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Korea Web Giant Naver Mulls U.S. Bond, IPO to Take on Google

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·3 min read
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(Bloomberg) -- One of the few countries in the world where Google doesn’t dominate web searches is South Korea, where Naver Corp. leads the market and is also a big player in e-commerce and fintech.

But the Korean company, which now gets more than 95% of revenue domestically, wants to boost its international presence. To help with that, Naver is considering more dollar bond sales after its debut deal last month, and it’s also eyeing a possible future U.S. initial public offering for a unit, chief financial officer Park Sang-jin said in an interview.

“To grow, it’s inevitable that we go global,” according to Park, who’s been with the firm since it was founded in 1999. “We should find business opportunities and meet capable partners to supplement our assets.”

Naver rival Coupang Inc.’s U.S. IPO last month was the biggest by a Korean firm in more than a decade. It underscored the drive by companies to expand globally, as well as investors’ willingness to provide funds for that. Naver has made investments overseas recently including taking stakes in Spain’s virtual marketplace Wallapop and Canada’s Wattpad. Park said the firm is looking for more opportunities in Japan, where its Line messaging service is popular, as well as Europe, Southeast Asia and Taiwan.

In North America, Naver is hoping to strengthen its so-called storytelling business via its web cartoon unit and internet novel platform Wattpad. The unit, Naver Webtoon, doesn’t have immediate plans to raise funds for now as it focuses on growth, but it may consider a listing if the operation becomes more solid and familiar to U.S. investors, Park said. The company moved the unit’s headquarters to Los Angeles from Korea in December last year.

Shares of NBT Inc., a Seoul-based advertising firm that’s been in a partnership with Naver Webtoon since 2018, jumped on expectations that an IPO by the unit may help bolster its business. The stock rose 10.5% Wednesday, the most in about two weeks, after surging as much as 26% during the day even as the Kosdaq index fell.

More Bonds

Naver is also considering selling more ESG dollar bonds in the near future after its $500 million deal last month. Most of the proceeds of that sale will likely be used for an environmentally-friendly data center that’s scheduled to be completed at the end of 2022 in Sejong, 150 kilometers (93 miles) south of Seoul, according to Park. The firm may sell offshore bonds on a regular basis in the future, he said.

The company, which has a 65% share of South Korea’s search engine market according to InterAd data, also has had net cash positions for years.

“Since we have plenty of cash, we used to make investments using cash reserves, but now we’re thinking we might increase leverage if needed,” Park said.

(Updates share move of business partner NBT Inc. in sixth paragraph.)

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