Rising Sea sends rivals scrambling


Internet champion: Sea invests heavily in it's Shopee e-commrce brand, successfully taking on Alibaba's Lazada and other rivals. - Reuters Internet champion: Sea invests heavily in its Shopee e-commerce brand, successfully taking on Alibaba’s Lazada and other rivals. — Reuters

SINGAPORE: In front of an open-air Jakarta restaurant, delivery drivers clad in the orange colours of South-East Asia tech group Sea Ltd wait for orders next to the green-jacketed riders of market leaders Gojek and Grab, in what has become the latest battleground for tech supremacy in South-East Asia.

The humble noodles eatery signed up for Sea’s nascent ShopeeFood service a month ago, but “immediately, there were orders everyday, ” said manager M.A Rasyid.

Riding on the success of a cash-generating gaming business, US-listed Sea has invested heavily in its Shopee e-commerce brand and successfully taken on Alibaba’s Lazada and other rivals in recent years. Its share price has risen five-fold over the past year, giving the company a market capitalisation of US$111bil (RMRM458bil).

Now Singapore-based Sea is muscling into food delivery and financial services in Indonesia, the world’s fourth-most-populous country, posing a new threat to regional rivals including ride-hailing and delivery unicorns Grab and GoJek.

At stake is a slice of the more than 400 million Internet users in South-East Asia’s digital economy, which is estimated to triple to US$309bil by 2025, according to a study by Google, Temasek and Bain & Company.

Tech giants including Tencent, a major investor in Sea, Alibaba, Google and Softbank Group Corp are big backers of South-East Asia’s Internet champions.

Sources say Sea’s aggressive expansion is one of the key sources driving merger discussions between Gojek and e-commerce platform Tokopedia.

The two Indonesian firms aim to create an US$18bil powerhouse to fight off Sea and regional ride-hailing leader Grab.

Meanwhile, Grab and other players, including travel app Traveloka and Indonesian e-commerce unicorn Bukalapak, are rushing for public listings, hoping to ride the coattails of Sea’s stock rally while defending their turf, according to Reuters interviews with over a dozen people.

“Sea is like Thanos, massive and powerful, and able to take down half of the world, or in this case half the startups, ” Willson Cuaca, co-founder of East Ventures and an early backer of Tokopedia, joked as he compared the group to the powerful villain in the Marvel film series.

“Like the Avengers, companies need to band together if they want to ensure their survival and to win the war.”

Sea’s stock rally reflects a scarcity of options for investors seeking exposure to the booming South-East Asia Internet sector. It went public in 2017 and has raised some US$7bil in share and debt sales, with early investor Tencent now holding about 20% of the stock.

That investor appetite, combined with a need to raise cash to match Sea’s muscle, is forcing rivals to seek public listings as quickly as they can, bankers and executives familiar with the matter say.

Sources say the Gojek-Tokopedia merger, which is likely to be finalised within weeks, will be followed by a listing in Jakarta in the second half of 2021, then a mega IPO in the United States targeted for 2022.

Grab and Traveloka, for their part, are looking at speeding up the process by merging with special purpose acquisition companies, sources said. Bukalapak is planning the same, after a 2021 Jakarta IPO.

“The market is pretty welcoming for tech stocks. It’s an opportunity for Grab if they are ready for it, ” said Jixun Foo, a managing partner at GGV Capital, which has invested in Grab.Sea’s success owes much to its online gaming business Garena, whose 2017 title Free Fire became the most downloaded game in the world over the past two years. — Reuters

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