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Line spikes 30% in market debut after opening at $42 in largest tech IPO

Japanese social networking firm Line made its debut on the New York Stock Exchange Thursday at $42 per share, in the largest technology initial public offering of 2016.

Line, owned by South Korean internet company Naver, offered 22 million shares on the New York Stock Exchange, and 13 million shares on the Tokyo stock exchange. Shares are trading under the symbol "LN."

Shares of the Tokyo-based company jumped more than 30 percent after the offering with a high of $44.49, valuing the company at more than $9 billion. The stock closed at $41.58.

The company provides free voice calls and messaging, and gets the bulk of its revenue from games, digital stickers, and advertising. Line's games have racked up a cumulative 628 million downloads, the company said. Line said it has 218 million monthly active users, with two-thirds in Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, and Indonesia.

Executives with Japanese messaging app Line celebrate the company's IPO at the New York Stock Exchange, Thursday, July 14, 2016, in New York.
Mark Lennihan | AP
Executives with Japanese messaging app Line celebrate the company's IPO at the New York Stock Exchange, Thursday, July 14, 2016, in New York.

The company formed after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan as a way to overcome downed communications. It's now the seventh most-used messenger app in the world, the company said, with more than 35 apps available for download. Stickers are a main source of revenue, contributing to more than $270 million in sales. "Stick packs" cost between $2 to $3 for a set of one or two dozen.

In response to questions about the character-driven revenue model, Jung-ho Shin, co-founder and chief global officer of Line pointed to the recent resurgence of Pokemon.

Pokemon Go's popularity is an example of the "strength and power of the intellectual property," Shin told CNBC's "Squawk on the Street" Thursday. He called emojis and stickers a "useful tool" that enhance relationships between friends and family.

"That is why our users open their wallet to pay for this kind of sticker," Shin said.

As for the future of the company, Shin said Line is more focused on domestic growth than global expansion. The company is moving into music streaming and taxi hailing to compete with WhatsApp, Facebook, and Tencent's WeChat, which dominates in China where Line is blocked.

"[Customers] want that one stop service," Shin said.

Japanese messaging app Line has its IPO at the New York Stock Exchange, Thursday, July 14, 2016, in New York.
Mark Lennihan | AP
Japanese messaging app Line has its IPO at the New York Stock Exchange, Thursday, July 14, 2016, in New York.

Line is the fifth tech company to go public this year. At this point in 2015, 14 tech companies had gone public.

The IPO market has slowed significantly this year. As of last month, 31 companies had gone public in the U.S., down from 69 in the first five months of 2015 and 115 in the same period in 2014, Barron's reported, citing Renaissance Capital.

CORRECTION: This version of the story has been updated to reflect the correct closing stock price of $41.58.