WASHINGTON — The federal government has given its blessing to the planned merger of Liz Claiborne and Ellen Tracy, a needed step should the sportswear competitors follow-through and get hitched.

As is common, an antitrust official at the Department of Justice, weighing potential anticompetitive concerns, was spare Monday in describing the agency’s decision. "DOJ is not going to be an impediment to the merger," the official said.

Claiborne and Tracy officials have remained mum on reports that a merger is imminent. News of the negotiations was first reported in WWD on July 30.

Federal officials weigh several factors in deciding whether to block a merger or require one of the merging entities to sell off divisions to maintain competition in a particular market. The crucial issue regulators weigh is whether a merger will increase prices in a market due to lessened competition or from market conditions that might keep new competitors out of the game.

Claiborne is a diversified apparel firm with $3.5 billion in sales. The company would augment its already sizeable bridge sportswear holdings by acquiring the privately held Ellen Tracy, which has a reported $250 million in annual sales.

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