TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES, New Mexico — Virgin Galactic’s successful test flight to the edge of space Saturday has helped to get its stock climbing again.
Shares of Virgin Galactic shot up 20% in midday trading Monday after Saturday’s flight. The stock is up more than two-thirds from where it bottomed out earlier this month.
The flight carried two pilots to an altitude of 55.45 miles, according to the company, positioning Virgin Galactic to begin launching paying customers within the next year. The 50-mile mark is considered to be where the earth’s atmosphere ends and space begins.
News that it planned the flight had already started to lift Virgin Galactic’s recently battered shares. After reaching a record price of $62.80 on February 4, the share price slid steadily, hitting a low of $15.05 on May 13. Even with the nearly 70% rebound off that low, shares are still firmly in bear market territory.
One analyst, Pete Skibitski of Alembic Global Advisors, raised his estimate on the stock to an “overweight” or buy recommendation Monday from his previous neutral rating.
“We believe the flight is likely to keep the test schedule on track, providing catalyst for the shares, to include the remaining three test flights before the first regular consumer revenue-generating flight in early 2022,” he wrote in a note to clients.
Bank of America aerospace analyst Ron Epstein trimmed his price target on Virgin Galactic shares to $41 from $50 Monday, to reflect its recent volatility. But with the stock trading at just more than $25 a share, that price target justifies keeping his buy recommendation on the stock, he said.
The fact that competitors, such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space tourism company, are not publicly traded gives Virgin Galactic one of the few opportunities for investors who want to get into the sector.
“It’s a pre-revenue company. It’s a nascent market. And they will be one of the initial players,” said Epstein. “You have to be aware it’s going to be very volatile.”
Shares had struggled partly because of delays in performing test flights. But they also took a large hit in March after Chamath Palihapitiya, the company’s chairman, disclosed he had dumped his personal $200 million stake in the company.
British billionaire Richard Branson, who founded Virgin Galactic as well as Virgin Atlantic and other Virgin-branded companies, still owns 56.8 million shares of Virgin Galactic, or a 24% stake in the company, through an investment company he controls, although he has also trimmed his holdings recently, selling 5.6 million shares.
But he’s also shown the ultimate confidence in the company’s flights, announcing plans to take one of its test flights into space before any paying customers.