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Belgian brewer would pay $70 a share.

Anheuser-Busch to accept buyout offer, report says

ST. LOUIS - After weeks of public bickering, Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc.'s board is likely to accept a sweetened buyout offer from the Belgian-based brewer InBev SA as early as this weekend, a published report said.

The Wall Street Journal reported that InBev has boosted its takeover offer for the St. Louis-based maker of Budweiser, Bud Light and other beers by $5 a share to $70. It said one person it did not identify by name said the Anheuser-Busch board is likely to accept the offer this weekend.

A deal would be a stunning turnaround from the often heated rhetoric between the two companies over the last several days.

Anheuser-Busch "does not confirm, deny or speculate on rumors of potential investments, acquisitions, mergers, new business partnerships or other transactions," said W. Randolph Baker, the company's vice president and chief financial officer. InBev offered no comment.

Anheuser-Busch shares rose $5.29, or 8.6 percent, to close at $66.50 after rising to a 52-week high of $66.55 during the session.

Analyst Juli Niemann of Smith Moore & Co. investment brokers agrees the deal could be announced any day.

"It really is all about the money," Niemann said. "We just had to get a little bit more on the table. Bottom line is the rest is just housekeeping - what's going to be the name of the new company, that sort of thing. The layoffs will go ahead. Asset sales - you've got to pay for it."

News of the potential deal hit hard in St. Louis, where many bars and restaurants prominently display Budweiser and Bud Light signs.

"Right now, we're the closest bar to the biggest brewery in the world. Next year, we're going to be the closest bar to InBev's North American headquarters. It just doesn't sound right," said James Sinovic, owner of Big Daddy's bar.

Nearby, at the Cat's Meow, bartender Terry Boren said customers would probably keep buying Budweiser brands, even if they are no longer "American owned."

But if InBev stays true to its reputation for vigorous cost-cutting, resentments might linger.

"If the jobs stay here, I think everyone will stay pretty loyal," Boren said.

The deal has been widely opposed by Missouri politicians, worried it would create a near-monopoly in the U.S. beer market and hurt the state's economy. Anheuser-Busch employs about 6,000 workers in St. Louis.

Many St. Louisans fear the loss of the iconic brewer that is heavily involved in charitable and civic endeavors.

InBev announced a $46 billion takeover bid June 11. The Anheuser-Busch board rejected it as too low. But InBev pushed ahead, promising to keep open all 12 of Anheuser-Busch's U.S. breweries, and to retain the company's North American headquarters in St. Louis.