News Archive

Refining helps BP and Total weather oil price storm

LONDON/PARIS (Reuters) – BP and Total reported higher than expected profits on Tuesday thanks to steep increases in profits from refining, showing the resilience of global oil firms in the face of slumping oil prices.

Large oil companies have closed down dozens of refineries in the past few years due to over capacity and because refining, or downstream in industry jargon, has been long seen as a drag on earnings compared to more profitable oil and gas production.

But a slump in oil prices, benchmark Brent prices almost halved to $55 a barrel in the first quarter of 2015 from a year ago, meant refineries could process much cheaper crude and generate higher profits on fuels such as diesel or gasoline.

As a result, BP’s underlying pre-tax replacement cost profit from downstream businesses in the first quarter of 2015 more than doubled to $2.2 billion (1 billion pounds). At the same time, pre-tax profits from oil and gas production, or upstream, collapsed to $0.6 billion from $4.4 billion a year earlier.

At Europe’s largest refiner Total, adjusted net operating income from refining and chemicals more than tripled from the first quarter last year to $1.1 billion, almost matching contributions from upstream of $1.36 billion, down 56 percent.

“Majors with high downstream exposure such as Royal Dutch Shell, Total or ExxonMobil should benefit from the strong global refining environment, which BP expects to last into the second quarter,” analysts from Edison Investment Research said in a note.

Weaker refining margins so far in the second quarter as a result of higher crude oil prices mean next quarter’s results might not benefit so much from downstream, analysts said.

BP’s overall profit fell 20 percent from last year to $2.58 billion and Total’s was down 22 percent at $2.60 billion, but in both cases their strong refining performances meant the results beat analysts’ expectations.

Shares of BP and Total rose 1.4 and 2.0 percent respectively, both outperforming the broader European oil and gas sector’s index.


Despite the collapse in upstream earnings, analysts pointed out that both BP and Total had hefty increases in production after years of unimpressive growth, meaning earnings should recover quickly as soon as oil prices rise.

Total said its oil and gas output of 2.4 million barrels per day of oil equivalent (boed) during the first quarter was up 10 percent year-on-year thanks to new projects in Norway, Nigeria and the North Sea, as well as a new concession in the UAE.

Bertrand Hodee from Raymond James said five more new projects later this year in Russia, Australia, the North Sea, Canada and Argentina should help support growth further.

BP’s overall production, excluding Russia and adjusted for divestment, was up 3.7 percent to 2.3 million boed, also driven by new projects.

BP said besides lower oil prices, its upstream results were also hit by a $375 million break fee for two deepwater rig contracts in the US Gulf of Mexico, which sent BP’s U.S. upstream business into a $545 million loss.

“Rig cancellation costs are likely to show up in other majors’ results this quarter, as all majors rein in offshore drilling activity,” analysts from Edison said.

Oil giants have responded to the sharp drop in oil prices in recent months by cutting 2015 capital spending by an average of 10-15 percent and initiating large restructuring programs and renegotiating service contracts.

On the downside, BP disappointed analysts with a plunge in cash flow to $1.86 billion from $8.23 billion a year earlier due to the lower oil prices and as a result of a large build-up in the company’s oil stocks.

Total’s first quarter adjusted cash flow from operations was down 25 percent from a year earlier at $4.64 billion.

(Writing by Dmitry Zhdannikov; editing by David Clarke)

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U.S. Stocks cool ahead of Fed, pound skids on disappointing GDP

LONDON (Reuters) – World shares slipped from record highs on Tuesday as surging Chinese stocks took a breather and investors began to move to the sidelines before the Federal Reserve’s policy meeting.

The dollar also weakened and Wall Street was expected to open lower, with more macro data and company earnings set to give the Fed its latest look at the U.S. economy.

European bourses also fell, while the dollar’s decline saw the euro reach a three-week high and helped the pound recover after weak UK growth data caused it to tumble.

Britain’s quarterly growth came in at 0.3 percent, below forecasts of 0.5 percent and the slowest pace in more than two years.

