SM Entertainment Co.’s profit soared 70% thanks to a resumption of overseas concerts and live events, underscoring the K-pop agency’s value as it tries to fight a hostile bid from rival and BTS label Hybe Co.
The K-pop pioneer has been at the center of a takeover battle that has embroiled the biggest names in Korean entertainment. It began with the ouster of founder Lee Soo-man in a boardroom coup last month. After internet giant Kakao Corp. attempted to buy a 9% stake in SM, Lee retaliated by selling his 14.8% stake to Hybe. Hybe, which also manages NewJeans and Tomorrow X Together, also launched a tender offer to buy as much as 25% of shares from investors.
“It’s becoming a messy fight,” said Kim Hyunyong, analyst at Hyundai Motor Securities. “It’s all or nothing. Hybe wants to buy SM in a bid to maintain its dominance in the market. And for Kakao, the SM deal is crucial to raise the value of its entertainment unit ahead of an IPO.”
SM’s shares surged to a record high last week, exceeding Hybe’s offer price of 120,000 per share, as investors bet that Hybe and Kakao would engage in a price bidding war. Speculation is rising that the battle over SM would be a long one. Local media reported Kakao’s mulling a tender offer to buy SM shares at more than 130,000 won, and that Hybe is considering raising its tender offer price. Both companies have said nothing has been decided.
SM shares fell about 6% on Monday after Hybe reiterated its stance that it has no plan to change its offer price for now.
The next moves will hinge on the result of Hybe’s tender offer and the court’s decision on founder Lee’s injunction request to block Kakao’s acquisition of SM shares. Hybe’s success would be uncertain if SM’s stock price is at around the offer price, Kim said. The tender offer is valid until March 1.
The fierce fight over SM comes as K-pop’s reach grows overseas through online platforms and social media channels such as YouTube. Securing the most popular artists has been a key growth driver for K-pop agencies as they reach millions of fans eager to pay for exclusive content. Hybe operates the world’s biggest fan-based platform called Weverse with Naver Corp., Kakao’s cross-town rival.
The Seoul-based company’s operating profit was 25.2 billion won ($19.5 million) in the quarter ended in December, according to an emailed statement.
Sales rose 18.2% to 256.4 billion won in the period, it said, citing the number of concerts was 35 times what it was a year ago.
SM Entertainment said it expected the profit margin from concerts and music operations will continue to grow in the first half of this year. Boy band NCT DREAM and pop duo TVXQ! are planning to hold more than 50 concerts, while girl group aespa is planning another 10 concerts in Japan in the first six months of the year. SM said on Monday that it will announce further details about their investment and global expansion plans later this month.
Hybe’s bid faces strong opposition from SM management and employees, who say the takeover would result in more exposure for Hybe artists at the expense of SM artists. The takeover would also give the BTS manager a monopoly, SM said in a separate statement on Monday, adding that the combined sales of Hybe and SM comprise about two-thirds of the market.
“Hybe’s hostile M&A will reduce SM’s corporate value and share price,” SM said. “K-pop fans will be the biggest victims of the monopoly. Higher concert ticket prices are just one example.”
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