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Investors flock to unlisted stock markets amid IPO competition

After witnessing a string of successful initial public offerings this year, retail investors in South Korea are rushing to trade unlisted shares ahead of their grand market debuts, pinning hopes on large profit-taking.

Over-the-counter trading platforms show an upward trend in the prices of unlisted stocks seeking to go public soon due to investors’ stronger demand over early investments on unicorns.

According to OTC platform U-stockplus on Friday, game maker Krafton traded at 580,000 won ($509.2) while its target price band for the upcoming IPO stands at between 400,000 won and 498,000 won. Online-only KakaoBank traded at 83,500 won per share, more than double its target price band of 33,000-39,000 won.

Angelleague, another local OTC platform, showed that accommodation booking platform operator Yanolja traded at 160,000 won, while e-commerce grocer Market Kurly (87,570 won), Kakao Mobility (110,179 won) and online fashion select shop Musinsa (1.74 million won) traded at a premium even before the companies announced details on IPOs.

The total value of unlisted stocks traded on K-OTC, the country’s most popular OTC market, operated by the Korea Financial Investment Association, exceeded the 22 trillion-won mark for the first time in the first half, up 29.6 percent from six months ago. The average daily trading volume also jumped 50 percent to hit a record-high of 6.47 billion won, with total transactions for January-June period at 795.4 billion won, the data showed.

Another noticeable change regarding the OTC market is that young investors have emerged as a major force.

Nearly 45 percent of U-stockplus clients were in their 20s and 30s as of June.

Lee Hwan-tae, a KOFIA official in charge of K-OTC, say heated competition for new shares from retail tranches may have triggered young investors to jump in to the OTC trade. South Korea’s retail tranche system requires investors to make subscription deposits for new shares, with shares allocated according to the size of the deposit. This means that people with large amounts of cash, usually seniors, have better access to IPOs.

Experts noted, however, that investors should be aware of unlisted stocks’ high volatility.

“Demand for IPO shares has increased amid abundant liquidity. However, if they face a liquidity crunch, the unlisted companies with high growth expectations may be exposed to share price plunges. Especially those with little cash will run into more serious danger,” said Sung Tae-yoon, a professor of economics at Yonsei University.

Lack of information access to unlisted firms also carry risks.

“The local OTC platforms do not require unlisted companies to provide disclosures, so investors have little information available for companies they invested,” said Lee of KOFIA. “The OTC market have fewer tradable shares, which can trigger dramatic ups and downs in share prices (according to changes in investors’ sentiment).”

By Jie Ye-eun (
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Korea Herald daum