Analysts discounted a report in

U.S.A. Today

on Friday that

H.J. Heinz

(HNZ)

was planning to offer up to $72 a share or $20 billion to acquire

Bestfoods

(BFO) - Get Report

, a move that could have triggered a bidding war with Anglo-Dutch concern

Unilever PLC

(UL) - Get Report

.

"I don't attach a great deal of credence to the story," said Terry Bivens, an analyst at Bear Stearns. "$20 billion is a pretty big price tag."

Bear Stearns rates Heinz a buy and has not done any underwriting for the Pittsburgh-based company.

Jack Kennedy, a spokesman for Heinz, declined to comment on the story or on possible takeover talks.

Heinz's reported offer is sizably larger than Unilever's $66-a-share, or $18.4 billion, unsolicited bid, which Bestfoods

rejected on Tuesday.

John McMillin, an analyst at

Prudential Securities

, also dismissed the report. He said that if Heinz was to make an offer it would have to be in stock, since the company does not have enough money for a cash deal. And, he added, Heinz's share is too weak to support such a bid.

"A bid of $72 a share assumes Heinz's stock doesn't change," said McMillin, adding that such an offer would drive down Heinz's stock price on dilution concerns.

Heinz's share was lately trading down 1, or 2.6%, at 37 3/8. (Heinz closed down 1 3/8, or 4%, at 37.)

Although he did not rule out the possibility that Bestfoods of Englewood Cliffs, N.J. may have talked to Heinz, McMillin discounted

USA Today's

suggestion that Heinz Chairman Anthony O'Reilly was in New York this week to discuss a deal with Bestfoods' CEO Dick Shoemate. McMillin said O'Reilly had been scheduled to come to New York for the past six months as the guest of honor at an American Ireland Fund dinner. McMillin also attended the dinner.

Prudential rates Heinz an accumulate and has not done any underwriting for the company.

Bivens said he thought consumer products giant Unilever would ultimately acquire Bestfoods, despite a good strategic fit between Heinz and Bestfoods.

Unilever, a company more than three times as large as Heinz, recently required

SlimFast Foods

and

Ben & Jerry's Homemade

(BJICA)

for a total of about $2.6 billion.