It appears that both Virgin Galactic and Richard Branson might have violated SEC regulations when they sold more than $800 million in stock this summer without notifying buyers of the FAA investigation into the anomaly on Branson’s July 11th suborbital flight that has now grounded all SpaceShipTwo flights.
On July 12, Virgin Galactic announced in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing that it was selling $500 million worth of common stock. The filing did not mention that during its edge-of-space flight the day before, its aircraft deviated from its air-traffic-control clearance, a mishap that would ultimately trigger a Federal Aviation Administration investigation and lead to the indefinite grounding of its space-tourism operation.
The FAA began investigating on July 23, a spokesperson told Insider. On August 11, the agency grounded Virgin Galactic’s rocket plane.
In an August 13 SEC filing, Richard Branson, the English billionaire who founded Virgin Galactic in 2004, said that in the previous three days, he had sold roughly 10.5 million personal shares, a stake worth about $300 million.
Let’s review the timeline.
July 11: The flight occurs, with high winds forcing it outside its planned flight path.
July 12: Virgin Galactic sells $500 million in stock, without mentioning the anomaly.
July 16: By this date the company was required to inform the FAA of any anomalies during the flight.
July 23: The FAA initiates its investigation..
August 11: The FAA grounds Virgin Galactic.
August 13: SEC filing reveals Branson had sold $300 million in stock without mentioning the anomaly.
September 1: New Yorker article reveals investigation of anomaly.
Though no investigation had been started, Virgin Galactic must have known about the flight anomaly when it sold its $500 million in shares on July 12, right after the flight.. By August, when Branson sold his $300 million in shares, that investigation was on-going. Yet he also failed to mention the anomaly.
As I have said before, Branson has all the markings of a conman. He has very carefully been selling stock, reducing his share in the company in the past two years from 51% to 18%, with each stock sale carefully timed to take advantage of some event that pumped up the stock’s price.
All in all, the pattern by Branson suggests he really does not have much faith in Virgin Galactic’s future.
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