Statement of Mr. Salvatore CATANIA, Chief Executive Officer of Europcar Group
Ladies and Gentlemen
I should first of all like to welcome all of you who have made the journey from various European countries to hear the latest information about the EUROPCAR group, which, since the end of 2003, has been the European Market Leader. I believe that nine different nationalities are represented here today. This is obviously a reflection of the international dimension of our group, but it is, first and foremost, a sign of the interest shown in our company. We are particularly appreciative of your interest, and my team and I wish to thank you all most sincerely. I would like to say a special word of greeting to the Polish journalists, who are with us for the first time at our annual press conference. But do not let me forget all the French journalists and the Paris – based correspondents of the foreign press, who are also with us here this morning.
Thank you all for joining us here today and for your kind attention.
This event is the occasion for us all to take stock of our groups activities during the past year. In a few moments, I will hand you over to Gerhard NOACK, our financial director, who will present as clear a picture as possible of the groups figures and the results for the 2004 financial year. Beforehand, though, I should like to outline the current economic context that we have been confronted with and describe the developments that are taking place in the specific car hire market in Europe and in the rest of the world.
For some years now, we have been experiencing a difficult economic situation, with extreme contrasts in different world regions. Terrorist attacks in different areas of the world, new armed conflicts and even climatic and natural disasters have had extremely negative effects on travel companies, both in the leisure and the business travel sectors.
In the last year, consumer activity in the service sector has fallen still further, thus confirming a generalised half hearted attitude to consumer spending. The increase in the price of oil, in particular, at the end of the year, had a tangible effect on costs and on consumption.
In our specific areas of business, the direct consequence of all these effects was a drop in bookings, a trend that started some years ago and which continues relentlessly, both in the corporate and in the private sectors of activity. This situation automatically led to a drop in international car hire rates, followed by a reduction in national rates and even, in some cases, lower local rates. This was a situation that could not last small companies were not able to cope and there was a marked increase in bankruptcies in the sector. Although the markets are now more stable, some major groups have found themselves in a very delicate position. From our standpoint, we have, in general, taken advantage of the situation, primarily as a result of customers coming over to us, and we have been able to consolidate our position as market leader. Moreover, our marketing strategy was perfectly suited to this context, and our reactivity has been rewarded.
We have to give separate consideration to the situation in North America. In 2004, following several very difficult years, the United States appears to be moving back to a situation of growth in some areas of the travel industry. However, only those companies that were able to adapt extremely rapidly to economic trends and, above all, to changes in consumer behaviour were able to benefit from this situation. To date, EUROPCAR has been sheltered from the fluctuations in the American economy, including the effects of the very low level of the dollar. Our opinion is that the United States seems to be confirming its emergence from the economic trough. For our group, this could be a source of opportunity and we are, of course, monitoring this situation very closely at present. In view of the size of the American market, we will come back to this subject later on.
Given the geographical location of EUROPCAR, the company has suffered very little from financial variations due to fluctuations in currency rates, and notably the dollar. The Euro zone remains our major area of our activity, bearing in mind that a large number of countries appear in the accounts under royalties and do not figure directly as generating turnover. Nevertheless, the strength of the Euro, which in some cases, may be a drawback, may prove to be of real benefit if we make investments in the dollar zone.
All this being said, despite the highly contrasted and particularly depressed context of the business itself, our group has once more come out unscathed. We have once again achieved the aim that we set ourselves some years ago, to be the most profitable car hire company in the European market. This year again, profit before tax is up by 16 % (following, I might add, a 40 % increase last year), reaching a record level of 84 million Euros. We have great satisfaction in making a positive contribution to the global results of our shareholder. But what makes us really proud is that these results have not been achieved at the expense of the development of the business.
Year on year, we are systematically pursuing our development policy. What is unusual about this trend is that group has taken a substantial lead at a crucial moment in terms of market development. Most of the indicators commonly employed for the purposes of inter – company comparisons show that we have clearly outstripped our main competitors. This success is all the more spectacular as some of our rivals are still finding it difficult to move back into profitability. Today, we are looking towards new market opportunities and to new methods of accessing customers. These are the areas that we must continue to develop in order to assure our position in the future.
But, to enable you to have a better understanding of our performance, I will now pass you over to Gerhard NOACK, our Financial Director, who will present the Groups results for the 2004 financial year.
