Kakao Offers to Buy 35% of K-Pop Firm SM in Growing Battle

HONG KONG — South Korean technology firm Kakao launched a tender offer to buy up to 35% of K-pop agency SM Entertainment and become its largest shareholder, escalating Tuesday a battle with entertainment firm Hybe for control of the company.

Kakao offered a tender price of 150,000 won ($115) per share, making the total value of the offer 1.25 trillion won ($960 million). SM, the group behind popular K-pop groups such as NCT and aespa, saw its shares jump over 15% to 149,700 won.

Kakao currently owns about 4.9% of shares in SM. If the tender offer is successful, the firm would control about 40% of SM shares and successfully fend off Hybe’s attempt to control SM Entertainment.

SM’s top executives expressed support for Kakao’s “friendly” tender offer and described the technology firm as the “optimal strategic cooperative partner” in a statement Tuesday.

Its tender offer comes weeks after Hybe, the entertainment firm behind global K-pop sensation BTS, announced a tender offer to purchase 25% of SM shares at 120,000 won ($93) per share shortly after acquiring a 14.8% stake in the company from SM founder Lee Soo-man, who is currently estranged from the firm he founded.

Hybe is now SM’s largest shareholder and had aimed to raise its stake to about 40%. However, shareholders however did not support its tender offer as the price was deemed to be too low. Following the end of the tender offer, Hybe currently owns about 15.8% of its rival.

“Unlike Hybe, which seeks to take control of SM’s Board of Directors through a hostile M&A, Kakao respects SM’s unique tradition and identity and will ensure the company’s independent operation as well as SM artists’ continuous activities,” the statement said.

SM Entertainment’s top executives have objected to Hybe’s attempt to increase ownership of the company, describing it as a hostile takeover attempt and saying it would lead to monopolization of the industry, pushing up costs for fans. It also said that SM artists might not be prioritized if Hybe controlled the firm.

Combined, both SM and Hybe account for 70% of revenues from albums and digital music in the K-pop industry.

Kakao’s tender offer came a day after SM Entertainment rescinded a contract to issue new shares and convertible bonds in a deal that would have made Kakao SM’s second-largest shareholder with a 9.05% stake in the firm, after a Seoul court ruled in favor of Lee, who had filed an injunction against the deal.



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