Justice Department opposes beer merger

Anheuser-Busch InBev trying to join with Mexico's largest brewer

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WASHINGTON — The Justice Department moved Thursday to block beer giant Anheuser-Busch InBev from merging with Mexico's largest brewer, Grupo Modelo, arguing the deal would threaten competition and raise prices for consumers.

The $20.1 billion deal would have combined the biggest and third-biggest beer brewers in the country, adding Grupo Modelo's fast-growing Corona brand to AB InBev's sizable portfolio, which includes Budweiser, Bud Light, Beck's and Stella's.

The merger, announced last summer, would also usher in further consolidation in the U.S. beer market, which has been steadily winnowed down to two major brewers in recent years: AB InBev, based in Belgium, and Chicago-based MillerCoors, the company behind Miller Lite and Coors.

Antitrust officials said Thursday they were alarmed by the prospect of AB InBev gaining even more market share by buying a direct competitor.

"We took this action today because we believe the acquisition is a bad deal for American consumers," said Bill Baer, head of the Justice Department's antitrust division.

After years of major mergers being greenlighted without much opposition from the government, the lawsuit highlights the Obama administration's willingness to go to court to block high-profile deals.