Richard Branson sells $150m stake in Virgin Galactic

Billionaire remains largest stakeholder with 24% stake

Virgin Galactic’s third craft VSS Imagine. Photograph:  Virgin Galactic /PA Wire

Virgin Galactic’s third craft VSS Imagine. Photograph: Virgin Galactic /PA Wire

 

Richard Branson sold about $150 million (€125 million) in Virgin Galactic Holdings stock, tapping his biggest listed asset again to prop up his business empire during the coronavirus pandemic.

The billionaire offloaded almost 5.6 million shares – about 2.5 per cent of the space-travel company – in line with a trading plan adopted last month, leaving him with a 24 per cent stake in Virgin Galactic, according to a regulatory filing.

The proceeds will support Mr Branson’s travel and leisure businesses, as well as help develop new and existing ventures, a Virgin Group representative said.

The move marks Mr Branson’s first sale of Virgin Galactic shares since he raised more than $300 million in the first half of 2020 to help other Virgin Group units through the fallout of the Covid-19 crisis. Virgin Atlantic Airways – the company most responsible for building Mr Branson’s global brand – was rescued from the brink of collapse with a £1.2 billion (€1.38 billion) package that included about £200 million from Mr Branson.

“Because many of our businesses are in industries like travel, leisure and wellness, they are in a massive battle to survive and save jobs,” Mr Branson wrote in a blog post last year.

Latest bets

Space tourism is one of the latest bets by Mr Branson, 70, a serial creator of companies ranging from record labels to soft drinks. The Virgin brand he founded as a mail-order retailer in 1970 is now linked to more than 40 businesses worldwide, including British bank Virgin Money UK.Virgin Galactic’s stock has tumbled 55 per cent from a February peak as the company announced the delays of a test flight and Mr Branson’s own trip to space. Still, the shares have more than doubled since the firm began trading publicly after merging in 2019 with a special purpose acquisition company set up by SPAC sponsor Chamath Palihapitiya. Palihapitiya, Virgin Galactic’s chairman and another large holder, sold $213 million in Virgin Galactic stock last month.

Branson still owns a stake in the company worth about $1.5 billion, making up more than a fifth of his fortune, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index – Bloomberg