Richard Branson sells $300m stake in Virgin Galactic

Billionaire offloads about 4 per cent of the space travel company, leaving him with 18 per cent stake

FILE PHOTO: Virgin's Richard Branson attends a news conference after landing at the Ben Gurion international airport near Tel Aviv, Israel, October 23, 2019 REUTERS/Amir Cohen/File Photo
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Richard Branson sold about $300 million in Virgin Galactic Holdings stock, tapping his biggest listed asset again to prop up his business empire during the pandemic.

The billionaire offloaded almost 10.5 million shares – about 4 per cent of the space travel company – through a company he controls, leaving him with an 18 per cent stake, according to a regulatory filing.

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

Branson, 71, remains Virgin Galactic’s biggest shareholder. The company’s shares fell 4.3 per cent to $24.82 at 5.58am in early New York trading.

The sale marks Branson’s first since his test flight to space last month on a Virgin Galactic plane. In April, he sold about $150m in stock to support his other businesses and raised more than $300m during the first half of 2020 following the global outbreak of Covid-19.

Virgin Atlantic Airways, the airline majority owned by Branson’s group, is now considering a public offering in London after receiving a £1.2 billion ($1.7bn) rescue package last year that included about £200m from Branson.

Virgin Galactic is planning to debut tourism trips next year, adding space travel to Branson’s track record that ranges from record labels to soft drinks. The Virgin brand he founded as a mail-order retailer in 1970 has since become linked to more than 40 businesses worldwide, including British bank Virgin Money UK.

Branson has a net worth of about $6.5bn, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Las Cruces, New Mexico-based Virgin Galactic’s stock has tumbled about 56 per cent from a February peak, partly due to the company planning a dilutive capital raise. Still, the shares have more than doubled since the company began trading publicly after merging in 2019 with a special purpose acquisition company set up by Chamath Palihapitiya.

Updated: August 13, 2021, 11:39 AM