Richard Branson. Picture: BLOOMBERG/CHRIS RATCLIFFE
Richard Branson. Picture: BLOOMBERG/CHRIS RATCLIFFE

Los Angeles/San Francisco — Richard Branson has sold about $150m 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% of the space-travel company — in line with a trading plan adopted in March, leaving him with a 24% stake in Virgin Galactic, 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.

The move marks Branson’s first sale of Virgin Galactic shares since he raised more than $300m 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 Branson’s global brand — was rescued from the brink of collapse with a £1.2bn package that included about £200m from Branson.

“Because many of our businesses are in industries such as travel, leisure and wellness, they are in a huge battle to survive and save jobs,” Branson wrote in a blog post in 2020.

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 worldwide, including British bank Virgin Money UK.

Virgin Galactic’s stock has tumbled 55% from a February peak as the company announced the delays of a test flight and 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 (SPAC) set up by sponsor Chamath Palihapitiya.

Palihapitiya, Virgin Galactic’s chair and another large holder, sold $213m in Virgin Galactic stock in March.

Branson still owns a stake in the company worth about $1.5bn, making up more than a fifth of his fortune, according to the Bloomberg billionaires index.

Bloomberg

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