Shinsegae expected to join bidding for eBay Korea

South Korean retail giant Shinsegae Group is considering bidding for eBay Korea as it explores ways to compete with online rivals. The first round of bidding is scheduled for next week.

The conglomerate is working with JP Morgan to prepare a bid for the South Korean unit of the U.S. ecommerce platform, industry sources said.

Since the sale process began earlier this year, dozens of potential buyers – including Shinsegae – have shown interest in the company. Many will probably drop out because of the enormous size of the deal, despite the online shopping platform’s weak market position.

However, Shinsegae’s decision to hire a financial advisor suggests that it is serious about acquiring eBay Korea, industry watchers said, with the move possibly motivated by Coupang’s planned initial public offering on Nasdaq. The country’s largest ecommerce company recently revealed it plans to raise $3.4 billion in the listing, which could value it at more than $50 billion. This might be the largest U.S. stock market listing by a South Korean company in a decade.

Shinsegae is likely to let Emart lead the acquisition. Emart holds a dominant market position among discount supermarket chains but faces growing challenges from online retail rivals as more consumers shift to ecommerce.

Emart could try to team up with Affinity Equity Partners and jointly bid for eBay Korea. The private equity firm invested 700 billion won ($613.5 million) alongside BlueRun Ventures in Shinsegae’s online shopping platform SSG.com in 2018.

eBay Korea is estimated to be worth about 4 trillion won. Emart had about 1.13 trillion won of cash and cash equivalents on hand at the end of September 2020 on a consolidated basis, but will use some for the 100 billion won acquisition of a baseball club, announced last month.

Emart has been selling assets to free up cash for investment in new opportunities. It secured 950 billion won after entering into a sale-and-lease-back of its 13 shopping mall properties in 2019, and sold and leased back land in western Seoul worth 850 billion won last year.

Other potential buyers for eBay Korea include traditional brick-and-mortar retailers Lotte Group and Hyundai Department Store Group, internet giant Kakao Corp and buyout firms MBK Partners and KKR. Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs are managing the sale process. (Reporting by Si-eun Park)