The figures came just nine days before a British election, which is already brewing doubts about Britain’s future cohesion and its membership of the European Union.

“I think the real risk is so much uncertainty,” said Societe Generale strategist Kit Juckes. “We could have two elections in 12-18 months, and that would just see a cacophony of policy suggestions that would only add to that uncertainty.”

The pound dropped to $1.5188 and to 1.3950 versus the euro, then rebounded to $1.5295 and 1.3980 euro by 1200 GMT (8.00 a.m. EDT).

Britain’s FTSE stock index, which has been riding a wave of European highs, was left 1 percent lower, although it fell less than Germany’s DAX and France’s CAC 40. [.EU]

Overnight in Asia, MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan had followed Wall Street lower, dropping 0.5 percent, but only after touching its highest since January 2008.

The main culprit was Chinese shares, which dropped 1.4 percent. They had almost doubled in value since October, when Western and domestic market-friendly trading links were set up. Hopes monetary policy would ease also helped.


The Fed will hold no news conference and provide no forecasts when its meeting ends on Wednesday. Analysts expect little or no change in its policy statement after recent weaker-than-forecast domestic data.

The dollar, whose strength has been contributed to the soft data, sagged against most of the world’s other major currencies and was at a session low of 118.85 yen after touching 119.44 overnight. The Bank of Japan also meets this week.

“There’s been disappointment with the U.S. data – that’s clear, and that’s feeding into the dollar price action,” said Phyllis Papadavid, senior global FX strategist at BNP Paribas in London. “But people are in wait-and-see mode ahead of the Fed.”

U.S. Treasury bond yields inched lower. The euro climbed to a three-week peak of $1.0945, up from a 12-year low of $1.0457 in mid-March.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Monday reshuffled the team handling talks with European and IMF lenders, a move seen as an effort to relegate Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis and get talks back on track.

“He (Varoufakis) is creating a number of tensions, so that (reshuffle) can certainly help the negotiations,” Christian Noyer, one of the ECB’s top policymakers and Bank of France chief, said on Tuesday.

Benoit Coeure, another ECB heavyweight, stressed the bank was not expecting a Greek exit from the euro.

In commodities trading, crude oil extended Monday’s losses as ample supplies offset the conflict in Yemen and the falling number of U.S. rigs drilling for oil.

Weekly U.S. crude inventory data is also expected to show another high, and Saudi Arabia pledged to supply more oil to China if needed, which kept traders cautious after prices reached 2015 peaks last week.

Brent recovered as the dollar slipped but was still down about 0.2 percent at $64.67 a barrel. U.S. crude shed about 0.3 percent to $56.80. Gold was up at $1,202 an ounce.

(Additional reporting by Jemima Kelly; Editing by Larry King)

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Japan’s Amari plays down expectations on U.S. trade deal progress

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese Economy Minister Akira Amari played down the prospect of substantial progress in trade talks being announced after a summit meeting between Japan and the United States on Tuesday.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe meets U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington.

Japanese public broadcaster NHK said a joint statement after the meeting would probably refer to “substantial progress” in negotiations between the two countries on a trade deal and would talk of them cooperating to move towards an agreement on the 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact

However, Amari told a news conference: “The most we could expect in a joint statement is to say there is ‘welcome progress’ (on a Japan-U.S. trade deal).”

The trade negotiations between the two are seen as crucial for the wider TPP as their economies account for 80 percent of the group involved in the talks.

Amari said progress had been made on some aspects of the trade talks between the two countries but other aspects were “deadlocked” and he expected the two leaders to instruct officials to make efforts towards an early agreement.

The two leaders are unlikely to discuss details of the trade deal.

The White House said last week it did not expect a formal announcement on the Japan-U.S. trade deal during Abe’s visit.

(Reporting by Takashi Umekara; Writing by Kaori Kaneko; Editing by Alan Raybould)

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Petrobras writedown may give new ammunition to class-action suit

WILMINGTON, Delaware (Reuters) – Brazilian oil company Petrobras’ $17 billion write-down, announced last week, may have been meant to close the accounting on a sprawling corruption scandal, but could instead provide fresh ammunition for a U.S. class action lawsuit.

