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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

Justice Department closes Emmett Till murder probe

A faded photograph is attached to the headstone that marks the gravesite of Emmett Till in Burr Oak Cemetery in Chicago. Photo: Scott Olson via Getty Images

The family of Emmett Till announced Monday that the Department of Justice has formally closed its second investigation into the 1955 murder of Emmett Till.

Why it matters: The DOJ reopened the probe in 2018 after the white woman at the center of the case reportedly recanted her allegation that Till, a Black 14-year-old, sexually harassed her prior to his murder.

GOP Rep. Devin Nunes to retire, will be CEO of Trump media org

Rep. Devin Nunes. Photo: Dylan Hollingsworth/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), who serves as the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, will retire at the end of the year and become CEO of Trump's new media organization.

Why it matters: Nunes, once considered a moderate member of the party, became one of the fiercest defenders of former President Donald Trump throughout both of Trump's impeachments and the Intel committee's Russia investigation.

DOJ cites discrimination in lawsuit against Texas over voting districts

Attorney General Merrick Garland. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Department of Justice on Monday filed a lawsuit against Texas, alleging Republican state lawmakers discriminated against Black and Latino voters and have "again diluted the voting strength of minority Texans" when they approved new redistricting maps.

Why it matters: A DOJ assessment of the new districts found that they violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, Attorney General Merrick Garland said at a press conference.