil will have to "produced differently."

Right after the Platts LOF came the International Petroleum Week 2018, Tuesday through to Thursday, where yours truly also donned an event speaker’s hat. More on that later.  

On the very first day of IPWeek, UAE oil minister Suhail Al Mazrouei, said plans for an OPEC and non-OPEC producers’ ‘super-group’ were well and truly underway, and that the producers, while satisfied with the reduction in global inventories, had not quite reached their end-goal of achieving the kind of market balance they were aspiring for yet.

Elsewhere, BP Boss Bob Dudley told delegates the energy industry was in a race to lower carbon emissions, "not in a race to renewables"; which was one of the standout quotes of the event. 

Trump versus Iran, and India's crude oil demand were other burning topics. Platts also unveiled an agreement to track UAE oil inventories using blockchain. And the event ended with a lively debate organised by Gulf Intelligence, with the motion being ‘US Oil & Gas will steal market share from Gulf producers in Asia.

The Oilholic joined Dr Carole Nakhle, CEO of Crystol Energy, in arguing against the motion, with Amrita Sen, Energy Aspects’ Chief Oil Analyst and David Sheppard, Energy Markets Editor of the Financial Times, supporting the motion.  

In a nutshell, Dr Nakhle and this blogger’s argument against the motion was a simple one – as the demand mix evolves, and much of the incremental demand comes from Asia, there is in fact room for everyone, and the impact of US exports should not be exaggerated or oversimplified. 

At the beginning, the audience was 61% in favour of the motion and 39% against. However, in a final vote upon the conclusion of the debate, the Nakhle-Sharma duo managed to sway audience opinion to 65% against the motion, with those in favour of it down to 35%! 

Overall, a fun end to a crude week. That’s all for the moment folks! Next stop, Houston, Texas for IHS CERAWeek! Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2018. Photo1: Chris Midgley, S&P Global Platts’ ‎Director of Analytics, speaks at the data aggregator’s London Oil Forum. Photo 2: UAE Oil Minister Suhail Al Mazrouei  (left) talks to CNBC’s Steve Sedgwick at the International Petroleum Week, London, UK © Gaurav Sharma 2018. Photo 3: IPWeek Debate Participants at Middle East Energy Summit © Gulf Intelligence 2018.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Crude price fluctuation versus ‘Big Oil’ dividends

It has been another crazy fortnight in the crude markets, with Brent not only having retreated from $70 per barrel, but trading below $65, as the Oilholic pens his thoughts.

In any case, having a $70-plus six-month price target is increasingly odd, given the current set of circumstances, let alone a projection by Goldman Sachs of $82.5 per barrel, as one recently wrote on Forbes.

That said, a possible Saudi-Russian, or should we call it a R-OPEC, reaffirmation of keeping oil production down, accompanied by constantly rising Indian oil imports and stabilising OECD inventories, should give the bulls plenty of comfort. Let’s also not forget the global economy is growing at a steady pace across all regions for the first time since the global financial crisis.

The aforementioned do count as unquestionable upsides for the oil price. But here’s the thing – should you believe in average global demand growth projections in the optimistic range of 1.5 to 1.7 million barrels per day (bpd); such growth levels could be comfortably met by growth in non-OPEC production alone.

For the moment, there’s little afoot to convince the Oilholic to change his view of a $65 per barrel average Brent price, and $60 per barrel average WTI price for 2018. So what impact would this have on ‘Big Oil’.

Interestingly enough, Morgan Stanley flagged up the 'curious case' of Big Oil dividend growth in a recent note to clients, pointing out that despite recent share price declines influenced by crude market volatility, unexpected dividend growth is still being achieved by European oil majors thanks to rapidly improving financial performance.

According to the global investment bank, in 2017, Royal Dutch Shell, BP, Total and Statoil generated $29.6 billion in organic free cash flow; the highest level since 2009. Return on average capital employed is also improving and balance sheet gearing is falling as well.

“Several management teams were willing to translate stronger cash generation in dividend increases", Morgan Stanley added.

The investment bank opined that Statoil’s cash flow and dividend growth remain impressive, so do BP’s, but noted that the latter will not be able keep up with Total and, ultimately, Shell on dividend growth.

Hard to keep up with Shell in any case; the Anglo-Dutch giant has a sterling record of regularly and dutifully paying dividends dating all the way back to the Second World War. That’s all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2018. Photo: Oil well in Oman © Royal Dutch Shell.

