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Post-IPO : What's next for Naver?

[THE INVESTOR] After mobile messenger app Line Corp.’s high-profile stock market debut in the U.S. and Japan, the company and its parent Naver face a hefty task —staying competitive in the global mobile messenger and Internet market dominated by U.S. and Chinese Internet giants, such as Facebook, Google and Tencent.

Japan-based Line Corp. owned by South Korean Internet giant Naver, went public on the New York Stock Exchange and Tokyo Stock Exchange on Thursday and Friday after raising $1.3 billion in the biggest initial public offering of the year in the technology sector.
 

Naver headquarters in Bundang, Gyeonggi Province / Naver
Naver headquarters in Bundang, Gyeonggi Province / Naver

Now, with the newly-generated funds, Line will opt to strengthen its presence in its current strongholds in Asia while incrementally tap into global markets in the West with new technologies services, said Naver founder and board chairman Lee Hae-jin on Friday.

“Our foremost priority is to continue defending our leadership in Line's dominant markets — Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia and Thailand, where we believe lie great opportunities and growth potential,” Lee told reporters at Naver’s Data Center “GAK” in Chuncheon, Gangwon Province.

Line offers free messaging and voice call services for some 218 million monthly active users, mostly in Asia. It profits by selling digital stickers and games used on the app, as well as advertising — which led the firm to rake in more than $1 billion in revenue last year.

Using the new funds from the IPO, Line is looking to develop services that can add new value to the app as well as explore new technologies that would allow the firm to venture out of its Asian strongholds and into new markets in the West, Lee said.

“As it will be difficult to compete on the mobile messenger business in Europe and the U.S., markets to which we want to expand, we will make bold investment into new technologies and services to create new markets to grow in,” he said.

Calling the Line IPO a “bold step toward greater change,” Lee said Naver has gained significant leeway to make more aggressive investment into new, promising technologies that can survive the competition and appeal to a global audience.

“The biggest difficulty is that foreign IT giants possess immense capital which they can use to invest in a wide range of sectors, whereas we have significantly less capital to work with and must carefully decide where to focus our investments,” he said.

Naver plans to concentrate on advancing the new technologies that are currently under development at its own tech facilities as well as invest in startups that possess standout technologies that can improve its existing services as well as build new ones, Lee said. 

"We want to invest in startups with strong technologies and lots of bright engineers," the Naver chief said. "Naver possesses the right infrastructure, capital and networks in launching such startups to overseas markets."

Line's dual listing in Japan and the U.S. has also put the company in a better position to pursue global expansion and overseas M&A by lifting the company’s brand value on a more global scale, said the Naver chief.

Driven by high investor demand, Line shares on the Tokyo Stock Exchange closed at 4,345 yen ($41) on Friday, up 32 percent from its initial offering price of 3,300 yen, giving the company a market valuation of about 900 billion yen ($8.5 billion).

A day earlier in the U.S., Line’s shares had closed at $41.58 on the New York Stock Exchange, surging 27 percent above the IPO price of $32.84 and raising the firm’s market value to about $8.7 billion. 

Line has sold 35 million shares of stock -- split between 22 million American depository receipt shares listed in New York and 13 million shares listed in Tokyo. Following the IPO, Naver now controls approximately 83.3 percent of Line's stocks. 

By Sohn Ji-young (jys@heraldcorp.com)

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