Financial Market

South Korean IPO pipeline dries up on worries about global growth

Initial public offerings in South Korea have slowed to a trickle after a record year in 2021, as investor sentiment cools over concerns about high inflation, slowing global growth and the war in Ukraine.

At least 10 Korean companies have called off listings this year, including app marketplace One Store, Hyundai Engineering and cyber security business SK Shieldus.

The companies cited difficulties in obtaining the valuations they wanted as the main reason for the withdrawals, as market sentiment has soured and the benchmark Kospi has fallen 12 per cent this year.

The last big Korean IPO was LG Energy Solution, the world’s second-largest electric vehicle battery maker, which raised $10.6bn in January.

One Store cancelled its listing this month after failing to draw enough institutional investor demand, with its competitiveness against global rivals such as Apple’s App Store and the Google Play Store called into question.

“Many institutional investors positively saw our fundamentals like our growth potential, profitability and stability, but investor sentiment has weakened substantially in recent months because of the growing macroeconomic uncertainty,” the company said.

SK Shieldus had aimed to raise up to Won1tn but also cancelled its IPO plan this month due to weak institutional investor interest. In late January, Hyundai Engineering, a construction unit of Hyundai Motor Group, scrapped its $1bn listing after it failed to obtain the lofty valuation it wanted.

“Investor response was not satisfactory because of poor market conditions,” said an investor relations official at Hyundai Engineering. “We are not sure when to revive the IPO.”

The IPO freeze is in sharp contrast to last year, when 89 companies raised a total of Won19.7tn ($15.7bn) in new listings, according to the Financial Supervisory Service. Seventeen of them more than doubled on their trading debuts, with the Kospi hitting all-time highs, driven by strong demand from retail investors.

But the run of deals prompted regulators to step up scrutiny of high valuations amid concern over market bubbles.

Monetary tightening is also taking a toll on stock markets, with growing economic uncertainty weighing on sentiment.

Companies that have gone public this year have underperformed, with 11 Korean companies out of 36 to list this year trading below their IPO prices.

“Global investors increased their exposure to Korea last year but are now pulling out of emerging markets as they prefer safe haven assets,” said an investment banker.

“Companies will have to rethink their IPO timing as pricing is what matters for them,” said Hwang Se-woon, an analyst at Korea Capital Market Institute. “This bearish mood is likely to continue until next year as market liquidity dwindles and valuations continue to fall.”

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