There's a bidding war in South Korea that few investors seem to know about. It's a pity, because the results will carry implications and opportunities for market watchers closer to home.
Interpark is talking to potential buyers of its 29% stake in Gmarket
Media reports have Interpark standing to make more than 400 billion won -- or $423 million -- on the transaction, valuing all of Gmarket at more than $1.4 billion, or a 25% premium to where the shares are currently trading.
This doesn't mean that all of Gmarket will get taken out at nearly $29 a share, although it's always possible that an eventual winner of Interpark's stake will make a play for owning all of Gmarket. The bidders likely include South Korean conglomerates and stateside dot-com juggernauts.
We would naturally prefer more tangible proof of bids from key players, but now is the time to assess the possibilities to cash in under different scenarios.
The world's leading online marketplace would love to get its hands on Gmarket. eBay claims that its Auction.co.kr website is gaining on the market leader, but the numbers tell an entirely different story.
Just as eBay was bragging of a 33% boost in gross merchandise value (GMV) during the fourth quarter, Gmarket announced that its GMV soared by 42%.
History proves that eBay doesn't fare too well in markets where it's not the leader. It has bowed out of Japan and China, rather than settle for the silver medal. It'll be hard for eBay to regain ground on Gmarket without -- you know -- actually acquiring Gmarket.
Snapping up a minority stake of a fast-growing online marketplace isn't foreign to eBay. It has a 25% stake in Craigslist. It also owns a small piece of Latin America's MercadoLibre
It may be a long shot, but Yahoo! already owns a 10% stake in Gmarket. As far as Asian investments go, Yahoo! has larger percentage stakes in China's Alibaba and Yahoo! Japan. Snapping up the 29% chunk would make its ownership in Gmarket comparable to its other stakes.
Making a play for Gmarket would help thwart Microsoft's
SK Telecom, another rumored bidder, would love to own a piece of Gmarket. South Korea's wireless provider would be able to cash in on e-commerce, beyond simply charging for mobile phone access to Web-based retailers.
With Internet connectivity becoming a major part of the wireless handset experience, SK Telecom would be making an important statement in snapping up a piece of Gmarket. It would signal the ultimate convergence of access and content, potentially opening the door for other wireless providers to explore owning geographical websites that provide incremental revenue streams. With rival KT
Sorting through the bids
Gmarket is set to report earnings in two weeks. (Review its latest quarterly report.) The Interpark question is bound to come up, if Interpark still hasn't finalized a deal. That will likely be the case, especially since Interpark doesn't have to cash out at all.
Bidders will have different intentions. Yahoo! would probably be content with simply boosting its stake to 40% and nothing more. A company like Yahoo! or SK Telecom would have strategic reasons to make a play for all of Gmarket after the initial nibble.
This may all prove fruitless. News of bids coming into Interpark has been around all week and Gmarket's stock has inched up only slightly over the past few trading days. Either Mr. Market fails to grasp the magnitude of the bidding scenario or believes that it won't happen.
Like most market events that can go one way or the other, there are investing opportunities to be had on both sides of the fence.
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Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz wonders if South Korean bidding wars are won in won. He does not own shares in any of the companies in this story. He is part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.