Shares in Russian online retail giant Ozon popped 10% in the first minutes of trading after the most eagerly anticipated Russian initial public offering (IPO) in years.

Ozon is the country’s second-largest e-commerce player and is placing itself to become Russia’s answer to Amazon with a plan to consolidate and dominate the fast-growing online retail space over the coming years.

The first-day jump gives Ozon a valuation of almost $6 billion.

Interest in Ozon’s stock market debut has been strong. On the U.S.-based Nasdaq, where the firm has its main listing, shares were sold to investors who had subscribed for the IPO at $30 each — comfortably above the $22.50-$27.50 price range Ozon had anticipated pricing shares at when it outlined its prospectus earlier in the month. 

In trading on the Moscow Exchange on Tuesday evening, where the firm has a secondary listing, shares were swapping hands for around 2,940 rubles each — a 9% increase on the IPO price — in the first minutes after launching. It was the first chance Russian retail investors had to snap up the shares, after Russian regulations prohibited non-professionals from taking part in the IPO itself.

Ozon raked in more than $1 billion from the IPO and a simultaneous private share sale to long-time investors Baring Vostok and Sistema. It is expected to put to use expanding its logistics network. That is more than double the firm’s initial plans when news of the IPO was first announced earlier this year. 

The listing was only the second U.S. stock market launch for a Russian company since 2014, when Russia’s annexation of Crimea, imposition of sanctions and oil price crash put a freeze on big Russian dealmaking. It is also the largest valuation a Russian company has received in any stock market launch — Russian or foreign — since metals and energy giant EN+ was valued at $8 billion in its 2017 IPO on the London Stock Exchange, according to data from corporate analytics firm Mergermarket.

Ozon was founded 20 years ago, but has struggled to turn a profit. In 2011, investors had to step in with a new round of funding to “save” the business, venture investor Leonid Boguslavsky told business site The Bell recently. 

The company’s prospects picked up after that, and revenues have soared since it launched an online marketplace in 2018. Sales volumes have more than doubled over the last 12 months — thanks in part to the coronavirus pandemic — and analysts expect Ozon will continue to expand rapidly and eat up market share in a Russian e-commerce industry which has significantly lagged its international peers in size and maturity.

“Ozon’s investment activity will continue, as the expansion of the marketplace requires serious investments in offline logistics infrastructure,” Alfa Bank analyst Anna Kurbatova said in a recent note. She estimated that the Russian e-commerce market will grow at an annual rate of around 33% in the coming years — a rapid expansion, but from a low base.

Chasing a rapid-growth model charted by many tech companies, Ozon has prioritized gaining market share and boosting revenues over profit. The company’s bottom line has improved this year, but it posted almost 13 billion rubles ($170 million) in losses during the first nine months. The IPO proceeds — more than $1 billion — will help the retail giant fund what analysts predict will be a rapid expansion.

Despite rival Wildberries being three times Ozon’s size and the first online retailer to rake in 100 million rubles ($1.3 billion) in quarterly revenue over Russia’s spring lockdown, Ozon’s backers and analysts see the smaller company as well-placed to make a challenge for the top place. 

Leonid Delitsyn, head of IPO analysis at Finam Group has highlighted that Ozon is by far the most recognized brand among all online retailers, with twice the brand recognition of its nearest competitor.

Other leading players in Russia’s online market space include AliExpress Russia — a Russian version of Chinese e-commerce behemoth Alibaba — as well as Yandex Market, Citilink and electronics retailer MVideo.

Via The Moscow Times

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