The case, filed in Manhattan federal court in December by a group of large investors, alleges $98 billion of the company’s American depository shares, or ADRs, and bonds were artificially inflated since 2010 by the company overstating the value of assets such as major projects. Petrobras has moved to have the case dismissed.

The plaintiffs say Petrobras improperly inflated the project costs to fatten profits of suppliers and contractors, who in turn kicked cash back to Petrobras employees.

Last week, the company wrote down assets to reflect a more accurate value, and the lawyer leading the class actions for investors said the restatement is “highly relevant” to the case and bolsters his clients’ allegations.

“We believe these facts are certainly helpful to our case,” said Jeremy Lieberman, an attorney with the Pomerantz law firm in New York, who is leading the plaintiffs’ case.

Petrobas has argued that investors are taking aim at the wrong parties. It wants the case dismissed before investors can begin the process of demanding evidence from the company, such as documents and witnesses which might prove their case.

“Petrobras itself was the victim in this scandal, carried out by a criminal cartel of Brazil’s largest construction and engineering companies,” said the defendants in papers filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.

Petrobras blames a group of Petrobras suppliers, corrupt politicians and former Petrobras employees, and none of them have been named as defendants.

The investors are due to file papers opposing Petrobras’ motion to dismiss on May 8.

More than a dozen large investors sued Petrobras beginning last year, including the City of Providence, Rhode Island, and public pension systems in Ohio and other states. Those cases were consolidated in March and British pension fund Universities Superannuation Scheme Ltd, which said in a court filing it had lost about $84 million on its Petrobras holdings, was appointed lead plaintiff. It will represent the proposed class and negotiate any eventual settlement.

The $98 billion of stocks and bonds that the plaintiffs allege was artificially inflated is more than half again the company’s $59.6 billion stock market capitalization today. Petrobras’ $70 billion secondary share sale in 2010 was the largest sale of stock in history.

Petrobras has fallen a long way from seven years ago, when it grew to the world’s fifth-largest company and became a way to bet on Brazil’s bustling economy and recently discovered deep-sea oil reserves. Today, the economy has stalled, oil output is flat and Petrobras is the world’s most indebted energy company.


The scandal has brought millions of Brazilians to the streets to demand the resignation of President Dilma Rousseff, who was chairwoman from 2003 to 2010 of Petrobras, when most of the corruption took place, according to Brazilian courts. The Brazilian government owns a majority of Petrobras’ voting stock, giving it seven of 10 seats on the Petrobras board and control of the company.

    Rousseff has not been implicated in the scandal, and the lack of evidence tying her or Petrobras’ former chief executives to the scandal may undermine investors’ legal claims, said Todd Henderson, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School.

    That’s because the investors will lack proof that top Petrobras executives knowingly committed material wrongdoing, rather than merely mismanaging the company, said Henderson, a key requirement of some U.S. securities law claims.

    “I think it’s a very hard case,” said Henderson.

However, investors also allege that Petrobras, the bankers that sold its securities, several executives and the company’s accountants allowed investors to rely on materially misleading statements when purchasing ADRs and bonds.

These claims point to information in the carefully worded offering documents that accompany the sale of Petrobras securities. Importantly, these types of allegations don’t require proof that the defendants knowingly made the misstatements, which increases the likelihood the investors may prevail.

Another legal expert, James Park, a professor at the University of California Los Angeles School of Law, said Wednesday’s write-downs bolster the class-action case, particularly for bondholders.

“They have lent money against the assets and they have fewer assets now, so the creditworthiness of the company is certainly in question,” said Park. “I would be very surprised if the case is dismissed.”

If the case survives early dismissal, the two sides would begin fighting over the discovery process of demanding access to potential evidence and witnesses who could help investors to prove their case. In general, securities cases settle after a court determines the scope of the class represented by the lawsuit. The process often takes many years after the initial complaint is filed, and Park said the plaintiffs would have little incentive to settle quickly given the recent revelations.

Securities cases have produced some of the largest class action settlements.

