Investors dump $1.7 billion of stock in K-pop agency Hybe after the world’s biggest act, BTS, announces it is going on ‘hiatus’

June 15, 2022, 10:30 AM UTC

BTS—the K-pop boy band that has amassed an “army” of global fans and has ranked as the world’s best-selling artist for two years in a row—is taking a break.

“The problem with K-pop and the whole idol system is that they don’t give you time to mature,” one of BTS’s seven members said during an hourlong video the group produced as part of its annual birthday celebrations, setting up a bombshell announcement: BTS is going on “hiatus.”

Tearful BTS loyalists—a fan base so strong it emerged as a political activist force in 2020—appeared to largely endorse the decision, emotionally pledging on Twitter they’ll be “Army forever.” Investors in Hybe Co, the talent agency responsible for BTS, however, were less supportive.

Shares in the talent agency fell 25% on Wednesday, wiping out over $1.7 billion in market value and closing at their lowest point since their debut on the Korea Exchange in October 2020. The talent agency is now down almost 60% for the year.

After BTS announced it was disbanding, Hybe rushed to issue a clarification insisting “BTS are not taking a hiatus” but that “members will be focusing more on solo projects at this time.”

Yet even a temporary break for BTS is enough to spook Hybe’s shareholders, and with good reason. The K-pop sensation makes up a sizable part of the talent agency’s revenue, through album sales, streams, and touring. BTS alone made up 27% of Hybe’s album sales in the U.S. and half of all album sales in Japan in 2021, notes Billboard

Shares in Hybe’s competitors also fell, though to a smaller extent. YG Entertainment, which manages K-pop girl group Blackpink, sank 7%. Cube Entertainment and FNC Entertainment, two other major Korean talent agencies, dropped around 3.5%. But as Hyunsu Yim, features writer for the Korea Herald, noted on Twitter, Hybe still relies “heavily on one act,” unlike its competitors.

Hybe has tried to diversify its portfolio of artists. It launched several new K-pop groups in the past year, including its first girl group, Le Sserafim. Hybe also bought Ithaca Holdings—the agency behind artists like Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande—for almost $1 billion in April 2021. Ithaca artists are now responsible for 45% of Hybe’s U.S. album sales. 

The company has also said it would invest in gaming and NFTs to diversify its revenues. 

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