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Financing

Naver mulls US listing for webtoon business

Apr 21, 2021 (Gmt+09:00)

'True Beauty,' one of Naver's most popular webtoon series
'True Beauty,' one of Naver's most popular webtoon series
South Korea’s top online portal Naver Corp. is considering more dollar bond sales after it raised $500 million last month in its first foreign currency debt sale, according to a Bloomberg report.

The country's internet giant is also eyeing a possible US listing of Naver Webtoon Ltd., its web cartoon platform, Naver's Chief Financial Officer Park Sang-jin told the US news outlet.

His remarks came after investment banking sources said in February that Naver Webtoon had begun preparations to go public in the US by year-end. At the time, the sources said the webtoon platform had tapped multiple global investment banks since the end of last year to consult on the US listing.

“To grow, it’s inevitable that we go global ... We should find business opportunities and meet capable partners to supplement our assets,” Park was quoted as saying in an interview.

Last month, Naver issued five-year dollar-denominated sustainability bonds of $500 million with a yield of 1.54% per annum. The new bond, its first overseas debt, was more than six times oversubscribed.

In January, Naver said it planned to raise as much as 1.26 trillion won in domestic and overseas bond markets in the first half to finance its aggressive investment in entertainment platforms.

Park told Bloomberg the firm was looking for more opportunities in Japan, where its Line messaging service is popular, as well as in Europe, Southeast Asia and Taiwan.

In North America, Naver is hoping to strengthen its storytelling business via its web cartoon unit and the world's largest web novel platform Wattpad, which the Korean portal acquired for 653.2 billion won in January of this year.

According to the report, Naver Webtoon has no immediate plans to raise funds as it focuses on growth, but it may consider a listing if the operation becomes more solid and familiar to US investors. The digital comics platform moved the unit’s headquarters to Los Angeles from Korea in December of last year.

In 2020, Naver Webtoon earned a 5.5 billion won ($5 million) operating profit on revenue of 132.3 billion won. Its previous results were not disclosed. This year, the webtoon platform's revenue is expected to reach 340 billion won, according to analysts. 

The web portal Naver has been expanding into shopping, web content and fintech businesses through acquisitions.

In January, it purchased a 49% stake in beNX, a unit of HYBE Co., formerly known as Big Hit Entertainment Co., for 412 billion won. HYBE is the label behind global sensation BTS.

In February, Naver invested €115 million in Wallapop, a Spanish virtual marketplace, for slightly more than a 10% stake, followed by its $150 million investment in Elang Mahkota Teknologi (Emtek), Indonesia’s largest technology, telecom and media conglomerate, earlier this month.

'Yumi's Cells,' a popular Naver Webtoon series
'Yumi's Cells,' a popular Naver Webtoon series
Naver is now competing with hometown rival Kakao Corp. to acquire Munpia Inc., their smaller domestic rival in the web novel market, as part of their efforts to beef up original content.

Separately, Naver Chief Executive Han Seong-sook told an online tech conference on Wednesday that Generation Z's digital enthusiasm would boost the intellectual property (IP)-based digital content business, encompassing webtoons and web novels. 

"Naver Webtoon is the world's No. 1 Manhwa platform and Wattpad is the world's top web novel platform. We can create synergy by making web novels into webtoons and vice versa," she said during the virtual global conference held in Canada. 

During the conference, Wattpad CEO Allen Lau said that more than 90 novels registered with Wattpad are being adapted into movies or TV dramas.

By Joo-Wan Kim

kjwan@hankyung.com

Yeonhee Kim edited this article
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