Shares of Associated Banc-Corp surged Friday on speculation that the Green Bay, Wis., bank holding company is about to be acquired.

The stock price for Associated, an $11.3 billion-asset company with 225 branches in Illinois and Wisconsin, jumped 10% during the first hour of trading from Thursday's close of $36.875.It closed Friday at $41.1875.

Analysts cited rumors that Wells Fargo & Co. of San Francisco offered Associated a stock exchange worth at least $50 a share, or $3.2 billion. Spokesmen for both companies declined to comment, citing policies against responding to merger rumors.

A deal would help Wells achieve its goal of moving from fifth in market share in Wisconsin to a tie for third with Firstar Corp. of Milwaukee, said James R. Bradshaw, an analyst at Pacific Crest Securities, of Portland, Ore.

Milwaukee's Marshall & Ilsley Corp. and U.S. Bancorp in Minneapolis also might be interested in acquiring Associated, according to analysts.

Associated has been considered an acquisition target since the fourth quarter, when it reported an unexpectedly large charge for its acquisition last year of in-state rival First Financial Inc.

Associated has promised its earnings would recover during the second half of the year, but management may not be given a chance to realize those goals.

"Every star is aligned for this thing to be bought out," said David B. Moore, a bank analyst at Podesta & Co. in Chicago.

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