South Korean Web giant Naver mulls US bond, IPO to take on Google

Naver is also considering selling more ESG dollar bonds in the near future after its US$500 million deal last month.
Naver is also considering selling more ESG dollar bonds in the near future after its US$500 million deal last month.PHOTO: NAVER CORP

SEOUL (BLOOMBERG) - One of the few countries in the world where Google does not 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 South Korean company, which now gets more than 95 per cent of revenue domestically, wants to boost its international presence. To help with that, Naver is considering more US dollar bond sales after its debut deal last month, and it is also eyeing a possible future US initial public offering (IPO) for a unit, chief financial officer Park Sang-jin said in an interview.

"To grow, it's inevitable that we go global," according to Mr Park, who has 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's US$4.6 billion (S$6.1 billion) US IPO last month was the biggest by a South 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. Mr Park said the firm is looking for more opportunities in Japan, where its Line messaging service is popular, as well as in Europe, South-east 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, does not 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 United States investors, Mr Park said. The company moved the unit's headquarters to Los Angeles from South Korea in December last year.

Shares of NBT, a Seoul-based advertising firm that has 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 has risen as much as 14.9 per cent on Wednesday (April 21), the most in about two weeks, even as the Kosdaq index fell.

More bonds

Naver is also considering selling more ESG (environmental, social and corporate governance) dollar bonds in the near future after its US$500 million deal last month. Most of the proceeds of that sale will likely be used for an environmentally friendly data centre that is scheduled to be completed at the end of 2022 in Sejong, 150km south of Seoul, according to Mr Park. The firm may sell offshore bonds on a regular basis in the future, he said.

The company, which has a 65 per cent 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," Mr Park said.