Energy company Enron Corp and telecommunications company WorldCom Inc crashed into bankruptcy early in the new millennium. Securities class action lawsuits eventually led to a series of settlements that produced $7.1 billion for Enron investors and $6.2 billion for WorldCom backers, two of the largest ever.

The hearing on early dismissal is scheduled for May 29, in front of U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff, who is known for his tough stance on corporate wrongdoing. He has refused to approve settlements presented to him by U.S. regulators who allowed defendants to avoid admitting any wrongdoing.

Petrobras increased its legal provisions to 4.091 billion reais ($2.4 billion) in the fourth quarter of 2014, when the U.S. class action was filed, up 40 percent from a year earlier. That was an increase of only 2.8 percent from the third quarter of 2014. The company did not comment on the U.S. lawsuit in Wednesday’s statement on its write-down.

The case is In re: Petrobras Securities Litigation, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, no. 14-cv-9662

(Writing by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware, additional reporting by Jeb Blount in Rio de Janeiro and Ayesha Rascoe in Washington, editing by John Pickering)

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Tokyo Electron shares sink after takeover by Applied Materials scrapped

TOKYO (Reuters) – Tokyo Electron Ltd (8035.T) shares plunged 15 percent on Tuesday to a six-month low after U.S. regulatory opposition forced the scrapping of its planned takeover by U.S.-based Applied Materials Inc (AMAT.O).

The all-share purchase – a rare foreign bid for a Japanese firm – would have combined the No.1 and No. 3 makers of the equipment that makes semiconductor chips into a group with a stock market value of more than $38.5 billion.

Analysts had initially expected the takeover, aimed at spurring profit growth in both companies, to stand up to regulatory scrutiny.

Tokyo Electron shares fell as much as 14.8 percent in early trade to 6,555 yen, hitting their lowest level since late October, while the broader Tokyo market .TOPX was up 0.6 percent.

The slide came despite Tokyo Electron announcing it plans to buy as much as 120 billion yen ($1 billion) worth of shares, or 8.59 percent of its outstanding stock.

A Tokyo-based mergers and acquisitions lawyer said the unraveling of the deal was worse for Tokyo Electron as takeover targets often lose management focus, and customers, during the negotiation period.

Applied Materials, Tokyo Electron and No. 2 maker, ASML Holding NV (ASML.AS), hold 49 percent of the global market, according to market research firm Gartner, in an industry where the rising cost of developing chips, coupled with slowing semiconductor demand, are forcing alliances and acquisitions.

(Reporting by Chang-Ran Kim and Hideyuki Sano; Editing by Edwina Gibbs)

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Asian shares at seven-year highs, cheered by Apple earnings

TOKYO (Reuters) – Asian stocks scaled fresh seven-year peaks on Tuesday as Apple’s upbeat earnings offset underlying caution ahead of the Federal Reserve’s policy meeting scheduled to start later in the session.

The dollar, meanwhile, clawed back some of its losses against the euro which rose overnight on optimism for progress in debt-laden Greece’s ongoing negotiations with its lenders.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was up 0.2 percent in early trading to touch its highest level since January 2008. Japan’s Nikkei stock index advanced 0.6 percent.

On Monday, Wall Street ended lower after the benchmark SP 500 index hit a record intraday high before reversing course, tempered by caution ahead the Fed meeting. After markets closed, Apple Inc beat Wall Street’s revenue and profit forecasts.

Analysts expected no change in policy stance from the two-day Federal Open Market Committee meeting starting later on Tuesday, as recent domestic data have been weaker than forecast and a strong dollar has crimped export activities.

Market expectations for an interest rate increase have been pushed further down the road, with few investors now expecting a rate hike in June and most predicting a move later this year.

“The Federal Reserve is not expected to change monetary policy but dollar bulls can’t help but worry that the central bank will take June tightening off the table,” Kathy Lien, Managing Director of FX Strategy for BK Asset Management, said in a note.

