Supersonic jet, a smokescreen for Virgin Galactic losses?

Virgin Galactic

A lot of news lately came from Richard Branson’s space-conquering venture Virgin Galactic, including the new spaceship cabin, new supersonic aircraft, and even the announcement of the first spaceflight of the founder himself. The company normally comes to public attention once every few months. Such an amount of publicity is rather unusual. Could it be that there is a reason behind that?

But let us start from the beginning. Virgin Galactic has unveiled a new sleek cabin design for its long-promised SpaceShipTwo, complete with designer seats and a large mirror. The aircraft itself was revealed back in 2009, and has not suffered any changes to its function or appearance. While the cabin has not been constructed yet, a high-quality 3D model with a possibility to see it in Virtual Reality (VR) from an app was enough to capture millions of imaginations. 

Then, out of nowhere, Virgin Galactic’s plans to compete in an optimistic and already crowded market of supersonic commercial jets came. The flowery press release had even more 3D models, Mach number higher than any of its competitors, and neither operational capabilities nor a production date.

Later the same day the company confirmed that Branson himself will be on one of the last spaceship tests in early-2021, pushing back the start of commercial flights once again, but seemingly aiming to instill confidence by using the fact that the founder will put himself on the line. Originally, Virgin Galactic’s commercial space flights were supposed to start in 2014. Needless to say, they were delayed, year after year, month after month.

What happened in between all these announcements? Quite a lot, actually.

Follow the stock

Virgin Galactic’s stock price fell dramatically, along with the rest of the market in March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic began. But it has started to recover since. While it was not at a pre-pandemic peak of $37,35 per share, it came close as shares were priced at $25,54 on July 22, the level of early-February 2020.  A few days later, the cabin was revealed, and the stock fell again, for more than 5% for several days straight. Turns out, the market did not like the pretty renderings and had a feeling that it’s just a smokescreen for further delays. 3D models don’t make money, real actual spaceflights do, and that’s what investors want.

As if the situation could not be any worse, an important date was coming – August 3, the day the company’s Q2 2020 financial results had to be released. Of course, the firm had nothing exciting to report – no revenue and a loss on par with previous years, as billions continued to be poured into the development of long-delayed spacecraft. On top of that, its stock was falling, and something had to be done.

Now, supersonic business aircraft is this exciting thing everyone is talking about, daring enough to look innovative but old enough to be considered safe. Even though it has yielded no material results yet, just a couple of scale models by a couple of the most prominent competitors. Virgin Galactic went all in, revealing their design for the supersonic jet just hours before the financial results had to be announced, and the stock jumped by over 5% in a blink of an eye. 

Then the results themselves came – and revealed nothing exciting. The company ended Q2 2020 with $0 in revenue and a net loss of $63 million, just a bit more than the $60 million loss of Q1 2020. Mixed in with the numbers were detailed plans to complete two more flight tests in 2020, and send Branson to space in early-2021 – something more eye-catching than numbers, and that is what many noticed.

Without the smallest hesitation and still riding on the wave of being in the headlines for a whole day Virgin Galactic announced public offering of common stock – an attempt to raise another $460 million by selling over 20 million shares.

And it seemingly succeeded. As of August 4, 2020, the stock of the company is rising for the second day in a row (not counting minimal fluctuations), as delays were barely noticed. Virgin Galactic’s new business jet that is yet to be named by the company is still the talk of the town, and seemingly, a crisis was averted. Maybe for good, if the company really can send Branson to space in a few months. 

So, the problem brought by one set of pretty pictures without any clear promises was solved by another set of pretty pictures without any clear promises, and a couple of unconnected vague dates, passing for a promise, on top. 

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