Japanese retail investors give shares in toaster maker 88% pop

Japanese retail investors have placed a $270m valuation on the company behind the nation’s most elite toaster — a contraption that has made breakfast into an art form, took 20 years to perfect and whose designer was once reduced to tears by a loaf of bread. 

Shares in Balmuda, a boutique consumer electronics company that also makes vacuum cleaners, kettles and what it describes as an “adults-only” curry sauce, leapt 88 per cent on their first day of trading in Tokyo on Wednesday. The company, which promotes its $400 rice-cooker with a pledge of plumper grains and greater energy efficiency, only began selling products outside Japan and South Korea earlier this year. 

Founded in 2003 by the school dropout and self-taught designer Gen Terao, Balmuda has thrived on its small but perfectly formed range of products: minimalist-looking Bluetooth speakers, fans and camping lanterns that are crafted to compete with the output of Japanese white-goods giants such as Panasonic and Toshiba. Despite the company’s renown, it remains a minnow whose performance has not always been as explosive as its stock market debut. Full-year operating profits for 2019 were 35 per cent lower than the same period a year earlier at ¥1bn ($9.6m).

The group, which accompanies descriptions of its products with whimsical, cosy origin stories of rain-soaked barbecues and croissants so good they made Mr Terao shout for joy, has had devoted fans since its outset. But Balmuda hit mainstream prominence in 2015 with the release of The Toaster, which, for $220, promises the toast nirvana of external crispiness and internal, exquisite fluffiness. 

School drop-out and self-taught designer Gen Terao founded Balmuda in 2003 © Akio Kon: Bloomberg

It achieves this through, among other innovations, a steamer that the user first has to fill with water using a tiny measuring cup that comes with the device and has itself become an object of deep reverence for aficionados of Japanese design.

The company’s website devotes a substantial section to the toaster’s extraordinary abilities when it comes to the science of cheese-on-toast — a quest that Mr Terao claims arises from an ambition to recapture a definitive version of the dish he once ate on a skiing holiday.

The stock’s first-day surge crystallised retail investor excitement around a heavily oversubscribed initial public offering where Balmuda raised $30m and was, said brokers, able to price the stock at the top of the indicative range. The shares listed on Tokyo’s Mothers market for start-ups — a board that lists 334 companies and whose benchmark index hit all-time highs earlier this year.

Balmuda is one of 26 companies scheduled to list in Tokyo between December 15 and the end of the month as an unprecedented concentration of IPOs follows months of new issuance drought earlier in the year.

The ranks of Japanese retail investors swelled by more than 1m in 2020 as enforced homeworking for many Japanese companies created zones of daytime boredom that many filled by signing up to online trading accounts and investing mostly in Mothers-listed stocks.

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