TOKYO – Two of Japan’s internet leaders – news and shopping site Yahoo Japan and chat app Line – are in talks over a combination that could expand SoftBank Group Corp.’s empire, the companies said on Thursday.
If completed, the deal could give SoftBank and its acquisitive chief executive, Masayoshi Son, a bigger presence in internet advertising and payment apps in Japan. SoftBank effectively controls Yahoo Japan through subsidiaries.
A person involved in the talks said SoftBank ultimately hoped to gain control of Line Corp. through the deal, but he said the sides were still discussing several deal structures.
Yahoo Japan’s parent, Z Holdings Corp., and Line issued statements Thursday confirming reports of the talks but saying nothing has been decided. Z Holdings shares rose 17 percent in early Tokyo trading Thursday.
Line says it has some 82 million monthly active users in Japan, its top market. Getting access to those users could help Yahoo Japan strengthen its shopping business, which competes against Amazon.com Inc.
Also, Yahoo and Line currently back rival smartphone-payment platforms in Japan. A combination could help them expand in the crowded market.
Kyodo News and Nikkei newspaper earlier reported plans for a combination. Nikkei said the sides were discussing a plan in which SoftBank and Line parent Naver Corp. would each own 50 percent of a holding company that would house Yahoo Japan and Line.
South Korea-based Naver controls Line with a 72.6 percent stake as of June 30. Line’s market capitalization as of Wednesday’s close was 1.1 trillion yen, or about $10 billion.
Line shares went public in July 2016 and soared on the first day, partly in anticipation of global expansion. The company has since solidified its dominant position among chat apps in Japan and continued to do well in Taiwan and Thailand. But it has backed away from expanding outside Asia.
As of March 31, two companies controlled by SoftBank held a cumulative 47.5 percent stake in Z Holdings, the Yahoo Japan parent, according to the Z Holdings website. Z Holdings’ market capitalization as of Wednesday’s close was 1.85 trillion yen.
Yahoo Japan – which no longer has a capital connection to the US Yahoo website owned by Verizon Communications Inc. – is the leading internet source of news and information in Japan. To expand its e-commerce business, Yahoo Japan recently said it would take majority control of online fashion retailer Zozo Inc. in a $3.7 billion deal.