Singapore's gaming giant poised to raise $850 mln

In this picture taken on August 25, 2016, Forrest Li, founder and group chief executive officer of Garena Interactive Holding Ltd., speaks during an interview at the company's headquarters in Singapore. (Bloomberg/Nicky Loh)

Singapore’s Sea plans to price shares at 15 dollars in its initial public offering and raise more than 850 million dollars, according to people familiar with the matter.

The total amount may be more than one billion dollars if an option to sell additional shares is exercised, said one of the people, asking not to be identified because the matter is private. The games company, backed by China’s Tencent Holdings, raised the price from its initial range of 12 dollars to 14 dollars for each share. It also increased the number of shares to be sold.

Sea is often called the Tencent of Southeast Asia and has benefited from the Chinese company’s support. Sea licenses games from Tencent, which also holds a stake of about 40 percent in the smaller company. Investors are scooping up Sea’s shares despite rising losses at the company as it diversifies into e-commerce and payments. Sea had a net loss of 165.2 million dollars in the first half of the year on revenue of 195.5 million dollars.

It’s nevertheless one of the most valuable startups in Southeast Asia. It was valued at 3.75 billion dollars in its 2016 fundraising and will surpass four billion dollars with the IPO.

“Sea is a future-looking investment,” Kai-Fu Lee, founder of Beijing-based Sinovation Ventures, said before the offering. “Investors are betting that it can become the 800-pound gorilla that will make all the money it may have lost.”

Sea was founded by Forrest Li as an online gaming company in 2009 and originally named Garena. He rebranded the company to reflect its regional ambition and diversification. Sea branched out with a digital payments service called AirPay in 2014 and the mobile shopping business Shopee in 2015.

Sea’s games business, which retained the Garena name, still accounts for more than 90 percent of total revenue. Like Tencent, the company offers games for free, then collects money when players buy virtual items like armour, weapons or special skills. It makes money in e-commerce from commissions and advertising, while collecting fees from payments.

With Tencent’s support, the startup has attracted marquee backers. They include the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, Malaysia’s sovereign wealth fund and several Asian billionaires. Goldman Sachs Group, Morgan Stanley and Credit Suisse Group AG are leading the public offering. – Bloomberg