updated 6/5/2008 6:24:17 PM ET 2008-06-05T22:24:17

The U.S. Department of Justice closed its investigation of a proposed joint venture between Molson Coors Brewing Co. and Miller Brewing Co. on Thursday, clearing the way for the brewers to combine their U.S. operations.

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The eight-month investigation concluded that the joint venture would not reduce competition in the market, the department’s antitrust division said in a statement.

Miller, based in Milwaukee, and Molson Coors, based in Golden, Colo., announced in October they would form a joint venture called MillerCoors that would market and distribute their beers in the U.S. and Puerto Rico.

The deal was aimed at helping them compete against Anheuser-Busch Cos., which has about half the U.S. market.

Miller, which makes brands like Miller Lite and Miller Genuine Draft, has about 18 percent of the market while Molson Coors, maker of Coors Light, has about 11 percent.

“We’re obviously very happy about the outcome,” Miller spokesman Pete Marino said. “We’ve believed all along this was a pro-competitive deal.”

Molson Coors Chief Executive Leo Kiely called Thursday’s announcement “a critical milestone.”

“MillerCoors is quickly moving toward becoming a reality,” he said in a statement.

The two companies expect to close the deal June 30. MillerCoors will begin operations under the combined name the following day, Marino said.

The new executive team, which will be announced Monday, will decide where the headquarters will be. Molson Coors Vice Chairman Pete Coors has said it most likely won’t be in Milwaukee or Denver, but both companies’ chief executives say they will continue to have a presence in their hometowns.

The Justice Department said its investigation showed the joint venture will save the companies money and have “a beneficial effect” on prices.

The companies said they expect the joint venture to produce about $500 million in annual cost savings by the third full financial year of combined operations.

Miller is coming off a strong year that included the most successful brand launch in SABMiller’s history. Lime-and-salt flavored Miller Chill saw strong sales during its release last year and posted $100 million in revenue.

Miller is owned by London-based SABMiller PLC. European Union regulators have already approved the deal.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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