Opera plans to go public

Web browser Opera Ltd. which dates back to the mid-1990s, when PCs ran Windows 95, and Steve Jobs was leading Next Computer Inc. after being ousted from Apple, is returning to the public markets.

Opera is expected to debut on the Nasdaq Global Select Market Friday after selling what could amount to as much as $115 million in stock. The Oslo, Norway-based company is selling 9.6 million shares at $12 each, the top end of a marketed range, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

Created by two engineers at Norway’s Telenor ASA, Jon von Tetzchner and Geir Ivarsoy, the first major version of the browser for Microsoft Corp.’s Windows was Opera 2.1, released in 1997. Netscape Navigator — the predecessor of Mozilla Firefox — was the victor in the first battle of the browsers, with Microsoft’s Internet Explorer biding its time before becoming so dominant a decade later that it prompted regulatory intervention.

Opera developed a cult following of users, dismissive of the market frontrunners, and who helped cement its place as the world’s third-most popular web browser at the time. Von Tetzchner’s refusal to take the company to the public markets during the infamous dot-com boom also helped Opera become one of the few big-name survivors of the subsequent crash, along with Amazon.com Inc and EBay Inc.

Today Opera generates more than 50 percent of its revenue from partnerships with Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Moscow-based Yandex NV, and cites a reliance on a small number of companies for a majority of its income as a significant risk factor in its prospectus. In the three months ended March 31, Opera recorded net income of $6.6 million on revenue of $39.4 million, which was up about 55 percent compared to the year-ago quarter.

It will also mark a return to public life. The company listed on the Oslo Stock Exchange in 2004, raising around $20 million. Two years later it released Opera Mini, a mobile browser that let customers browse full-size websites over the limited cellular data networks that existed at the time.

But as the next “browser war” raged between Internet Explorer, Firefox and a nascent Google Chrome at the end of the decade, Opera’s future changed course. Ivarsoy died in 2006, and von Tetzchner departed the company in 2011 after disagreements with investors about the direction of the business.

“I think initially they just wanted to sell the company,” von Tetzchner said in an interview. “That was the focus of the investors. They always believed that they could get a better return that way.”

A $1 billion buyout of the entire business by a consortium of Chinese investors was planned for 2016, but the deal lacked government approval and never went through. The company instead agreed to sell just its web-browser business — now called Opera Ltd. — for $575 million, which is listing on the Nasdaq Friday.

The remainder of the original business re-branded as Otello Corporation ASA in 2017 and remains a publicly traded company in Oslo.

In 2018 Opera’s desktop and mobile browsers had 3.5 percent of the global market, according to data compiled by StatCounter, compared with about 59 percent for market leader Chrome.

China International Capital Corporation Hong Kong Securities Ltd. and Citigroup Inc. acted as joint book-runners in Opera’s Nasdaq debut.

Now read: Opera browser gets built-in cryptocurrency wallet

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Opera plans to go public