WhatsApp rival Line faces potential shareholder revolt


Japanese WhatsApp rival Line is dealing with a possible revolt over a deal to create a $30bn expertise group with SoftBank-backed Z Holdings by minority shareholders displeased by the low pricing of a young supply delayed by coronavirus. 

Traders say the deal, agreed in November, is without doubt one of the sternest checks but of Japan’s “truthful mergers and acquisitions tips” aimed toward strengthening safety for minority shareholders, and the way the problem is dealt with dangers curbing progress on governance made earlier than the pandemic.

The dispute comes as SoftBank has promised to enhance oversight of its subsidiaries and the huge internet of corporations during which it invests following the disaster at US property group WeWork. 

The controversy was deepened in late June by an announcement from Z Holdings, a subsidiary of SoftBank’s telecoms arm previously generally known as Yahoo Japan, and Line, which is 73 per cent owned by South Korean web search group Naver. The pair stated they had been delaying the October cut-off date due to coronavirus-related delays in acquiring regulatory approvals. 

In separate letters despatched to Line’s board this month, a number of abroad hedge funds questioned each the deal’s valuation and the method by which the tender supply worth was reached, in response to three individuals concerned in writing the letters. The funds declined to be recognized for this story.

These buyers argued that Line’s three-member particular committee was not impartial, as outlined by the federal government tips, since two of its members had been appointed to the board of Z Holdings final month regardless of being accountable for evaluating the mixing on behalf of minority shareholders.

The M&A tips, drawn up by Japan’s Ministry of Economic system, Commerce and Business, take intention at transactions that contain individually listed mother or father corporations — such because the Line-Z Holdings deal — given the sturdy potential for abuse of minority shareholders and conflicts of curiosity. 

On the coronary heart of the disagreement is the tender supply worth for Line’s shares. Traders have complained it’s too low, particularly in mild of the coronavirus-driven rally in world web shares. 

Within the eight months because the deal was first reported, shares in Z Holdings have risen 30 per cent whereas Naver has climbed 66 per cent. However Line has hovered close to its tender supply worth of ¥5,380 ($50), solely briefly rising to ¥5,670 in late June on expectations the pricing might be reviewed.

The unique ¥5,380 tender supply worth was a 17 per cent premium to the closing worth of November 13 earlier than shares surged on media experiences of the deal.

Since Line’s minority shareholders are being pushed out at ¥5,380 a share below the tender supply, they argue they’ve been unable to learn from the market rise whereas SoftBank’s cellular unit and Naver are getting higher phrases below the mixing.

Line declined to remark, pointing to its assertion final month during which it stated “no change is at the moment anticipated to the tender supply costs”. 

Analysts stated the possibility of the businesses reviewing the supply worth additionally relied on whether or not there was any enchancment on second-quarter earnings for lossmaking Line. Minority shareholders might refuse to take part within the tender supply and take their grievance to courtroom.

In a posh construction typical of a SoftBank deal, the merger entails the creation of a 50-50 three way partnership between Naver and SoftBank’s telecoms unit, which might maintain a 65 per cent stake within the newly merged entity. Line could be taken personal alongside the best way through a young supply.


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