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Opera browser raises $115 million in initial public offering

The stock rises about 10 percent as public trading begins.

opera-ipo-nasdaq

Opera celebrates early Friday.

Nasdaq

Opera, an underdog in a browser market dominated by Google's Chrome, raised $115 million in an initial public offering Friday.

The company sold 9.6 million American depositary shares at $12 each, the high end of the $10-to-$12 range it expected for the IPO. When the stock started trading more broadly at about 7:30 a.m. PT, it rose as high as 28 percent above that before settling in at a 10 percent rise, to $13.24, during midday trading.

American depositary shares are used to let a foreign company trade its stock on US markets. Opera was founded in Norway. A Chinese consortium acquired Opera in 2016, but its operating headquarters remain in Oslo. Opera's ticker symbol is OPRA on Nasdaq.

Opera is one of the longest-lived browsers on the market. It began as a 1994 research project at Telenor, Norway's largest telecommunications company, which spun it off in 1995. Opera has never achieved the status of its bigger rivals -- Netscape Navigator at the start, Microsoft's Internet Explorer a few years later, and now Google's Chrome. But it has remained a steady presence in the market.

The IPO doesn't profoundly change the browser market, which Google's Chrome dominates on both PCs and phones, but it does add a new level of visibility into a crucial element of technology in our lives. Most browsers are either folded into larger operations, like those of Google, Apple and Microsoft, or run privately.

Another $60 million invested privately

In fact, Opera raised a big notch more, because at the same time as the IPO, it also secured a $60 million private funding round from Tospring Technology, also known as Bitmain, which makes Bitcoin mining computers, IDG Capital Fund and IDG Capital Investors. And the financial firms underwriting the IPO had an option to release another 15 percent of shares -- 1.44 million.

"It gets us roughly up to $190 million," Chief Financial Officer Frode Jacobsen said. The company will use the funds for things like acquisitions or expanding Opera's news service and app into parts of the world, he said.

The company reported net income of $6.1 million on revenue of $128.9 million in 2017, up from a net loss of $12.7 million on revenue of $107.3 million in 2016. In the first three months of 2018, Opera reported net income of $6.6 million on revenue of $39.4 million. The company makes money through partnerships with search engines, including Google and Yandex, that pay for search traffic it sends their way and through advertising deals like promoting websites on the browser's bookmarking, or speed dial, page.

Opera browser logo on blue

The Opera browser's O logo

Opera

Opera has 264 million monthly active users on smartphones and 57 million on personal computers, Opera said in regulatory filings. Starting in 2017, it built an AI-powered news service into its browser and now offers it as a standalone app called Opera News. That has 90 million monthly users.

Financial success from news app and service

The news app and service has been responsible for the turnaround in Opera's recent financial fortunes, Jacobsen said. "We had a tremendous shift in our financials in 2017," he said. On average, people spend 32 minutes per day in the news app. It's particularly strong in Africa and parts of Asia.

"The next region that's interesting could be Arab-speaking countries --- north Africa and the Middle East," Jacobsen said. About 100 of Opera's 400 employees work on the news service, which is based in China and was launched after the Chinese consortium acquired Opera.

Opera long maintained its independence but, in 2016, agreed to an acquisition by a Chinese consortium for $1.2 billion. Regulatory difficulties ultimately reduced that price to $575 million. Opera already had lost some software independence in 2013 when it decided to rebuild its browser on the Blink project at the heart of Google's Chrome.

On PCs, Opera also competes against Apple's Safari, Mozilla's Firefox and Microsoft's Edge. On mobile devices, there are newer challengers, too, like the widely used UC Browser.

In the overall browser market, Opera accounts for 3.5 percent of website usage, according to analytics firm StatCounter. On smartphones, it's slightly more influential at 4.6 percent.

After its acquisition in 2016, Opera pared back some projects, including the Opera Max data-saving app and Coast mobile browser, Jacobsen said.

Opera aims its browser at 'sophisticated users'

The browser market has abundant competition, but Opera is focusing on more advanced users who'll appreciate having a browser already set up how they want it to work, said Krystian Kolondra, Opera's executive vice president of browsers. "We're going after more sophisticated users. This is where it's a little less crowded," he said.

Opera has mixed feeling about online advertising. It profits from ads in its news products, but Opera added a built-in ad-blocker to its browser in 2016. It's not enabled by default, but some people like it.

"We were deeply dissatisfied with how bad the ads were for the web pages," Kolondra said. "Many resources were wasted," with websites loading slowly and CPUs heating up laptops and draining batteries, he said.

It's true Opera relies on showing its own ads, too. "We're trying to do it in a good way," Kolondra said.

First published July 27, 7:44 a.m. PT.
Update 9:14 a.m. PT: Adds info on rise of stock price during midday trading. Update, 11:07 a.m. PT: adds comment from Opera executives.

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