Messaging app Line rockets 50 per cent in Tokyo trading debut

Messaging app Line rockets 50 per cent in Tokyo trading debut

TOKYO - Messaging app Line rocketed in its Tokyo trading debut, soaring 50 per cent above its initial public offering price, after the biggest technology share sale this year.

The shares roared to 5,000 yen (S$63.7) in early trading, up from the 3,300 yen IPO price and valuing the firm at nearly $10 billion (S$13.4 billion), after going untraded at the open as buy orders swamped sell orders.

Line, owned by South Korea's Naver, also debuted in New York overnight, soaring about 27 per cent by the close.

Line sold 35 million shares and said it would exercise an option to sell another 5.25 million, underscoring strong demand for the stock.

The sizzling dual-listing comes after a $1.3 billion IPO for Line, which lets users make free calls, send instant messages, and post photos or short videos, along with a host of other paid services.

It combines attributes from Facebook, Skype and WhatsApp with games and a mobile payment service also on offer.

But the service is best known for a huge assortment of animated "stickers", which some too-busy-to-text fans rely on to communicate - a kind of animated language.

Line's messaging service launched in 2011 after the quake-tsunami tragedy damaged Japan's telecoms infrastructure nationwide, forcing people to use online resources to communicate.

But Line remains challenged to boost its popularity beyond East and Southeast Asia, and some Spanish language markets, in a field crowded with innovative mobile messaging services such as Facebook Messenger, WeChat, WhatsApp, Skype and Snapchat.

Last year, Line posted revenue of 120 billion yen, up 40 per cent from the year before, but booked an overall loss, which it blamed on rising staff costs and other expenses.

The company is banking on the appeal of thousands of stickers in its online shop, many of them animated and noisy, from Hello Kitty and Super Mario to Manga and Disney characters. Some are free and some cost a few dollars.

One service allows users to create and sell their own characters, while Line's homegrown stable of stickers includes the duck Sally, a sad-faced bear called Brown and Cony the rabbit.

"The stickers are so good at explaining how we feel," Nanako, a 25-year-old tech industry worker from San Francisco, said at a Tokyo retail that sells mugs, T-shirts and other merchandise with Line characters.

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