Following his presentation, I will speak about our strategy, our objectives and the way in which we intend to pursue the Groups development in order to further enhance our position as market leader and to extend our lead over our rivals.
Over to you, Gerhard!
Statement of Mr. Gerhard Noack, Chief Financial Officer of Europcar Group
Ladies and Gentlemen,
First of all I would like to thank you for being here with us today. My colleagues and I are extremely proud to be part of a company that has slowly but surely become the market leader. And it is this year that we have, in particular, felt that the market has recognised the result achieved by our group.
It is true that in many respects our group is in good health, at a time when the economic context has not always been very positive. So far, we have been able to avoid the negative effects of the turbulence that has periodically affected the world.
So I am going to outline to you what makes EUROPCAR different and tell you what are the choices we have made to ensure our continuing development and improved profitability.
To start with, I must make reference to the figure that is the best indicator of our activities in the financial year, that is the group result.
1°) Growth in the group result
If there is one area where our company has really demonstrated its ability to achieve its objectives, it must be the group profits from car hire activities.
This year, the result before tax is 83.9 million Euros, an increase of 11 million Euros, which is 16 % up on the previous year.
Last year, the group achieved a record level of 72.2 million Euros. As you know, last year, during our annual press conference, we announced that we were expecting a two-figure growth rate with 16 %, we have far outstripped our expectations.
The net result, after tax, amounts to 53.4 million Euros. This figure is significantly down on the 2003 figure. This difference, I must emphasise, is essentially due to the fact that after 2003 we were no longer able to offset previous years deficits. Thus we had a situation where our net profit was higher than our profit before tax, which is a bit unusual. Therefore we can consider that 2004 saw the return to normality in this area.
It is therefore this figure of 53.4 million Euros which will be included in the results of our shareholder, Volkswagen AG, who will itself comment on its results tomorrow in Germany.
Please allow me to go into more detail of the accounts in order to demonstrate that our result is really based on sound and solid elements, which will, in the future, continue to stand us in good stead for the years to come.
2°) Group annual sales
At the end of 2004, our annual sales figure was 1,172 million Euros (one thousand million one hundred and seventy two million Euros), which corresponds to a growth rate of just over 6 %. This progression, which is much higher than the market average, signals that our activities are taking off again, following a downturn that has lasted for several years. It therefore augurs very well for the future.
2.1. Breakdown between corporate countries and franchise countries
When we speak about the groups annual sales, it must be said that this figure covers two very different realities:
– The main part is derived from the 7 corporate countries, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, Portugal and Belgium.
– The other, less substantial part is made up of royalties from our franchises. Of course, these figures only represent a proportion of the local companies annual sales, but once they have been paid, they are assimilated into Europcars annual sales figure.
There are two forms of royalties the entry fees paid when a new franchise contract is concluded and the contribution that is paid annually in proportion to local turnover.
Payments from the franchises are down by 5.9 million Euros. This is essentially due to the significant amount of entry fees recorded in 2003.
For the most part, these royalties are derived from countries that are outside the Euro zone, and they have been much more subject to the currency fluctuations as a result of the strength of the Euro and the decline in the dollar exchange rate than have our other sources of income. However, this effects only a small proportion of the Groups overall turnover.
Europcar is today present in 143 countries (compared to 123 in 2003). This includes 136 countries where we have franchise agreements out of an officially recorded total of 193 countries in the world.
2.2. Geographical breakdown of the 7 corporate countries
Our growth has been in the 7 corporate countries in our group. There is no notable change in the contribution of each country to the overall turnover. Germany and France together continue to represent almost 60 % of our corporate turnover.
France, Spain and Belgium have made significant contributions to our growth. The rise in popularity of European countries as tourist destinations has an extremely positive result on the development of the leisure sector, an area that we intend to grow even further to compensate for other sectors that have been more affected by the drop in the European economy in recent years.
Following a year of strong growth in the United Kingdom, we are maintaining our positions and our growth has also been strong, in line with the market.
The lack-lustre economic situation in Germany has been echoed in the somewhat challenging period that we have encountered in this country. Nevertheless, the efforts made by Europcar to turn around this trend have enabled us to maintain a very enviable position in this national vehicle hire market and have allowed Germany to keep its position at the head of the group of seven corporate countries.
