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How has the Virgin Group coped with COVID19

Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group has many tentacles, and plans for a new investment vehicle to target post-pandemic opportunities. David Prosser looks at a portfolio that has had a mixed crisis, exploring airlines Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia among other things

Nobody could accuse Sir Richard Branson of overlooking Albert Einstein’s advice that “in the midst of every crisis lies great opportunity”. After months of firefighting at a host of his Virgin Group businesses caught in the eye of the COVID-19 storm, the billionaire is still on the lookout for the next big thing. In September, Virgin Group quietly filed a special purchase acquisition company (SPAC) with the Securities and Exchange Commission ahead of an NYSE listing that aims to raise up to $480m.

Virgin is one of a number of investors right now that are launching so-called ‘blank-cheque companies’, with war chests ready for rapid deployment as deal opportunities present themselves. Virgin’s SPAC doesn’t yet have any particular transaction in mind, but the group thinks the pandemic will leave fundamentally strong businesses in its favoured consumer sector on attractive valuations. It wants to be ready to strike. Money raised but not invested within two years will be returned. It’s a pretty defiant move after an intensely difficult summer for Virgin Group.