Virgin Galactic Chairman Sells $213 Million Stake
(Bloomberg) — Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc. tumbled Friday after its billionaire Chairman Chamath Palihapitiya offloaded shares worth about $213 million in the space-tourism company founded by Richard Branson.Palihapitiya, who has helped drive the frenzied growth of blank-check companies, disposed of 6.2 million shares at an average price of $34.32 this week, based on a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. He still owns 15.8 million shares with his partner Ian Osborne through investment firm Social Capital Hedosophia, amounting to about a 6.5% stake. Palihapitiya previously sold shares worth almost $100 million in December, filings show.Palihapitiya said he sold the shares to fund an investment to help fight climate change.“The details of this investment will be made public in the next few months,” he said in a statement Friday. “I remain as dedicated as ever to Virgin Galactic’s team, mission and prospects.”Read more: The king of SPACs wants you to know he’s the next Warren BuffettVirgin Galactic’s shares fell 9.9% to $27.29 in New York on Friday and have slid more than 50% since their peak in mid-February.The Las Cruces, New Mexico-based company merged with Social Capital’s first SPAC in 2019. Palihapitiya has since launched blank-check companies that have merged with businesses across health insurance, financial services and real estate including Opendoor Technologies Inc. and Clover Health Investments Corp.Opendoor fell 9.8% on Friday, while Clover Health rose 7.5% after earlier sliding. Other Palihapitiya SPACs such as Social Capital Hedosophia Holdings Corp IV and V reversed midday losses to end up for the day.Palihapitiya, 44, has made a fortune for himself and his investors through SPACs. The former Facebook Inc. executive has raised more than $4 billion via blank-check firms, using social media to talk up the investments and becoming one of the most prominent figures in the phenomenon, which has everyone from Colin Kaepernick to former House Speaker Paul Ryan racing to market their own.He’s also a lightning rod for skeptics who dismiss his success as the product of self-promotion and see blank-check companies as proof of a bubble inflated by government money-printing.A month ago, Palihapitiya said it would only be under the rarest of circumstances that he’d reduce his holdings of any SPAC.“If I could really just go for it, I wouldn’t sell a share of anything I buy because I believe in it,” he said Feb. 8 in a interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Front Row.” “But every now and then, I run into liquidity constraints, like everybody else.”At the time, Palihapitiya had just recently sold 3.8 million Virgin Galactic shares. He said he did so because his family office called needing cash for other purposes.Shares DropSocial Capital’s merger with Virgin Galactic — where Palihapitiya is chairman — made the Branson startup the world’s first publicly traded space-travel venture. The transaction raised about $800 million, with Palihapitiya also directly contributing $100 million.While the shares surged in the wake of the listing, they have tumbled since a February decision to delay the next flight to space. The new schedule also pushed back plans to carry Branson, 70, on a separate mission before Virgin Galactic is expected to take its first flight with passengers paying for the trip.The company on Thursday announced the departure of its chief space officer, George Whitesides, saying he has decided to pursue potential opportunities in public service. Whitesides, who served as chief executive officer for a decade until July 2020, will remain chairman of a four-person Space Advisory Board. Swami Iyer is joining Virgin Galactic later this month as president of aerospace systems.Though Virgin Galactic has hundreds of clients lined up to pay at least $250,000 for a 90-minute flight to the edge of space, it has been a slow journey since the venture was founded in 2004. Plans were put on hold for four years in 2014 after a space plane broke up mid-flight, killing one pilot and injuring another.(Updates stock prices throughout.)For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2021 Bloomberg L.P.