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M&As

Interpark draws cool response from Korean online giants

Naver, Kakao and Yanolja have not put in bids; candidates would be narrowed to Trip.com, CVC-owned platform

By Aug 31, 2021 (Gmt+09:00)

Interpark draws cool response from Korean online giants

South Korea’s online retail platform Interpark Corp. has failed to drum up interest from the country's largest online platforms, including Naver Corp., Kakao Corp. and Yanolja Inc., according to investment banking sources on Aug. 31.

Last month, Interpark's largest shareholder Lee Ki-hyung decided to sell a 28.41% stake in the e-commerce player held by himself and related parties. Its sale manager NH Investment & Securities distributed the information memorandum (IM) to more than 10 potential buyers, including the country’s chemical to steel-focused KG Group which has emerged as an active M&A buyer.

But most of the strong candidates have not participated in the preliminary round of bidding, in a deal estimated at over 500 billion won ($430 million), the sources said.

Now that major domestic buyers stepped aside, the remaining candidates would be narrowed to China’s leading online travel agency (OTA) Trip.com and South Korea's No. 2 accommodation booking app operator GC Company Corp., the sources added.

Trip.com, the world's No. 2 online travel platform, has been expected to join the race for Interpark as the Chinese OTA aims to expand its presence in Korea's travel and culture segments. 

GC Company, better known as its Korean name of Yeogi Eotta, is a majority owned by CVC Capital Partners. Since its 2019 acquisition of the booking platform, the British private equity firm has made bolt-on acquisitions of smaller domestic rivals.

After its rival Yanolja recently raised 2 trillion won from the Masayoshi Son-led SoftBank Vision Fund II at a valuation of 10 trillion won, the CVC-owned platform could be interested in Interpark to better compete with the bigger rival, according to the sources.

For the stake sale, Interpark is hiving off the divisions related to travel services, book orders and ticket sales for concerts and performances into a separate entity and sell a 100% stake in the new spin-off.

But the divisions to be split off do not include Interpark's profitable biopharmaceutical business, nor its lucative subsidiaries including iMarket Korea.

Given the pandemic-caused slowdown in the divisions up for sale, some would-be buyers showed a cool response to the proposal of taking over all the businesses in the new entity.

Considering Interpark's market capitalization of 778 billion won and its shares in Market Korea worth 170 billion won, its founder Lee is likely to ask more than 500 billion won for the stake deal.

Write to Jun-ho Cha at chacha@hankyung.com

Yeonhee Kime edited this article.

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