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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Antitrust regulators are feeling their oats, after years of being viewed as little more than speedbumps on the path toward corporate consolidation.

Driving the news: Insurance brokers Aon (NYSE: AON) and Willis Towers Watson (Nasdaq: WLTW) this morning terminated their $34 billion merger agreement, just five weeks after the U.S. Department of Justice sued to block the deal.

  • This had been the Biden administration's first major antitrust action, with the DOJ's complaint citing an unidentified Aon executive who crowed about how the merger would create an "oligopoly."
  • Aon will pay a $1 billion termination fee to Willis Towers Watson. No word yet on if it will now keep its U.S. retirement business, which it had planned to sell to Aquiline Capital Partners in an effort to help obtain DOJ approval for WTW (Aon didn't return email on that, and Aquiline declined comment).
  • And none of this has to do with Big Tech, which is expected to have critics running both the FTC (Lina Khan) and the DOJ's antitrust division (Jonathan Kanter, who still needs Senate approval).

Emboldened trustbusters aren't just a U.S. thing, even though Aon/WTW did receive European Commission approval. In just the past few days:

  • Brazil's top competition regulator used the word "complex" when describing Oi SA's proposed $3.2 billion sale of its mobile network operations. That is not an adjective that either the seller or the buying group wanted to hear.
  • European antitrust regulators reportedly are launching a full investigation into Facebook's proposed $1 billion purchase of enterprise customer service company Kustomer, which was first announced last November.
  • Westpac Banking Corp. of Australia was blocked by antitrust regulators in Papua New Guinea from selling a A$420 million stake in its Pacific operations to Kina Securities. That deal was announced last December.
  • An Indian court denied Amazon and Flipkart's appeals to slow down an antitrust investigation into their business practices.

The bottom line: The path from deal announcement to deal closure is no longer perfunctory.

Go deeper

Facebook urges court to drop FTC antitrust suit

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Facebook asked a federal court Monday to dismiss the latest antitrust complaint against it from the Federal Trade Commission, arguing FTC chair Lina Khan shouldn't have been able to cast the deciding vote to bring the case.

The big picture: A previous version of this suit was thrown out by a federal judge in June, and the FTC returned with a revised version in August that Facebook is now responding to.

2 hours ago - Health

Pfizer begins clinical trial for Omicron-specific COVID vaccine

A health worker in Palestine preparing a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech's coronavirus vaccine on Jan. 24. Photo: Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Pfizer and BioNTech announced Tuesday that they have started clinical trials for a reformulated vaccine to protect against the Omicron coronavirus variant.

Why it matters: The rise of the Omicron variant has forced vaccine makers to reassess the effectiveness of their vaccines.

Retail stock traders power stunning comeback after deep selloff

Illustration: Megan Robinson/Axios

Stocks staged a Patrick Mahomes-esque comeback Monday, after plunging for the first few hours of trading.

Why it matters: The remarkable recovery suggests that retail traders who upended markets over the last year — most notably during the GameStop bonanza that occurred almost exactly a year ago — continue to be powerful influence in the markets.