Investing In The Old

Published in Company Comment on 6 January 2011

No, we don't mean buying your mum a new conservatory or your dad some golf clubs.

English batsmen in Australia aren't the only ones knocking out the centuries -- the rest of the UK population is also doing pretty well.

More than 10 million people in the UK will live to see their 100th birthday, according to new research from Fidelity, which is good news for them (I think), and a great opportunity for investors.

Although many people view the elderly as a burden, both on the state and their hard-pressed families, this negative stereotype doesn't apply to all of them.

Older people are richer, better educated, more active and hungrier consumers than the generations of yore. They even have a sleek new marketable name -- the Silver Generation -- and as their numbers grow, so will their importance to the economy.

Gold from silver

While we may live longer, though, we will still grow old. By the time we have notched up 100 on our clock, our bodies will resemble beaten up old jalopies, repeatedly patched together and put back on the road.

Although advertisers like to portray the silver generation as spending their retirement whizzing about on jet skis and abseiling down Machu Picchu, most will be doing more humdrum activities, like taking a trip to their local GP or hospital.

Healthcare is therefore a great way to play the silver generation. The older generation spends a much greater proportion of their income on health, and as their numbers grow and the NHS struggles to meet their demands, healthcare companies should reap the benefit.

Pharmaceutical companies are sure to be a good long-term play, especially given the steady income stream from giants such as GlaxoSmithKline (LSE: GSK), which currently yields 4.9% (covered twice) and is on a forecast P/E of 10.5, and AstraZeneca (LSE: AZN), which also yields 4.9% (covered 2.7 times) and is on a very tempting P/E forecast of 7.4.

China ageing crisis

People aren't just getting older and living longer in the West. They are getting older and living longer all over the world.

That includes China. The stock tip that got away from me last year was Hutchison China Meditech (LSE: HCM), a UK pharmaceuticals and biotechnology company that targets the silver China market. It has a market cap of £266 million, and is up 157% after I added it to my watchlist year or so ago.

I guess we've missed this opportunity (though I said that back when it had risen 50%) but there must be others out there. This sector may be worth a closer look.

Personal finance begins at 40

Any journalist who writes for the money pages knows their main audience is typically at least 40-years old, especially when it comes to savings, pensions, tax and retirement planning.

The aging population is therefore good for fund managers, financial advisory firms and insurance companies. This could prompt an investment in all manner of companies from Aviva (LSE: AV) (which yields 5.8% and is on a forecast P/E of just 6.5) to IFA Hargreaves Lansdown (LSE: HL). The latter's share price has doubled in the past 12 months, although its forecast P/E of 32 will probably put you off.

Leisure time

Even though many of us will have to work for longer in the future, we should still have plenty of leisure time. The silver jet ski market is still a minority one, I would imagine, but as Fidelity points out, the cruise liner market has a successful track record of targeting older people, and it could build further on this in the future.

Cruise liner company Carnival (LSE: CCL) has steamed ahead after seeing its share price sink during the credit crunch, notching up a 50% rise since September. New York-listed Royal Caribbean Cruises has also floated nicely upwards.

Nursing your portfolio

Nursing home providers are unlikely to be short of customers in future, and they probably won't be short of investors either.

You might consider a stock such as Public Service Properties (LSE: PSPI), traded on AIM, which earns a steady rental income from its portfolio of UK nursing homes, yields 8.7%, and trades on a forward P/E of 8.3. David Holding took a look at this opportunity last February.

Finally, while the ageing population may be good news for certain companies and sectors, it will be a disaster for some countries.

Japan is first in the firing line, due to its negligent failure to replace its ageing population, and demographics will eventually catch up with one-child China as well. You might want to factor that into your investment calculations.

More from Harvey Jones:

> Harvey owns shares in Aviva and GlaxoSmithKline.

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