Nestle looking at options to reduce L'Oreal stake: Bloomberg

ZURICH (REUTERS) - Nestle, the world's biggest food company, is looking at ways to reduce its US$30 billion stake (S$38 billion) in cosmetics firm L'Oreal, Bloomberg reported on Saturday, citing sources with knowledge of the matter.

Nestle has told L'Oreal of its intentions, and the two companies have discussed the issue with banks, though no decision over the possible timing of any sale, which could take years, has been made, the report said.

Nestle is under pressure to make its intentions clear towards the cosmetics firm, its partner of 40 years, when the ties that bind them loosen in April.

The Swiss company owns a 29.5 per cent stake in L'Oreal and the expiry of a 10-year right of first refusal agreement with the Bettencourt family in April should make it easier for Nestle to sell, though it has no urgent need to do so.

Talks have picked up as the expiry of restrictions approaches, the report said.

A spokesman for L'Oreal declined to comment. Nestle declined to comment beyond pointing to a statement on its website that says the board is addressing the future of the stake "with great attention in the framework of the group's global nutrition, health and wellness strategy".

L'Oreal chief executive Jean-Paul Agon told Le Monde newspaper last month the French cosmetics giant has the means to buy the stake held by Nestle, thanks to its net cash position and 9 per cent stake in drugmaker Sanofi.

Mr Agon said the shares held by Nestle could be cancelled if L'Oreal repurchased them, thereby boosting earnings per share for remaining shareholders.