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KOSDAQ looks to Kakao as relief pitcher

In a struggle to revitalize the lackluster over-the-counter KOSDAQ market, the Korea Exchange is eyeing Kakao Corp., the operator of Korea’s top mobile messenger Kakao Talk.

The state-run stock market recently launched an exclusive team created to persuade Kakao to list on the KOSDAQ, Korea Exchange officials said Thursday.

“We think that Kakao, which specializes in information technology and mobile communication, is better suited for KOSDAQ (than the securities market),” said Ha Jong-won, manager of the KOSDAQ market division.

His comments came in response to concerns that Kakao, like other IT-related predecessors such as NHN and NCsoft, may prefer the securities sector, which offers a higher level of market recognition and stock value.

In January, the company said it may go public in May 2015, breaking its long silence over an initial public offering and responding to market expectations.

Currently, Kakao’s total market value is estimated to range between 1.5 trillion won ($1.4 billion) and 5 trillion won, an amount which the company hopes will soar further by the time it goes public.

The potential listing of Kakao is considered a powerful catalyst for the domestic over-the-counter market, which has largely been weak since the IT industry bubble burst in the late 1990s.

Also, the KRX had recently been disturbed by the government’s plan to separate the KOSDAQ sector altogether, though the idea was later withdrawn.

It was amid such circumstances that Kakao announced its IPO blueprint, rising as the most attractive potential client for the market.

The KOSDAQ market division aims to take after the U.S. over-the-counter NASDAQ, which won in a neck-and-neck race with the New York Stock Exchange and successfully wooed Facebook.

“It is effective for listed IT companies to cluster on the KOSDAQ, not only for the market but also for the companies themselves,” Ha said.

Kakao, however, put off its final decision, claiming that it anticipates new business development abroad, and that it first wishes to collect accurate market evaluations instead of rushing into processes, according to officials.

Lee Sir-goo, co-CEO of Kakao Corp.
Lee Sir-goo, co-CEO of Kakao Corp.

While speculations escalated, Kakao chief Lee Sir-goo also admitted that the company’s IPO processes are picking up speed.

“The official IPO operator will be selected within the first half of the year, as we are in the final stage of the selection process,” Lee said Tuesday at the Mobile World Congress 2014 being held in Spain this week.

His comments were in response to a foreign press report that Kakao had picked Morgan Stanley as its overseas IPO manager, and Samsung Securities as its local counterpart.

By Bae Hyun-jung (