Italy still reflects the weaknesses that its automotive market is currently experiencing. The significant drop in the price of cars in this country has had a serious effect on the cost of the existing fleet and has had a direct impact on profit levels in our Italian operations.
2.3. The effect of the number of rental days
The turnover is obviously the consequence of the number of rental transactions that have taken place during the financial year. In 2004, we concluded a total of 6.388 million contracts, which is 469,000 more contracts than in the previous year, which corresponds to a business growth rate of the order of 8 %.
Further analysis indicates a change in the two major factors which make up annual sales the number of rental days and the daily price of rental.
– The number of rental days increased by 9.7 % to reach at the end of 2004 the figure of 32,465 million rental days, or almost 3 million additional days.
– The price per rental day has been constantly declining for some years. This year it was 2.7 %, a trend that we had allowed for in our budget and which is set to continue in the months to come.
We have, of course, examined in detail the reasons for the drop in the price per rental day. There are three major factors –
– The first is quite simply the pressure of competition. As supply is still greater than demand, the price trend is automatically downwards.
– The second reason is a change in the use of hire cars in the countries which have demonstrated the highest growth, such as France, Spain and Portugal, it is generally market entry models that tend to be hired. Thus, as there are higher numbers of rentals of smaller cars, the mean rental price is automatically lower.
– The third factor is associated with the development in leisure car hire in this area, it is the smaller cars that are preferred. With longer average rental periods, the daily price is necessarily lower. Finally there is an impact associated with the increase in the courtesy car sector.
This factor is obviously reflected in the structure of our vehicle fleet and in its average cost.
This year once more, our growth of 6 % is primarily due to an increase in the number of contracts and to the slight increase in the average contract period. This has provided positive compensation for the drop in prices due to the particularly competitive environment.
The major cost factors include the following points:
3.1. Effect of the price of new vehicles
Let us first of all recall that the number of days of vehicle hire in 2004 grew by 9.7 %. In order to deal with increasing demand, our fleet counted an average of 130.000 vehicles, which corresponds to an increase of 6.9 %. In view of the fact that this growth essentially comprised small vehicle models, the cost increase was only 2.66 %.
The low increase in these costs also illustrates the pressure on car prices that we have been witnessing for several years now. This generates a continual drop in our costs in this area. On a financial level, we opted some years ago for a reduction of the risks associated with vehicle resales. By gradually adopting the buy back system, (the conditions of vehicle returns are agreed with the motor manufacturer when the vehicles are purchased), we are less dependent on the conditions prevailing in the used vehicle market.
Thus an extremely substantial part of our improved results is due to the change in the structure of our vehicle fleet and to the optimisation of the associated costs. So, this aspect of our expertise has been well rewarded.
3.2. Operational costs
In this sphere also, our operational costs are directly linked to the number of rental contracts concluded (+ 8 %) and with the number of vehicle rental days (+ 9.7 %). Our operational costs, in fact, followed this trend, without reaching the level of growth in number of days. These costs include commission to international partners and the cost of compulsory third party insurance, which are themselves directly linked to the development of the business.
3.3. Labour costs
We increased our workforce by just over 200 persons, which corresponds to a rate of 4.6 %. We have therefore succeeded in moderating the increase in the number of persons taken on in order to strike a balance with the natural growth in labour costs in 2004. The overall progression of labour costs was 7.98 %, which is above the increase in turnover, but at the same time is slightly lower than the overall business growth. We monitor these costs with particular attention, as at present they represent the same importance as our vehicle fleet costs.
We are pleased to note that the company has continued this year to improve overall productivity (number of rentals per employee per month) by 3.2 %.
This improvement is for the most part associated with IT developments. We have been able to adapt to changing consumer trends, whereby customers now tend to make bookings on line from their office or from their home. For this purpose we have developed IT solutions using the most recent software. But it is important to note that we are our own masters in the IT field and we are constantly implementing our own developments as a function of our priorities, which are: to improve ergonomics to facilitate direct use by the customer, improve our management of our partnerships and optimise our efficiency, in particular in corporate fleet management.
Finally, I am pleased to tell you that we have now set up a system of e-learning for the continuing vocational training of our staff. We are extremely satisfied with the innovative solutions that we have chosen and which are now proving their effectiveness.
