Singapore start-up Sea opts for US listing

BY Jeevan Wasakar for Financial Times
HK and Singapore lose prized IPO despite efforts to attract tech companies

 Sea, Southeast Asia’s most valuable technology start-up, has filed for an initial public offering in the US, in a blow to Asian financial centres that hoped to win more listings from tech groups.  Sample the FT’s top stories for a week You select the topic, we deliver the news. Select topic Enter email addressInvalid email Sign up By signing up you confirm that you have read and agree to the terms and conditions, cookie policy and privacy policy.

The Singapore-based online games and ecommerce business, formerly known as Garena, has filed confidentially with the US Securities and Exchange Commission for a planned flotation that could happen by 2018, according to people familiar with the matter.  The US move is motivated by the fact that the business model for technology companies is well understood there, one of the people said. Sea declined to comment.

The proposed overseas listing is a blow for Singapore and Hong Kong. Both cities have lobbied hard to attract tech entrepreneurs, launching “sandbox” regulatory regimes that allow experiments in financial technology without the need for full compliance with regulatory requirements.  Both exchanges are reviewing the idea of introducing dual-class listings, or letting companies offer shares with no voting rights, which are popular with tech entrepreneurs who want to retain control of their businesses.

Singapore this month announced S$150m in funding for artificial intelligence projects, and the government is due to announce a scheme next week to ease access to capital markets for technology companies.  However, both cities have been passed over by Asian tech groups in favour of US listings.  Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley are serving as underwriters for Sea. The US securities filing was first reported by Bloomberg.  The Singapore company, which began in 2009 as a gaming platform, was valued at $3.75bn last March.

The company announced this month that it had raised $550m in new funding, including investment from Martin Hartono, the son of Indonesia’s wealthiest tycoon.  Other participants in the fundraising included Farallon Capital Management, Hillhouse Capital and Cathay Financial Holding. The company also rebranded as Sea, an acronym for Southeast Asia.  Chinese internet group Tencent has invested in Sea.