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Why Virgin Galactic Stock Dropped 5% This Morning (Again)

By Rich Smith – Jul 29, 2020 at 1:31PM

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There's no imminent commercial launch for Virgin Galactic -- just more tests.

What happened

Surprise, surprise. Space tourism stock Virgin Galactic (SPCE -2.01%) was again down 5% in early trading and was still down 3% at 1 p.m. EDT -- and in contrast to past declines in the stock, I'm afraid Virgin has no one but itself to blame for this dip.

The company, you see, just let slip that its first commercial space launch, carrying paying customers and producing actual revenue for the near-revenueless company, could be farther away than I suspect a lot of investors had hoped.

VSS Unity flying free over New Mexico during June 25 glide test flight.

A Virgin Galactic test flight on June 25. Image source: Virgin Galactic.

So what

By this point, I think I've probably made my feelings clear: Most movements in Virgin Galactic's stock price aren't worth paying attention to, because they're based in trading volatility and are not responses to actual news. But today's movement isn't like that.

In an interview with the BBC published last night, Virgin Galactic chief space officer George Whitesides revealed that Virgin is in the process of getting ready for a test flight that will carry "two pilots in the front to do a systems check." Assuming all goes well, "the plan is to start putting [four Virgin Galactic employees] in the back" and flying them around as well. And after "a fairly small number" of such tests, Virgin Galactic should be ready to carry paying passengers to space.

Now what

Which sounds good, and of course, everyone should want Virgin Galactic to run as many tests as necessary to ensure its spaceplane is safe to fly in -- but here's the thing: Virgin Galactic has been running test flights of various sorts for years. It has even carried a passenger aboard at least once (in a test flight flown in February 2019 carrying Virgin Galactic chief astronaut instructor Beth Moses). So even the passenger part Whitesides boasted of isn't original!

What Virgin Galactic investors really want to hear -- what they need to know in order to accurately estimate future revenues, cash flows, and profits so they can decide how much to buy -- is when Virgin thinks it will be able to begin commercial flights with paying passengers.

Virgin failed to tell us that today -- again. And telling us all we can look forward to in the immediate future is another test flight, followed by "a fairly small number" of test flights after that, doesn't help an investor figure out this stock's value one bit.

Rich Smith has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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