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Nestl boosts share buyback and mulls Alcon sale

Cash-rich Nestl&eacute;, the world&rsquo;s biggest food group, said yesterday it was speeding up a programme to buy back shares and was likely to raise fresh funds from the sale of its stake in eye care firm Alcon.<br /><br />The firm declined to comment on any possible counterbid for Cadbury, though it said it was always open to purchases of the right kind and would return an extra Sfr3bn (&pound;1.8bn) to shareholders this year. Nestl&eacute; said it would probably now complete its Sfr25bn share buyback programme late in the first half of next year by which time, analysts speculated, it might launch another if it sells its Alcon stake.<br /><br />&ldquo;We will update about Alcon as and when what is clearly a strong likelihood becomes a certainty,&rdquo; head of investor relations Roddy Child-Villiers said after the firm reported in line nine-months sales growth.<br /><br />Nestl&eacute; sold 25 per cent of Alcon to Swiss drugmaker Novartis last year for $11bn (&pound;6.6bn) and agreed an option to sell it 52 per cent from January next year. Novartis did not comment yesterday on the possibility of exercising its Alcon option.