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South Korea's IPO boom leaves investment banks short changed

South Korea's IPO boom leaves investment banks short changed
South Korea's IPO boom leaves investment banks short changed Copyright Thomson Reuters 2022
Copyright Thomson Reuters 2022
By Reuters
Published on Updated
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By Scott Murdoch and Heekyong Yang

HONG KONG/SEOUL - South Korea's equity offering boom has created a money spinning opportunity for issuers and investors, but it has brought little cheer to at least one segment of the capital market: investment banks and brokerages working on those transactions.

LG Energy Solution Ltd's (LGES) $10.8 billion initial public offering (IPO), the largest ever in South Korea, netted bankers working on the deal less than 1% of the proceeds, Dealogic data showed.

Such rates make the country one of the lowest fee-paying major equity capital markets (ECM) in the world.

Hong Kong IPOs generally pay fees of 2%, in line with the New York Stock Exchange, while Nasdaq listings net bankers an average of 3.4%, according to Dealogic data. In 2021, the average paid in those markets sat at 3.2%.

The low fee payouts mean South Korea will unlikely emerge as a major income generator for Western banks, even as the country is witnessing a record level of capital market activity and a new equity raising pipeline that is getting busier.

South Korean IPOs have traditionally paid low fees compared with other major markets, said one Hong Kong-based ECM banker with direct knowledge of the matter.

"Korea has never paid well, so it doesn't surprise me ... but a few million bucks is still a few million bucks," said the banker, who was not permitted to speak to the media and so declined to be identified.

Eleven investment banks and brokerage firms including Morgan Stanley, Bank of America Corp, Citigroup Inc and Goldman Sachs Group Incand local brokerage KB Securities worked on the IPO of South Korean battery maker LGES.

They are set to pocket a combined $75 million, the company's IPO prospectus showed. That payment, as a portion of total funds raised, equates to 0.7% - one of the lowest proportions paid in a major market globally.

The IPO, Asia's largest since Alibaba raised $12.9 billion in its Hong Kong secondary listing in 2019, attracted $12.8 trillion worth of bids from institutional investors and $96 billion from retail investors.

LGES is not alone in paying a low fee: KakaoBank Corp, which raised $2.1 billion via an IPO in July last year, handed bankers a 0.8% base fee, while underwriters for Krafton Inc got 0.5% for their work on a $3.6 billion deal in the same month, their prospectuses showed.

Local brokerages are, however, not complaining.

"We felt that getting that 0.7% commission was pretty good enough, considering the level of the LGES deal," said a person at a local brokerage with knowledge of the transaction.

"The base fee could seem lower than fees in other major markets like New York or Hong Kong, but the LGES deal was not necessarily too difficult for brokerage firms or banks to handle."

Surging deal volume in the country should also offset the impact of the low fee base in the near term.

More than 20 companies went public on the main market last year, raising about 17 trillion won ($14 billion) and beating the previous record of 8.8 trillion won raised in 2010, according to bourse operator Korea Exchange.

Experts said appetite for IPOs in South Korea would likely continue into 2022 as some unicorns and e-commerce firms are seeking to go public this year to take advantage of the IPO market optimism.

($1 = 1,194.4000 won)

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