Singapore start-up Sea said to file for US$1b IPO in US

Forrest Li, founder of Singapore-based tech company Garena, which has been rebranded as Sea.
Forrest Li, founder of Singapore-based tech company Garena, which has been rebranded as Sea. PHOTO: ST FILE

HONG KONG/SINGAPORE (BLOOMBERG) - Sea Ltd, Southeast Asia's most valuable startup, has filed confidentially for a potential US initial public offering that could raise about US$1 billion (S$1.39 billion), according to people with knowledge of the matter.

The Singapore-based company, formerly known as Garena, filed with the US Securities and Exchange Commission in the past few weeks, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the information is private.

Any overseas listing of Sea would be a blow for Singapore, which has been trying to woo local start-ups to sell shares at home as it seeks to build a regional hub for fast-growing, innovative companies. Singapore Exchange is nearing a deal with the country's technology regulator to develop a system for pairing startups with investors, in a move to encourage such listings, people with knowledge of the matter said this week.

Sea is considering listing in early 2018, though no final decisions have been made, one of the people said. Sea is working with Goldman Sachs Group and Morgan Stanley on the share sale, the people said. Under the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act, companies with less than US$1 billion in annual revenue can file for an IPO with the SEC privately and work out the details outside the public eye.

The company, founded in 2009 by entrepreneur Forrest Li, began as an online gaming portal and has since branched out to add mobile shopping and payment services. A US$1 billion deal would be the largest technology IPO out of Southeast Asia, according to data compiled by Bloomberg, and be a boon for backers such as Tencent Holdings.  Representatives for Sea, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley declined to comment.

The start-up said earlier this month it raised another US$550 million in funding as it steps up a battle in Indonesia with rivals including Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding. The latest funding round brought in some of the region's wealthiest families as new investors, including GDP Venture, backed by the son of Indonesian clove-cigarette tycoon Budi Hartono, and JG Summit Holdings Inc, founded by Philippine billionaire John Gokongwei.