Home / Markets / Ipo /  IPOs in Japan haven’t been this hot since the dot-com bubble

In a surprisingly strong year for initial public offerings globally, Japan’s 2020 market debutantes enjoyed their best opening share performances since the dot-com bubble era, helped by a groundswell of retail investors hungry for tech issues.

The average initial pop for IPOs in the Japanese market this year was nearly 130%, the most since 1999. The best performer was artificial-intelligence systems firm Headwaters Co., which jumped 1,090% in its first trade. Image-recognition software maker Ficha Inc. came second with an 806% gain, followed by internet-of-things developer Tasuki Corp., which rose 655%.

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Backed by easy-money policies and growth in individual investing, new listing markets have been frothy this year despite the coronavirus market turmoil, as seen in the dramatic gains of Airbnb Inc. and DoorDash Inc. in U.S. debuts earlier this month. Stay-at-home tech plays and cloud computing upstarts especially found 2020 to be the perfect time to tap the public markets.

“The reason for the large opening gains is that there were many IPOs of stocks that were relevant to the times," such as Japan’s digitalization push, said Hideyuki Suzuki, a general manager at SBI Securities Co. With low interest rates expected to continue for some time, the IPO market should continue to attract funds, he said.

Japanese stocks overall lagged in the pandemic recovery, with the Topix not erasing its year-to-date loss until November, months after U.S. and Asian peers. The Tokyo Stock Exchange’s Mothers Index of startups was a notable exception, with a gain of around 30% on the year, thanks to its heavy weightings of biotech and Internet names, as well as the surge in retail investing.

A total of 94 companies went public in Japan in 2020, up by four from the previous year, even with a pandemic-driven drought from early April to late June. About 70% were listed on Mothers. The overall value was small, with firms raising a total of $3.3 billion, and no single deal worth more than half a billion dollars. That compares with $181 billion raised in the U.S. and $51 billion in Hong Kong.

Toshiba Corp.-affiliated chipmaker Kioxia Holdings Corp. in September decided to postpone what would have been Japan’s largest offering of the year, at up to $2.9 billion, due to market uncertainty amid U.S.-China trade friction. That made mushroom cultivator Yukiguni Maitake Co., which raised $409 million, the biggest Tokyo IPO of 2020, followed by musical instruments maker Roland Corp. and business consulting provider Direct Marketing MiX Inc.

Japan’s Hottest Tech IPO in 5 Years Shows Retail Trading Fever

In the absence of blockbuster deals with international appeal, local retail traders helped pick up the slack. Individuals accounted for 20% of total trading value on the Tokyo Stock Exchange this year, up from about 16% in 2019.

“IPOs have helped drive retail investor turnover," said Shoichi Arisawa, an analyst at Iwai Cosmo Securities Co. “It’s helped money come back to growth stocks and given life to the startup market."

In 2021, investors will be watching whether Kioxia decides to try its luck again. So far one company has announced IPO plans for next year, with laser-based chip solutions firm QD Laser Co. planning to list in February.

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