ECONOMY

Branson Offloads $150 Million in Virgin Galactic Shares

Richard Branson sold about $150 million in Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc. 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 last month, 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 $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 Ltd. — the company most responsible for building Branson’s global brand — was rescued from the brink of collapse with a 1.2 billion-pound ($1.7 billion) package that included about 200 million pounds from 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,” Branson wrote in a blog post last year.

Space tourism is one of the latest bets by 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 Plc.

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 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.

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