On Monday, shares of space-tourism pioneer Virgin Galactic (SPCE 6.13%) took off like -- what else? -- a rocket ship, after a pair of Wall Street analysts issued positive pronouncements on the space stock. In back-to-back reports, Bank of America upgraded Virgin Galactic shares to buy, and then Susquehanna Research initiated coverage of the stock with a positive rating.
Just a day later, however, CNBC.com let some of the air out of the balloon, quoting two other sources who argued that Virgin Galactic stock is not a buy "yet." And today, Virgin's stock price is falling even further, down 5.6% as of 2 p.m. EDT.
In Monday's upgrades, Bank of America praised Virgin Galactic for its "unparalleled ... vertical integration" of spaceship construction with a primary space tourism business and a hypersonic commercial air travel option -- ideas that Susquehanna said make Virgin Galactic "an innovator of space technology" and "a truly unique offering."
That being said, even Susquehanna admitted that it's unlikely Virgin Galactic will fulfill its promise of becoming profitable next year -- that it will not, in fact, produce positive free cash flow before 2024, nor even positive earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) before 2023.
Yesterday, CNBC hammered on that pessimism, citing New Street Advisors founder Delano Saporu reminding investors that Virgin Galactic is not profitable -- indeed, that it cannot become profitable because "commercial operations haven't begun."
The news agency went on to quote Laffer Tengler Investments chief investment officer Nancy Tengler warning that the sky-high $250,000-a-ticket prices Virgin wants to charge "limits the potential clients," and reminding investors that it won't be until Q1 2021, at the earliest, before we learn for certain "how this catches on" -- if there's really any demand for the product at all.
In that regard, though, I'd remind investors that Virgin Galactic has already sold 600 tickets, worth an estimated $150 million in revenue, without having yet flown a single commercial flight. To me, this suggests the idea has, in fact, already caught on.
Now, Virgin Galactic just needs to start flying before Virgin Galactic's well-heeled clients get tired of waiting for their flights to board, lose interest, and start asking for their money back.