Business

Japan-run language school that saw stock surge 1,093% last year eyes expansion

by Min Jeong Lee and Shingo Kawamoto

Bloomberg

A Japan-run language school that saw its stock soar almost 12-fold last year is planning to expand into new business areas as its chief executive officer tries to keep the rally alive.

RareJob Inc., a Tokyo-based online English conversation school, or eikaiwa, that uses teachers in the Philippines, will focus on areas including leadership training and job placement, said Gaku Nakamura, the company’s founder and chief executive officer, in an interview. Nakamura said one of his goals was to boost the company’s market value to ¥100 billion ($922 million) from its current level of about ¥25 billion.

RareJob surged 1,093 percent in 2019, the second-best performance in Japan’s Mothers market of smaller shares, after it surprised investors by saying earnings would jump. Analysts — and history — suggest it will be difficult to keep up those gains after the company’s valuation exceeded estimated profit 100 times over.

“A lot of retail investors have already piled into the stock,” said Tomoichiro Kubota, an analyst at Matsui Securities Co. in Tokyo. “Unless earnings turn out to be even better than they’ve been, the shares may start to lose steam.”

It’s not unusual for some small-cap firms in Japan to post huge surges in a given year. But in most cases, the rally then reverses. Over the 10 years through 2018, the best performer in the Mothers Index rose an average of 967 percent, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. They fell an average of 29 percent the following year.

Nakamura, 39, sees RareJob as an exception. “The starting point was quite low to begin with,” he said.

RareJob’s sales rose to a record ¥3.6 billion in the fiscal year ended March. Operating profit climbed to ¥178 million in the period and is forecast to more than double this fiscal year. The stock’s annual gain last year came after four straight years of declines.

“I want to get involved in the business of developing global leaders through professional training in areas such as negotiation,” Nakamura said. He said he plans to target students who have already learned to speak English.

At the same time, Nakamura said he intends to expand overseas, particularly in Asia.

At first, Japanese language learners were wary of taking lessons from people whose mother tongue isn’t English. “People were wondering why they should learn English from Filipinos,” Nakamura said.

But the firm’s main business is starting to work after the initial struggles, Nakamura said. His early decision to hire — for a while — only graduates from the Philippines’ top university helped get Japanese people on board.

One RareJob study plan has a fixed monthly fee of about $54 for a 25-minute lesson as often as every day, according to the company.

But if the lessons are cheap, the stock itself has become more costly. Trading at more than 100 times estimated 12-month forward earnings, it compares to an average of about 36 times for a basket of its peers, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

For Katsuyoshi Sakase, general manager of the equity research department at Aizawa Securities Co., a lot will depend on whether RareJob’s plans to boost revenue succeed.

It looks “relatively expensive,” he said. “But what’s important for companies like these is sales growth. If it tops ¥10 billion and ¥20 billion in revenue without taking too much time, market expectations will be upheld.”

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