Japan's Line denies report of talks to sell stake to SoftBank

Tue Feb 25, 2014 2:14am EST
 
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By Sophie Knight and Miyoung Kim

TOKYO/SEOUL (Reuters) - Japan-based Line Corp denied a media report it was in talks to sell a stake to SoftBank Corp (9984.T: Quote) - a report that comes after big acquisitions of rival messaging app firms have fanned speculation that it too may be up for grabs.

SoftBank's founder Masayoshi Son has held talks with Line about a purchase, Bloomberg News said, citing a person with knowledge of the matter. It added that Line had also received at least one other offer for all or some of the company, prompting it to slow preparations for an IPO.

Both Line and its South Korean parent company Naver Corp (035420.KS: Quote) denied the report.

"The report is groundless. We haven't had any talks with SoftBank," said an official in Naver's investor relations team.

"There's no reason to sell a stake and no plan to sell."

SoftBank, Japan's No. 3 biggest mobile operator and a prolific investor in Internet firms, said it would not comment on speculation.

Line, one of Asia's most aggressive chat services, has been valued by analysts at roughly $14 billion but those estimates were made before Facebook Inc's (FB.O: Quote) shocking $19 billion purchase of WhatsApp last week that threw conventional methods of valuing messaging apps out the window.

The Facebook/WhatsApp deal sparked fears that Line would now find it difficult to break into key markets like the United States, causing Naver's shares to slump but they recovered some ground on the Bloomberg report, shooting as much as 9 percent higher.   Continued...

 
A woman holding her smartphone walks past an advertisement board of SoftBank Corp outside its branch in Tokyo February 25, 2014. REUTERS/Yuya Shino