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Singapore's game startup Sea raised US$884m in New York IPO

[NEW YORK] Singapore's Sea Ltd, Southeast Asia's most valuable startup, raised about US$884 million in its initial public offering in New York.

The company sold 59 million American depositary shares for US$15 apiece, according to a statement Friday, offering more shares and pricing them above its initial range of US$12 to US$14 each. The total amount may be more than US$1 billion if an option to sell additional shares is exercised, according to a person familiar with the matter, asking not to be identified because the matter is private.

The games company is backed by Tencent Holdings Ltd and has benefited from the Chinese company's support. Sea licenses games from Tencent, which also holds a stake of about 40 per cent 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 US$165.2 million in the first half of the year on revenue of US$195.5 million.

It was valued at US$3.75 billion in its 2016 fundraising and will surpass US$4 billion with the IPO.

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"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 per cent of total revenue. Like Tencent, the company offers games for free, then collects money when players buy virtual items like armor, 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 Inc., Morgan Stanley and Credit Suisse Group AG are leading the public offering.

The American depositary shares are set to begin trading on the New York Stock Exchange Friday under the ticker symbol SE, the company said.

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