3.4. Effect of cost of finance
The other significant element in the financial year was the continuing drop in interest costs, which last year amounted to around 12 %. This makes a difference of over 5 million Euros.
We have been able to take full advantage of the reduction in the short term interest rates which was very beneficial in covering our cash flow requirements. When we take into account the changes in these different factors, it is easy to see where the increased figure of 11 million Euros in our result before tax comes from; the growth in annual sales, the fall in fleet costs and the reduction in the cost of financing explain this gain. In 2005, we intend to continue in this vein, by bearing more strongly on the vehicle fleet costs and on the companys payroll costs. However, the cost of finance is likely to be subject to slightly greater pressure.
4°) Change in balance sheet structure
The overall balance sheet is up by 211 million Euros.
This increase is essentially due to the companys rental assets, sometimes referred to as the rental assets, which at the end of the financial year includes the value of our fleet of vehicles. This covers:
– Vehicles under rental whose value has grown by 320 million Euros, which is in line with our business growth,
– A lower defleeting than in the previous year, reflected by a drop of 160 million Euros in rental receivables.
Thus Europcar is further improving the solidity of its balance sheet, as our equity capital represents over 11 % of the total, or 1.3 points higher than last year.
5°) 2005 promises to be a vintage year
We have again this year achieved all the objectives that we had set ourselves. We have experienced sustained growth whilst further increasing our profits levels.
2005 is already on track. The major trends that will have an impact on our annual accounts are the following:
– A new agreement will come into force in 2005, covering many countries in the Asia Pacific rim, that Mr Catania will outline in a few moments. We will monitor very closely the consequences of this new agreement, which comes at a particularly difficult time for the populations in some of the countries concerned and for the future of their economies.
– We will continue our commercial partnership policy by capitalising on our agreements with TUI, EasyJet and the French hotel group, ACCOR, amongst others.
– We will continue to work on the structure of our vehicle fleet and to seek the most advantageous financial solutions for the group.
To conclude, I should like to outline the considerable efforts made by our company in the field of quality of service. For several years, we have been making significant investments in this area (notably in IT and investment in the human dimension). You now have the proof that these efforts have had a very positive effect in terms of our customers choices. We are convinced that our policy to improve quality has a direct and durable impact on our profitability.
Not for one moment do we take our position as European leader for granted. For this year, we have set ourselves an ambitious challenge for the entire organisation – to continue in 2005 a two-figure increase in our results. So we are expecting a particularly exciting year!
Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for your kind attention, and I look forward to seeing you again next year.
Statement of Mr. Salvatore CATANIA, Chief Executive Officer of Europcar Group (Part 2)
A word of thanks to Gerhard NOACK for his presentation on our business development. He and I will both be available to answer any questions you may have at the end of this press conference.
I should now like to turn to our plans for 2005 and our future prospects.
Just one year ago, I stood here before many of you who are here today. You will remember that I did not conceal my or our teams pleasure at having taken the European lead in our sector of activity. Becoming the European Leader was a major objective that we set ourselves to achieve in five years. We managed to do it in three years. It is true that we may have been helped by our competitors declining fortunes, but we were nevertheless operating in the same market conditions and were subject to the same market constraints. Only the results are different.
This year, the situation is unequivocal and there is no going back! If you compare the performance of the different market players, it is evident that we are way out in front, helped by our profit levels, which have given us the ability to invest in areas that bear great promise for the future.
Becoming the European Leader in our sector is not an end in itself. No, it is the consequence of a global strategy, the major elements of which I will now outline:
1°) We are the European Leader. We must also be the Leader in each country.
Today, we are concentrating all our efforts on gradually becoming the market leader in every single country in which we are present. This year, we have continued to gain further ground and won strategic positions in several countries that are essential for our company.
We are now market leaders in Spain, in Portugal and in Italy and we are continuing to make headway in France, where we are now in second place.
Our aim is to reinforce our leading position in each and every country in order to consolidate our position as No 1 in Europe as a whole. We intend the essential focus of this strategy to be on the seven European countries where we are represented by our subsidiaries. We believe that this strategy will boost these countries, making them better equipped to cope with changing economic conditions and trade cycles.