Monday, January 29, 2018

On Brent at $70/bbl & crude blockchain moves

Crude year 2017 is firmly behind us, and the Oilholic has summed up weekly closing prices for you on the chart adjacent, along with key points of the year which ended on a high for the oil market (see left, click to enlarge). 

That uptick has extended well into January. It can certainly be said that 2018 has started on a frantic, interesting and massively bullish note for the oil market. Brent, the world’s preferred proxy benchmark, finally closed at $70 per barrel on Friday (26 January); a first Friday-close above the said level since 28 November 2014.

However, that doesn’t necessarily mean yours truly has turned bullish. The Oilholic continues to follow his preferred mantra of being net-short over the long term, and long over the short term. The reasons are simple enough – more US oil, even if purely for domestic consumption – is inevitable.

Inventories have rebalanced, and demand is picking up, but relative to that, there is still plenty of oil in the market. Yet, there is a school of thought out there that the International Energy Agency (IEA) has exaggerated the significance of shale. The Saudi Oil Minister Khalid Al-Falih, among other influential voices at OPEC, has endorsed such a thinking

However, with US production tipped to cap 10 million barrels per day (bpd) in the first quarter of 2018, and may even touch 10.3 million bpd, one doubts the IEA has exaggerated things. US rig counts have continued to rise in step with the oil price rise. As such, there's little to have faith in a long-term $70 Brent price, especially as OPEC itself will ramp up production at some point. 

To get an outside-in perspective, on 25 January this blogger spent most of his day interacting with physical crude traders in Amsterdam and Rotterdam. Hardly anyone seemed to buy in to the bullish chatter that was coming out of the World Economic Forum 2018 in Davos. So the Oilholic is not alone, if you take him at his word. 

Away from the oil price, many say the biggest contribution of cryptocurrencies has not been Bitcoin and Ethereum, but the creation of blockchain, which is akin to a digitally distributed ledger that can be replicated and spread across many nodes in a peer-to-peer network, thereby minimising the need for oversight and governance of a single ledger.

This is now being actively pursued by major energy sector players, and developments at their end have kept the Oilholic busy for better parts of two weeks scribbling stories for Forbes

On 18 January, Shell’s trading arm unveiled its investment in a London-based start-up Applied Blockchain. Just days later on 22 January, Total and several energy traders joined TSX Venture Exchange-listed BTL's blockchain drive aimed at facilitating gas trading reconciliation through to settlement and delivery of trades using blockchain.

BP, Statoil and other traders such as Koch Supply & Trading and Gunvor have all recently gone down the blockchain path.

Then on 26 January, Blockchain outfit ConsenSys and field data management firm Amalto announced a joint venture to develop a platform to facilitate the automation of ticket-based order-to-cash processes in the oil and gas industry.

The emerging blockchain infrastructure aims automate all stages of the process associated with field services in upstream, midstream and downstream markets. Many of the processes, like field ticketing or bill of lading, are still largely manual and paper-based and primed for the blockchain revolution.

So from back-office functions to gas trading, blockchain is coming to shake-up the industry. Expect to hear more of the same. But that’s all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2018. Graph: Oil benchmark Friday closing prices in 2017 © Gaurav Sharma 2017.

Friday, January 12, 2018

US, Canada rig counts jump as Brent hits $70/bbl

The latest Baker Hughes rig count is out with the number of US, Canadian and International rigs all on the up. 

The US rig count is up 15 rigs from last week to 939, with oil rigs up 10 to 752, gas rigs up 5 to 187, and miscellaneous rigs unchanged. 

Compared to last year, US rig count is up 280 rigs from 2017's count over the same week of 659, with oil rigs up 230, gas rigs up 51, and miscellaneous rigs down 1 to 0. 

Canada's rig count is up 102 rigs from last week to 276, with oil rigs up 87 to 185 and gas rigs up 15 to 91. The headline figure is down 39 rigs from last year's count of 315, with oil rigs up 15, gas rigs down 53, and miscellaneous rigs down 1 to 0. 

As for the international rig count, it was up 12 in December, compared to the month before to 954 rigs, and up 25 on the same month in 2016. With the West Texas Intermediate firming up around $65 per barrel, and Brent hitting $70 for the first time since December 2014, the latest data does give the bears some food for thought. Happy Friday folks! Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’! 

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© Gaurav Sharma 2018. Photo: Workers examining offshore rig in the distance © Cairn Energy.

Contact:

For comments or for professional queries, please email: gaurav.sharma@oilholicssynonymous.com

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