The modern day space race doesn’t pit country against country. It’s a game of thrones of sorts among three billionaires: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Richard Branson.
Under the guise of “we compete in a friendly way,” Branson engaged in a little trash-talk at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
“Our spaceship comes back and lands on wheels. Theirs don’t,” he told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” in an interview that aired Friday. “Because ours is shaped like an airplane, we hope to do point-to-point air travel one day. Theirs is not.”
To be fair, he said that Musk, founder of SpaceX,, and Bezos, founder of Blue Origin, would probably give reasons why theirs are better than Branson’s Virgin Galactic effort
Branson, who said he’s friends with Musk but does not know Bezos well, stressed that competition is good. “You need competition. And the public will benefit from the three of us getting out there and competing.”
Besides space, Branson’s Virgin conglomerate runs branded businesses worldwide in industries including mobile phones, airlines, financial services, music, as well as health and wellness.
Musk, also a serial entrepreneur, is the founder and chief of electric automaker Tesla. He’s also chairman of energy company, SolarCity. Bezos is founder and chief of Amazon and the owner of The Washington Post.
During his CNBC interview, Branson also addressed the most pressing concern for financial markets: the depressed price of oil that’s seen somewhat of a bounce recently.
He said he sees oil prices likely staying low for a long time, but he believes that’s a good thing for the global economy.
“There’s no need to try to make up a recession [case],” he said. “This is going to be the greatest boost to the economy you could imagine. And everyone is going to have money in their pockets to spend,” because of cheaper gasoline prices.
Depressed oil, which also translates into lower jet fuel prices, has been a boon to the airline industry and passengers.
When the oil hedges that many carriers engage in to lock-in steady costs come off, “they can afford to reduce fares,” Branson said. “And that will stimulate demand on planes. And they can also afford to make some decent profits.”
“I remember $149 a barrel,” he recalled, with U.S. and global crude around $31 per barrel early Friday. “If you can’t make money today, you can’t make money ever in the airline industry.”
Reflecting on what some market watchers consider a bubble in so-called privately held unicorns, Branson said: “There’s always something of a bubble in the Valley,” referring to Silicon Valley. Unicorn companies are start-ups with market values exceeding $1 billion.
There are many good pre-initial public offering (IPO) companies, Branson acknowledged, but he warned that others are going to “fall flat on their face.”