Our subsidiaries play an important role, but by the same token, we are also extremely aware of the market positions of our franchise companies, as we are keen to play an essential role in all countries where we are present. However, trends may vary substantially from one continent to another.
2°) We have made fundamental changes to our presence in the Asia Pacific rim
In recent years, our major strength has been that we have concluded new agreements in countries where the prospects for business development have been extremely good. This has enabled us to achieve a better balance in our activities at a time when the major countries in both the old and the new world have encountered sharp drops in activity.
Our strategy was to foster investment in Eastern European countries and in particular those states which have now become members of the European Union. We then took positions of interest in South America and, finally, more recently in Australia and New Zealand.
We have just taken, in 2004, a very important step in significantly expanding our presence in Asia. We have concluded a Master franchise contract covering thirty countries, and we now have a presence in the heart of the Asian continent – in India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka, to mention just a few. Our presence in south-east Asia now includes countries such as South Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia.
In China, where our shareholder, Volkswagen, is an official partner for the 2008 Olympic Games, we intend, this year, to find the optimum solution for this important event for our group.
We have also made inroads into other continents we have raised our flag in Peru, in Jamaica and in Haiti. Five new African countries have joined us this year and finally, in Europe, with the addition of Kosovo, our market offering in ex-Yugoslavia is now complete.
These agreements have all been franchise agreements, which we now have in 136 countries, and which thus play an extremely important role in the groups activities.
3°) EUROPCAR will certainly be present in the United States
Earlier this morning, I underlined the importance of the United States for our business. Along with the European Union, the USA is one of the foremost markets in the world. To date, we have succeeded in becoming one of the largest car hire companies in the world without having a direct presence in the American market. However, the trends in this extremely mature market have now prompted us to change our policy the market has begun to stabilise and the level of the dollar makes investment in this country an attractive proposition.
We are at an advanced stage in discussions with the existing operators in the United States. This is not new in itself. What is new is that, over and above the question of principle, we have been discussing methods of representation. For this reason, we are giving very serious consideration to entering the American market at a high level as soon as is possible. We will be able to give more details of this when the time comes. To conclude this chapter on EUROPCARs world presence, I must emphasise that it is our franchise policy that has enabled us to develop rapidly and, above all, to cope with the turnarounds in the economic situation.
Becoming the market leader creates new demands, and we are perfectly aware of this when we are adding a new country to the Europcar map, we know that we have to have immediate access to a major market share with high levels of quality of service in order to meet the groups exacting standards. This means that our priority is to seek out companies that are leaders in their own markets.
By changing our culture (and, I might add, it is not always an easy task to move from Outsider to Leader) and by raising our standards even further, we intend to maintain our lead and to gather strength to be able to deal with major world changes, in particular changing consumer demand with respect to mobility.
4°) Implementation of new partnerships with top level tour operators
We are convinced that we need to multiply our customer access opportunities. This is why we have set up new partnerships with the leading tour operators in their particular markets. We are especially pleased with the bell-wether exclusivity agreement that we have concluded with EASY JET, the European leader in low-cost air travel. This partnership is growing constantly and already represents a very significant proportion of our development activities.
We have already tested solutions of this type with the ACCOR group, which, like us, has this year been confirmed as market leader in their sector. We have consolidated our relations with this hotel group and are providing a combined service offering in Australia. The effectiveness of this type of partnership agreement has already been well proven.
Our long-standing relations with the TUI group, the world leader in the travel industry, are today generating business in Germany and in many other countries. We consider this relationship to be a first-rate association, which continues to develop year on year. This is evidenced by the creation in 2004 of a new joint venture company between us and this world-leading travel group. Together, and on an equal footing, we are providing a combined market offering for TUI customers in the Balearic Islands, a destination which is extremely important for the German group.
As demonstrated by our recent agreement with Aerolineas Argentinas, signed only a few weeks ago, partnerships play an important role in our strategy of strengthening our commercial development. By adopting such policies, we are able to optimise several of our objectives at the same time; the first of these is our policy of only selecting partners, wherever possible, who are the market leaders in their sector, so that the common interest may be shared equitably; secondly, we are increasing our presence in the leisure sector, an area where we wish to make rapid inroads; and finally, the increase in customer contacts generated by these agreements results in higher scores in all the countries concerned.
