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Virgin Galactic Playing With House Money Heading Into Earnings

By Lou Whiteman – Updated Feb 25, 2020 at 4:10PM

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Here's what to look for when Richard Branson's high-flying space company reports.

Virgin Galactic Holdings (SPCE 4.93%), despite its shares rocketing 200% higher so far this year, has a lot to prove when it releases quarterly results after markets close Tuesday. The space tourism company has grown to a market capitalization of more than $7 billion without any earnings and only negligible revenue, and no one is expecting anything different in the recently completed quarter.

What Wall Street will be looking for is progress toward Virgin Galactic launching its service, which charges $250,000 per ticket for a 90-minute loop into space to see the Earth curve over the horizon and experience weightlessness.

The company already trades at an absurd 1,500 times sales, benefiting from a paltry float -- 72% of shares are held by insiders -- and investor excitement over the business' potential. Virgin Galactic now needs to show it is on a path to fulfill that potential and evolve over time from a vehicle for speculation into a sustainable growth stock.

What to expect when Virgin Galactic reports

Analysts expect the company to report a $0.21 per share loss on revenue of about $750,000, generated primarily from transporting small payloads into space.

But there aren't many people invested in the stock based on the company's current operations, and the results are unlikely to move the shares dramatically higher or lower. What could impact the shares is a forecast for when commercial spaceflights will actually begin.

Virgin Galactic's Eve space craft hitching a ride into orbit.

Virgin Galactic shares are soaring into orbit. Image source: Virgin Galactic.

Virgin Galactic has said previously it hopes to begin flying paying customers in the first half of this year. If that timetable is still on it would likely be bullish for the shares. A delay could be bearish, but only if it is substantial. Virgin Galactic has said it believes it can reach breakeven in 2021, assuming it completes about 115 flights.

The company's aggressive timetable is in part the product of founder Richard Branson's goal to reach space during his 70th year. Branson turns 70 in July.

Another number that is likely to move the stock after earnings is the company's bookings, which is read as a measure of demand for its services. Virgin Galactic when it last disclosed had about 600 reservations and 3,500 expressions of interest. Investors are going to be looking for a boost to that number to provide confidence that there is sustained demand for the services.

The addressable market for the service at its current price point would appear to be small. According to Virgin Galactic, there are 1.78 million people with a net worth over $10 million.

Tread carefully

There isn't a case to be made for buying into Virgin Galactic based on the fundamentals. The argument to buy is based entirely on the promise if everything goes to plan, and the company finds continued demand for its high-priced space tourism while it grinds through efficiencies and slowly brings the price down over time.

Eventually, some bulls see this nascent commercial space industry as a possible rival to airlines and if so able to tap into a much larger addressable market.

This is likely the ideal point in Virgin Galactic's history for such speculation. The company for now is unburdened from the scrutiny of actually operating its space tourism business, and the inevitable hiccups, delays, and unexpected challenges that come with running a business. It also currently benefits from being the only space tourism available to public investors, as potential rivals including Elon Musk's SpaceX and Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin remain private. 

I'm skeptical that Virgin Galactic's operations will go to plan over the next few years and dubious that profitability will materialize as quickly as the company hopes. But the potential is undeniable. An investor with an ultra-long time horizon and a stomach for volatility might consider taking a small position in Virgin Galactic and hoping for the best.

Just be aware Wall Street is not a zero-gravity environment.

John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool’s board of directors. Lou Whiteman has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon and Tesla. The Motley Fool owns shares of Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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