Japanese social messaging giant Line on Friday announced its intentions to begin trading on both New York and Tokyo stock exchanges next month. As one of the few tech companies to file for an initial public offering in 2016, Line will be viewed as a litmus test for the rest of the industry's fortunes. [Update: In response to what it described as strong demand, the company raised its share price range to a level that could generate as much as $1.12 billion in capital.]
Wall Street saw a vast slowdown in IPOs at the end of last year, and that's yet to change thus far in 2016. Signs of a tech bubble continue to appear--most notably, venture capital funding to startups has begun to slow. But while Line's planned July IPO will be important, there are a number of reasons why the company's stock performance may not be the best indicator of where Wall Street stands on tech.
For starters, Line is a foreign company whose users are primarily based in Asia. More than two-thirds of its users are based in its top four markets: Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, and Indonesia. That means that U.S. investors will likely not be as familiar with Line and its products, and as a result, judge the company by different standards than those that primarily cater to an American audience.
"It's kind of like how Yahoo owns Alibaba and Yahoo Japan--it's not something the U.S. market understands very well since American investors don't get to use that tech on an ongoing basis," said Johnny Won, founder of Hyperstop, a tech consulting firm. "So for Line there is little risk since us investors will dump capital into the stock, but not [give it] as much scrutiny."
The differences, however, go beyond geography. Many Silicon Valley tech companies are focused more on growing their user base than on financial returns. That's not the case with Line.
Although the company registered a net loss of $71 million in 2015, it actually managed a small profit of $18.78 million in 2014, according to a financial filing. Additionally, the Japanese firm has been steadily increasing its revenue over the past few years, including a 39 percent rise to $1.1 billion in 2015, from $809.47 million in 2014.
"Part of the negative sentiment toward unicorns and possible IPOs recently is that many of the private tech companies with the highest valuations aren't yet profitable, and in some cases don't even generate meaningful revenue," Jan Dawson, chief analyst at Jackdaw Research. "Line doesn't quite fit that pattern."