The euro was in focus overnight, climbing to a three-week peak of $1.0927, well off its 12-year nadir of $1.0457 plumbed in mid-March. It last stood at $1.0876, down about 0.2 percent on the day.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Monday reshuffled his team handling talks with European and IMF lenders, a move widely seen as an effort to relegate embattled Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis to a less active role in negotiations.

The firmer euro helped knock the dollar index to a three-week low of 96.467 on Monday. The index last traded at 96.802, nearly flat on the day.

Against its Japanese counterpart, the greenback bought 119.15 yen, up about 0.1 percent, with that currency pair seen rangebound ahead of a Japanese public holiday on Wednesday and the Bank of Japan’s regular policy meeting on Thursday.

The BOJ is widely expected to hold policy steady, but there is a slim possibility that policymakers may opt to ease further if the cut to this fiscal year’s inflation forecast is unexpectedly big, or if they feel the slowdown in inflation is damaging enough to warrant pre-emptive action.

In commodities trading, crude oil extended its losses made on Monday as ample global supply blunted support from the conflict in Yemen and the falling number of U.S. rigs drilling for oil. This kept traders cautious after prices reached 2015 peaks last week.

Brent was down about 0.4 percent at $64.61 a barrel, while U.S. crude about 0.6 percent to $56.65.

(Editing by Shri Navaratnam)

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Exclusive: Time Warner Cable open to merger talks with Charter

(Reuters) – Time Warner Cable Inc (TWC.N) is open to merger discussions with Charter Communications Inc (CHTR.O) following a failed $45 billion bid by Comcast Corp CMSA.O, according to people familiar with the matter.

Friendly negotiations between the two companies would be in sharp contrast to their acrimonious exchanges in 2013 and early 2014 that ended with Time Warner Cable rejecting unsolicited approaches by Charter and instead finding a white knight in Comcast.

While Charter has yet to make a formal offer, Time Warner Cable believes its smaller peer may be willing to make a bid that is more attractive compared with its takeover attempt two years ago, the people said.

Time Warner Cable also views Charter’s stock as a more valuable currency than it did last year given its stock performance since then, the people said. Charter shares are up 33 percent in the last 12 months. Time Warner Cable also is open to deals with companies other than Charter, the people added.

The sources asked not to be identified because the deliberations are confidential. Time Warner Cable and Charter both declined to comment.

Last Friday, Comcast abandoned its $45 billion offer for Time Warner Cable after U.S. regulators raised concerns that the merger would give Comcast an unfair advantage in the cable TV and Internet-based services market.

Analysts expecting Charter to pursue TWC have debated whether Charter would top its previous bid in an effort to secure a friendly deal, or, facing no rival buyer, try to get TWC for less.

Controlled by John Malone’s Liberty Media Corp (LMCA.O), Charter had bid $37.3 billion or about $132.50 per share for TWC last year before being beaten by Comcast, whose all-stock deal was initially worth $158.82 per share.

Malone, a deal maker known as the “cable cowboy,” was asked in November whether he would pursue TWC if the Comcast deal fell through. “Hell yes,” he replied.

Charter was also part of the complicated Comcast deal that unraveled. It would have acquired control of subscribers divested by the merged company. Last month Charter also agreed to acquire Bright House Networks for $10.4 billion.

Time Warner Cable has the right of first refusal in the event of a Bright House sale, however, and it could see such a deal as a way to avoid being bought by Charter, analysts have said.

Earlier on Monday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Time Warner Cable had reached out to Cox Communications about a potential merger, a report that both companies later denied.

(Additional reporting by Malathi Nayak in New York; Editing by Peter Henderosn and Ken Wills)

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DuPont open to last-minute settlement talks with activist: sources

NEW YORK (Reuters) – DuPont’s (DD.N) board is open to a negotiated settlement with activist Trian Fund Management in the run-up to the company’s annual shareholder meeting in May, sources close to the matter said on Monday.

Despite the stalemate between the chemical conglomerate and the New York-based fund, DuPont’s “doors are not barred for something reasonable,” one of the sources said.

On Monday, U.S. proxy advisory firm ISS recommended that DuPont shareholders vote in favor of Trian co-founder Nelson Peltz joining the company’s board, a shot in the arm for the activist investor ahead of voting on May 13. The firm also backed another Trian nominee but did not recommend two others.

