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    Altria Group Committed to Kraft Spin-off

    Company is preparing to separate operations once several U.S. tobacco litigation hurdles are cleared.

    NEW YORK -- Altria Group Inc. is standing by its 2005 earnings forecast and said it is still committed to a restructuring that could separate the Philip Morris cigarette businesses from Kraft Foods Inc, reported Reuters.

    "While the precise timing of key decisions and their chronology remain uncertain, we remain committed to its pursuit and we have dedicated much attention to assuring executional readiness," chairman and CEO Louis Camilleri said in a news release summarizing comments to an investor conference.

    Camilleri has said on several occasions that the company is preparing to separate the food and tobacco operations, once several U.S. tobacco litigation hurdles are cleared. Aside from splitting off Kraft, the tobacco business's U.S. and international units might also be separated, Reuters reported.

    He repeated that position on Wednesday and urged investors to have patience, as the U.S. legal system "moves at a deliberate pace," according to the report.

    Altria shares are up more about 22 percent this year, in part fueled by expectations that the company will be worth more once it is split up, Reuters reported.

    Camilleri stood by Altria's previous forecast of 2005 earnings from continuing operations at the high end of a range of $5.05 to $5.10 a share.

    He said in the report that if the U.S. dollar stays strong, it would be a challenge for the company in 2006.

    Altria shares were down 1 cent at $74.51 on Wednesday afternoon on the New York Stock Exchange.

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