Picture: REUTERS
Picture: REUTERS

Richard Branson’s fortune is getting a boost from Cathie Wood’s plans to go into space.

Branson’s stake in Virgin Galactic surged by about $300m after Wood’s Ark Investment Management said it was starting a space-focused exchange-traded fund (ETF).

Shares in the space-travel company jumped as much as 18% in New York trading on Thursday morning, valuing Branson’s holding at about $2bn, according to the Bloomberg billionaires index.

While the ETF hasn’t started making investments, the news stirred interest in stocks that might meet its mandate. It comes as Branson’s more earthly interests are struggling with the fallout from the coronavirus crisis.

Virgin Atlantic Airways, the airline that helped take his brand global, was rescued on the brink of collapse with a £1.2bn package that included about £200m he got from diluting his stake in Virgin Galactic, his most valuable listed asset.

Space tourism is one of the latest bets by Branson, 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, including British bank Virgin Money UK. The 70-year-old entrepreneur’s net worth was valued at about $6bn as of Wednesday’s close.

Wood rose to prominence in 2020 as one of the first star ETF active managers. She founded Ark in 2014 after managing funds at AllianceBernstein, where the idea for active ETFs based on disruptive technology first occurred to her.

Wood’s ARK Space Exploration ETF will track companies in the sector around the world. While most funds passively follow indices of stocks, the five that the New York-based firm offers are actively managed. Ark now oversees about $41.5bn in ETF products, up from $3.5bn in 2020, data compiled by Bloomberg show.


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