5°) Quality is one of the essential conditions for our development
At the end of 2004, we were honoured to receive two prestigious awards, events which, for our Brand Name, matched the importance of becoming the European market leader. The first was the title of European Car Hire Leader, which we received for the second year running. We had almost become used to receiving this prize, which, indeed, reflects our position as European leader.
This was followed on 11th December last in Barbados, by the great honour of being awarded the top World Travel Award, the title of World leader in leisure car hire
We are particularly proud to have received these awards, firstly because they are awarded by a jury comprising representative of all the travel agents throughout the world. One hundred and fifty thousand representatives of 80 000 travel agencies were invited to vote this year, which makes this distinction the best recommendation that a tourist industry product could possibly wish to receive.
It was also a source of satisfaction that the entire profession has acknowledged that one of the declared objectives for 2004 priority to service quality via the Global Quality Service programme has been attained and that this level of quality exists in the entire EUROPCAR network throughout the world.
Not only is our group definitively confirmed as the number 1 company in our sector in Europe, but we are also recognised at world-wide level, given that American travel agencies represent a significant proportion of the voters. As Europeans, this is a considerable source of pride, but in addition, it is for us the best possible introduction to the world market that we could ever imagine.
When we speak of quality in our group, we include in this notion the need for all countries to comply with our policy, meet objectives and adhere to budgets. In short, keeping our promises! Many of you will know, having been present at our annual press conferences over the years, we are true to our word. This was the case, when we announced our objective of becoming Number I in the profession within five years. It is also the case for our financial targets, despite the somewhat difficult economic context. EUROPCAR no longer has to prove its credibility. We are as good as our word and that is the best guarantee that we can give to our shareholders, to our customers and to our partners.
The other aspect of our quality policy concerns the companys profitability levels. In this sphere too, as Gerhard Noack has already indicated, we are pleased to record a 16 % increase in our annual result, which, as you know, follows a record year. I will come back in a few moments to our intentions in this area for 2005.
6°) Europcar, present in all market segments of the profession offers a comprehensive mobility service.
I am sure that everybody knows Europcar as a car rental company, but I am even more certain that many of you are unaware of all the activities associated with vehicle deliveries and returns. We are of course closely involved in corporate short and long-term vehicle rentals. And, as we have mentioned several times this morning, we are in the process of increasing our presence in the field of leisure rentals.
However, you may not know that we are the leader in the field of supplying courtesy vehicles following vehicle breakdowns. Our role is to be on call around the clock and to intervene anywhere, at the request of an automobile club or a vehicle assistance company, to provide a vehicle to drivers whose own vehicles have broken down. We are, in addition, extremely present in the truck market. Our role is to provide mobility to customers as and when they require.
All these different activities provide a wealth of extremely accurate information concerning customer expectations in each country. We have, in fact, become an veritable marketing tool, organised to rapidly provide the best response to changes in customer demands. Of course, we work in synergy with our shareholder, which, as we all know, is the largest motor manufacturer in Europe.
It is therefore logical that they are our privileged partner when we are renewing the fleet of 250,000 vehicles we buy every year. They also grand us certain privileges including giving our customers the opportunity to be the first to drive the new models of the various group brands.
But we will never forget that the customer has always the right to choose and we must respect his wishes. That is the strength of our group today.
There you are, ladies and gentlemen, I know that your time is precious. But please allow me to reiterate the major issues.
2004 has seen the consolidation of our position as leader on the European market. This year has also seen a return to growth in many parts of the world. We have extended our influence by expanding our presence in the major countries in Asia and in Australia. With a high growth in activity, EUROPCAR has recorded record profits, with this year again, two figure growth.
This result, we owe essentially to our five thousand employees, who, around the clock every day of the year provide the best solutions to our customers requirements. I extend my thanks to them all and to all EUROPCARs partners.
In 2005 we are set to continue in the same direction. In geographical terms, we will be present in China and we are at present investing our energies to ensure that by the end of the year EUROPCAR will be present in the United States of America. In terms of results, we anticipate that our growth rate will once again be in two figures. And even better, our ambition is to exceed the 100 million Euro level, which would be double the 2002 results and quadruple the 2001 profit level. This is a fine indication of the progress that our group has made in a few years.
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your kind attention and now Gerhard NOACK and myself are available to answer your questions.