|Yanolja's headquarters in Seoul / Courtesy of Yanolja|
Mirae Asset, Samsung Securities likely to lose underwriter status
By Park Jae-hyuk
Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley have reportedly been selected as underwriters for Yanolja's initial public offering (IPO), fueling expectations among investors that the hotel booking app operator intends to list itself on the U.S. stock market.
According to industry sources and media reports, Wednesday, the Korean company recently decided to hire the two banking giants, without sending requests for proposals to other securities firms.
The decision has been widely viewed as a preparatory step to Yanolja's debut on Nasdaq in 2023.
Yanolja has not ruled out the possibility of selecting a single foreign brokerage as an additional IPO underwriter, since it hired Mirae Asset Securities as the lead underwriter and Samsung Securities as a co-underwriter last November for its listing on the Seoul bourse by 2022.
Morgan Stanley has been expected to team up with Yanolja sometime this year, because the former played a key role in helping the latter attract a combined $180 million in investments in 2019 from Singaporean sovereign wealth fund GIC and Nasdaq-listed travel service provider Booking Holdings. This enabled the Korean firm at that time to become a unicorn startup with a valuation of over $1 billion.
There were also rumors in March that Yanolja was receiving "unofficial" advice from the investment bank for its listing on the Nasdaq or the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE).
Yanolja's selection of Goldman Sachs came as a surprise, but the decision has been attributed to the world's leading investment bank's expertise in handling tech firm IPOs.
|A man enters the Morgan Stanley building in New York in this file photo, while the Goldman Sachs logo is also seen at bottom-left. AP-Yonhap|
As Yanolja reportedly favors a U.S. listing, Mirae Asset and Samsung are highly likely to lose their underwriter status and the opportunity to earn billions of won in commissions.
A Yanolja spokesman said he does not know if the company has replaced the underwriters.
Since SoftBank Vision Fund invested $1.7 billion in Yanolja in July to acquire a 25 percent stake, most market observers have anticipated the travel and leisure platform provider to scrap its plan to go public here, in order to attract bigger investments from the world's largest market.
SoftBank is said to be expecting its initial investment to double after Yanolja's IPO, but the Korean stock market is not considered to be big enough for the investor to achieve this goal.
Yanolja has also continued to express its intention to go public in other countries, although it has declined to disclose a specific region.
"Including the Nasdaq in the U.S., we are comparing various markets around the world for our listing," Yanolja CEO Kim Jong-yoon told reporters in May.
However, intensifying regulations on online platform operators here may deal a severe blow to the company's ambitious plan, preventing it from being recognized by global investors as a "decacorn" with a valuation of over $10 billion.
The ruling Democratic Party of Korea invited accommodation business operators last week to listen to their complaints about Yanolja, without inviting any representative from the company.
The owners of hotels and motels here claimed that they have had to pay an excessive amount of money in commission to use Yanolja's app, while the company has refuted this, saying it has received a 6.5 percent commission.
If Yanolja fails to prove its corporate valuation, it may decide to pursue a local listing again, as fresh food delivery platform operator Kurly scrapped its ambitious plan to list on the NYSE.
The Market Kurly operator had reportedly hired Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley for its U.S. listing, but its lower-than-expected corporate valuation eventually forced it to push ahead with an IPO on the local stock market.