Japan’s Line Shoots for $1.1 Billion IPO Amid Market Tumult

  • The messaging service may need to bankroll a global expansion
  • Line will debut in New York and Tokyo in rare dual IPO

Can Line Take On the Mobile Messaging Giants?

Line Corp., Japan’s most popular mobile-messaging service, and its owners are aiming to raise as much as 112 billion yen ($1.1 billion) in what could become the biggest technology initial public offering globally this year.

Backed by South Korean search portal Naver Corp., Line and its existing investors are offering 35 million shares at 2,700 yen to 3,200 yen apiece, the company said Tuesday. The Tokyo-based company had said earlier it planned to sell shares with an indicative price of 2,800 yen. 

Line is planning to go public during one of the most tumultuous times for global markets in years. It announced pricing a day later than originally planned, after the U.K.’s vote to exit the European Union sent stocks and currencies into a tailspin. However, Line’s well-recognized brand may tempt individual investors at home.

“Line will probably do really well because it will be supported by retail money,” said Amir Anvarzadeh, manager of Japanese equity sales at BGC Partners Inc. “Will it be well received around 3,000 yen? The answer is definitely. Whether that’s fair value is a whole different question.”

Line is now gearing up for a battle with far larger rivals like Facebook Inc. and Tencent Holdings Ltd. as it looks to expand its 218 million user base beyond its strongest markets of Japan, Taiwan and Thailand. It plans to use the proceeds to spearhead an expansion across Asia and, eventually, the U.S.

Line originally filed to go public two years ago, but held off in hopes of getting a stronger reception from investors. Instead, the delay may have cost the messaging service $3 billion in valuation as Facebook began encroaching on its turf and the market for technology company IPOs cooled. Line will be valued at about 672 billion yen if it prices its IPO at the very top of its range, compared with a target of about 1 trillion yen in 2014.

Despite the scaled-back fundraising ambitions, some investors may argue it’s still too richly valued. Line debuted in 2011 and pioneered the business model of selling stickers and other digital knick-knacks that people buy and share while chatting on smartphones. But user growth tapered off as Facebook’s Messenger and WhatsApp and Tencent’s WeChat mounted a challenge.

Line’s sales grew 40 percent last year to 120.7 billion yen, with games, streaming music and comics accounting for 41 percent of that. But the company chalked up a net loss of 7.6 billion yen in the period, according to its IPO filing. 

“The market value they’re seeking is too high to justify,” said Makoto Kikuchi, Chief Executive Officer of Myojo Asset Management Co. “Growth in the number of users is slowing down and I can’t see a strong driver for profit growth.”

Line said it plans to price the offering on July 11. It aims to begin trading in New York on July 14 and in Tokyo the next day. Nomura Holdings Inc., JPMorgan Chase & Co., Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. are its lead underwriters.

More than $974 billion has been erased from S&P 500 stock values over the past two days, the third-most in history. Prior to the U.K’s vote, San Francisco-based Twilio Inc. surged 92 percent in its Thursday public debut in New York. The stellar performance of the maker of mobile and web applications was the first positive sign since last year that investors’ appetite for tech IPOs was recovering.

The moribund market for new listings has limited exit options, even though more than 160 startups are currently valued at $1 billion or more, according to CB Insights figures. No technology company has raised more than $150 million in an IPO this year, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

“I wonder if Line has decided to go for an IPO now because its valuation will go down further,” Kikuchi said. “It’s too expensive.”

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