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Naver says Line messenger app mulls IPO

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Naver Corp. said its subsidiary Line Corp. that operates a popular mobile messaging app is considering listing its shares in Tokyo or New York. Naver, South Korea's largest Internet company, said Wednesday that Line could sell shares in an initial public offering in both Japan and the U.S. The statement was made in regulatory filing after earlier media reports that Line had submitted an IPO application to the Tokyo Stock Exchange. Naver confirmed the report but added the IPO decision was not final. The app is also called Line. The move highlights the growth of Asian mobile messaging apps, driven in large part by the popularity of smartphones and connecting to the Internet through mobile devices. The apps have been a threat to longer-established Internet companies, which have responded by taking a stake in the upstart industry through acquisitions. As of last month, Line had more than 450 million users. It has tens of millions of users in Japan, Thailand, Indonesia and Spain. If listed, Line's market capitalization will be at least 23 trillion won ($22.2 billion), according to Lee Chang-young, an analyst at Tongyang Securities Co. That would be the same level as the market cap of Twitter Inc. Lee said the number of monthly average users at Line is growing faster than that of Facebook or Twitter. Other mobile messaging apps have also been involved in big deals. Facebook Inc. paid $19 billion to acquire WhatsApp and Viber Media was bought by Japan's Rakuten Inc. for $900 million. For Internet companies that started when PCs were the predominant gateway to the Internet, messaging apps have provided a way to expand their reach to mobile phone users. Naver owns South Korea's most-visited online search portal but is little known abroad. It reversed its fading fortunes with Line. As the messaging app became a household name in many Asian countries, its revenues from sales of big emoticons known as stickers surged. It has diversified its revenue by courting advertisers and offering games.

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