Virgin Galactic falls as Richard Branson cashes in on shares

Virgin Galactic's next flight will likely be in 2022

Richard Branson is cashing in on the space boom, which for investors may be getting long in the tooth. 

The British billionaire and founder of Virgin Galactic sold a chunk of shares over several days this week worth around $313 million based on the average selling price. 

From Aug. 10 to Aug. 12, he "disposed of 10,416,000 shares of Common Stock in a series of transactions at prices ranging from $25.21 to $34.76 per share in open market transactions on the New York Stock Exchange," according to a filing with the SEC.

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Branson's unloading of the stock corresponds with a bearish call on the company from Morgan Stanley analyst Kristine Liwag, who on Monday told clients Virgin Galactic shares may return to a price target of $25 as the company transitions from a "catalyst-rich period" to a prolonged period of no flights. The stock's move would imply a 20% drop from recent levels of $31.33 per share.

Richard Branson moves around the cabin. (Virgin Galactic)

"After the expected flight of Unity 23 in September 2021, the company’s sole mothership, Eve, will be grounded for an 8-month enhancement period. During this heavy maintenance period, Virgin Galactic will not be able to conduct any space flights until summer of 2022," Liwag wrote. "We view it positively that the company is investing in increasing its long-term space flight capacity; however, these investments take time."

Over the past year, shares have gained over 38% through Friday and have traded as high as $62.80 and as low as $14.27. 

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Branson famously beat fellow billionaire Jeff Bezos into space, launching himself and a crew successfully into orbit in early July, while Bezos followed with his Blue Origin crew later in the month. 

Despite more caution on the sector from Wall Street, these two billionaires, along with Elon Musk, have paved the way for the space industry and space tourism economy.