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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Razor-maker Harry's last May agreed to be acquired for $1.37 billion by Schick parent Edgewell and, for the next six months, there were few concerns at either company.

But, but, but: Shortly before Christmas, everything changed. "[Regulators] started asking different sorts of questions, and you could see where they were heading," says a source familiar with the situation.

  • On Jan. 16, Harry's co-CEO Jeff Raider posted a pro-merger argument via Medium, which suggests he felt the writing was on the wall.
  • On Monday, the Federal Trade Commission said it will sue to block the deal, believing that it would further strengthen a duopoly between Edgewell and market leader Procter & Gamble.
    • The FTC argues the direct-to-consumer business of Harry's and rival Dollar Shave Club did little to lower industry prices or spur innovation, but rather those things happened in 2016 when Harry's entered physical retail.
    • Read the FTC's full administrative complaint.

Sources say that Edgewell and Harry's haven't yet decided on next steps, but expectations are that they'll fight this in court. And, if so, expect them to be emboldened by the FTC's recent failure to block a merger of hydrogen peroxide companies, with a judge ruling that the agency's argument amounted to an "oversimplification."

  • The FTC's new complaint mostly ignores the impact of Dollar Shave Club, which was purchased for $1 billion in 2016 by Unilever — suggesting that its business model was already viewed as appealing before either it or Harry's moved big into physical retail.
  • Plus, it's odd to argue duopoly when a company with such major resources as Unilever is now involved. Let alone the recent, U.S. entry of South Korea's Dorco, which also supplies razors to Dollar Shave, or the continuing presence of Bic (which is working on a connected razor product, speaking to the innovation angle).
  • And don't forget about Billie, the brand focused on women, that P&G recently agreed to buy (possibly to take it off the antitrust chessboard, or perhaps as a strategic replay of the mid-1980's soda wars).

The bottom line: One possibility is that the FTC is missing the boat on direct-to-consumer. Another is that this is actually its way to test the limits of omnichannel retail, maybe as a precursor to future actions against giants like Amazon. But no matter the backstory, this one will come down to the numbers — particularly pricing — and each side thinks it has the data to prove its case.

Go deeper: FTC's move to block Harry's deal could impact ad spending

Go deeper

Kendall Baker, author of Sports
41 mins ago - Sports

2021 Tokyo Olympics hang in the balance

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

10 months ago, the Tokyo Olympics were postponed. Now, less than six months ahead of their new start date, the dreaded word is being murmured: "canceled."

Driving the news: The Japanese government has privately concluded that the Games will have to be called off, The Times reports (subscription), citing an unnamed senior government source.

Biden's centrist words, liberal actions

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

President Biden talks like a soothing centrist. He promises to govern like a soothing centrist. But early moves show that he is keeping his promise to advance a liberal agenda.

Why it matters: Never before has a president done more by executive fiat in such a short period of time than Biden. And those specific actions, coupled with a push for a more progressive slate of regulators and advisers, look more like the Biden of the Democratic primary than the unity-and-restraint Biden of the general election.

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Review of Trump ban marks major turning point for Facebook

Photo Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

Facebook's decision to ask its new independent Oversight Board to review the company's indefinite suspension of former President Trump is likely to set a critical precedent for how the social media giant handles political speech from world leaders.

What they're saying: "I very much hope and can expect … that they will uphold our decision," Facebook's VP of global affairs Nick Clegg tells Axios.