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Wed 3 Jun 2020 07:52 AM

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Branson may sell more Virgin Galactic shares to aid empire

Branson sold 25 million shares last month worth more than $300 million

Branson may sell more Virgin Galactic shares to aid empire

Branson built Virgin Group into a sprawling collection of businesses with annual revenues exceeding $20 billion. Image: Getty Images

Richard Branson is considering selling another chunk of his stake in Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc., a move that could provide about $200 million to support his broader Virgin business empire.

Holding company Vieco 10 may sell as many as 12.5 million shares in the space-travel firm, according to a regulatory filing Tuesday. Branson’s Virgin Group is the majority owner of Vieco 10, with the balance held by Aabar Space, an Abu Dhabi investment company. The British billionaire’s Virgin Galactic stake is worth around $1 billion, his biggest holding in a listed business. He sold 25 million shares last month worth more than $300 million.

“Virgin Group intends to use any proceeds from sales of our common stock pursuant to the distribution agency agreement primarily to support its portfolio of global leisure, holiday and travel businesses that have been affected by the unprecedented impact of COVID-19,” according to the filing.

Vieco 10 would still own around 77 million shares even if all the 12.5 million shares were sold, said Nick Fox, a Virgin Group spokesman.

Over the past half century, Branson built Virgin Group into a sprawling collection of businesses with annual revenues exceeding $20 billion. But his practice of plunging most of the profits back into the ventures has left him scrambling for cash during the pandemic as governments balk at bailing out a billionaire famous for his flamboyant publicity stunts.

Along with selling Virgin Galactic shares, Branson has pledged a Caribbean island and at least $250 million to shore up an empire roiled by the virus crisis.

“This is the most significant crisis the world has experienced in my lifetime,” Branson, 69, said in a March blog post. “Because many of our businesses are in industries like travel, leisure and wellness, they are in a massive battle to survive and save jobs.”

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