The US's largest food group announced yesterday that it had increased its quarterly dividend by 8.7% as anticipation grows that the company's long-awaited spin-off from parent group Altria is imminent.

Kraft's board has increased the regular quarterly dividend to an annualised rate of US$1 per common share of class A and class B stock - with the quarterly dividend increasing from $0.23 per share to $0.25 per share.

The Altria board are scheduled to meet later today (30 August) and with the recent court decision handing the tobacco industry a partial victory in its ongoing battle with the Justice Department many have suggested that the way is now clear for the spin-off to be announced. While finding the industry guilty of misleading the public, a federal court stopped short of awarding the billions of dollars in damages the prosecution had called for.

However Altria has remained tight-lipped on the subject, telling just-food yesterday that the company was unwilling to reveal any details surrounding the board meeting. "We are not giving out any information concerning the meeting or the issues that will be deliberated," a spokesperson for the company commented.