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Rakuten Surges on Share Buyback at Half the Price of 2015 Issue

Rakuten Inc. surged the most in more than a decade after the Japanese e-commerce operator announced plans to buy back as much as 100 billion yen ($881 million) of stock.
Rakuten | Source: Shutterstock
By
  • Bloomberg

TOKYO, Japan — Rakuten Inc. surged the most in more than a decade after the Japanese e-commerce operator announced plans to buy back as much as 100 billion yen ($881 million) of stock at a significant discount to a share issue just 20 months ago.

Shares climbed 11 percent to 1,149 yen in early Tokyo trade, headed for the biggest gain since 2004. Before today, the stock had fallen 46 percent since the 2015 issue. The Tokyo-based company will buy as many as 120 million shares.

Rakuten, which joined the Nikkei 225 Index last year, said Tuesday that it will repurchase its own stock from Feb. 22 through Feb. 21 of 2018, representing 8.4 percent of total shares outstanding. Rakuten gave the reason for a buyback in a single sentence: “The market price of our shares, capital efficiency and financial conditions were all taken into consideration.”

In fact, the transaction is essentially a trade by billionaire Chairman Hiroshi Mikitani to buy back shares at a bargain from when they were issued in June 2015, plus some. Back then, Rakuten sold almost 100 million shares for 1,905.5 yen apiece, raising about 181 billion yen. The stock closed on Tuesday at 1,032.5 yen, a drop of 46 percent over the period. Like other Japanese companies sitting on a comfortable cash pile, Rakuten has enough on its balance sheet to fund the repurchase: 548 billion yen as of end-December.

The buyback was prompted as shares were undervalued, Mikitani told the Nikkei newspaper in an interview. He said he there is a big discrepancy between the current stock price and how Rakuten sees its corporate value.

Rakuten has increasingly positioned itself as a provider of financial services in Japan, in addition to its online marketplace. It also owns the Viber messaging application, which is ranked seventh behind WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Tencent’s QQ, according to Statista.

By Yuji Nakamura and Gearoid Reidy; editors: Robert Fenner and Reed Stevenson.

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