Trian, DuPont’s fifth-largest shareholder with a 2.7 percent stake, has argued that DuPont should split its businesses to unlock greater value for shareholders. The company claims Trian would seek to establish a “shadow management” team that would undermine the company’s strategic transformation.

The two sides have not held discussions for months, said another person close to the matter. Spokespeople for DuPont and Trian were not available for comment.

DuPont has maintained that it is open to a constructive dialogue with Peltz’s camp but has not signaled what that could include.

In February DuPont offered to give one of Trian’s nominees, John Myers, former chief executive officer of GE Asset Management, a seat on its board.

But Trian rejected that proposal and in March, the fund launched a proxy battle for four board seats, including one for Peltz, its chief executive officer.

DuPont has said it could accommodate one of Trian’s nominees but not Peltz himself. ISS, the proxy firm, also recommended that shareholders vote for Myers.

In response, DuPont said on Monday that ISS had reached the “wrong conclusion” in failing to recommend that shareholders vote for all 12 of DuPont’s directors.

(Reporting By Nadia Damouni and Mike Stone; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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China iPhone sales boosts Apple; shares up modestly

(Reuters) – Apple Inc (AAPL.O) beat Wall Street’s revenue and profit forecasts on Monday as it sold more iPhones in China than the United States for the first time, but the company gave no sales figures for its new Apple Watch.

Apple’s iPhone sales in China soared, increasing its revenue in the country 71 percent to $16.8 billion, although that was helped by gift-buying for Chinese New Year.

Chief Executive Tim Cook said that China’s expanding middle class is fueling iPhone sales there, which is the bulk of the company’s sales. The iPhone 6 was launched last autumn in China with a number of carriers.

Wall Street hailed the results but share reaction was muted. Its shares rose 1.6 percent in after-hours trading to $134.52.

Apple sold 61.2 million iPhones in the quarter, up 40 percent from the year-ago quarter, but down from the record-breaking holiday quarter. It sold 12.6 million iPads, down 23 percent from a year ago.

Apple’s big screen iPhone 6 and 6 Plus have been popular with customers worldwide, helping the company overtake rival Samsung (005930.KS) in global smartphone sales last quarter.

“A 60 million-plus iPhone number is a home run and will be cheered by the Street as this remains the bread and butter of Apple,” said FBR Capital Markets analyst Daniel Ives.

Apple gave no sales figures for its recently released Apple Watch, but did say the current quarter was off to “an exciting start”.

Cook said demand for the watch continued to be greater than supply, as it has been since pre-orders started earlier this month.

“From a demand point of view, it’s hard to gauge when you don’t have product in stores,” said Cook on a conference call with analysts. Apple is only selling the watch online and in select third-party boutiques due to the large number of models and straps for the watch, which could become a logistics nightmare if it offered every permutation of the many varieties at already jam-packed Apple stores.

The most valuable publicly traded U.S. company raised its quarterly dividend 11 percent to 52 cents per share and boosted its share repurchase program to $140 billion from $90 billion announced last year.

Together, Apple estimated that would mean returning $200 billion to shareholders by the end of March 2017. It ended the quarter with $193.5 billion in cash and marketable securities, up more than $15 billion from the last quarter.

Even so, that was “a bit lower than expectations,” said Bernstein Research analyst Toni Sacconaghi.

Apple said net income for the fiscal second quarter rose to $13.57 billion, or $2.33 per share, from $10.22 billion, or $1.66 per share, a year earlier.

Analysts had expected earnings per share of $2.16 per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Overall revenue rose to $58.01 billion in the second quarter ended March 28, from $45.65 billion a year earlier. That beat Wall Street’s expected revenue of $56 billion.

Apple said it expected fiscal third-quarter revenue of $46 billion to $48 billion, in line with analysts’ average forecast of $47 billion.

(Reporting by Bill Rigby in San Francisco, Devika Krishna Kumar in Bengaluru and Yasmeen Abutaleb in New York; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila, Bernard Orr)

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