After the pandemic, a wave of spending by older consumers

The total spending power of the older population globally was about US$8.4 trillion in 2020. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

(BLOOMBERG) - The world's emergence from the coronavirus pandemic is set to unleash a wave of spending by older consumers, with increasing opportunities for investors in ageing-linked stocks.

That's the view of money managers, who see huge pent-up demand from wealthy seniors for medical services and luxury goods. They also expect that the forced adoption of the Internet by older people during lockdown will open up this demographic permanently to e-commerce companies and social networks.

The number of people aged 65 and over is projected to double to more 1.5 billion by 2050, greatly increasing their economic impact. The total spending power of the older population globally was about US$8.4 trillion (S$11.1 trillion) in 2020, according to World Data Lab. That's expected to grow to US$14 trillion over the next decade.

"The pandemic has accelerated many of the issues related to aging populations and has highlighted the urgency of resolving them," said Mr Christopher Rossbach, chief investment officer at J. Stern. "We think they will be significant drivers for growth and investment."

Underpinning the thesis are global fertility rates that are forecast to keep falling as life expectancy rises, even as the virus takes a staggering human toll. China's decision in May to allow three-child families may have only limited impact on the ageing trend in the most populous country.

Here are some key focuses of investors who argue that the ageing theme will be even more important as economies move past the pandemic.

Pent-up medical demand

From cancer screening to hip replacements and cataract surgery, countless medical procedures have been postponed since the virus took hold. As this changes, global healthcare spending is projected to bounce back in 2021, rising 5.8 per cent to US$8.8 trillion, according to IHS Markit.

Mr Rossbach expects shares of medical device manufacturers to benefit and cited Thermo Fisher Scientific, Medtronic, Becton Dickinson and Alcon.

Shares of all four companies have underperformed the global stock benchmark so far this year.

Mirabaud Asset Management also likes Medtronic, as well as Edwards Lifesciences, for exposure to the cardiovascular diseases sector, said global equities head Anu Narula.

Hearing aids are another market hurt by fewer in-person consultations, with Morgan Stanley estimating sales will normalise this year, following a 15 per cent decline in the market in 2020. Among businesses in this field, it has an overweight recommendation on Copenhagen-listed GN Store Nord and equal-weight on Demant, which have both surged this year.

"The large contingent of developed countries that have universal health coverage is being joined by an increasing number of developing markets that are establishing and/or expanding universal health-care systems, especially in emerging Asian markets," said Mirabaud's Mr Narula.

Yearning for luxury and travel

As well as long-delayed holidays, the travel sector is poised to pick up with support from cashed-up seniors. "Older or richer people tend to want to visit relatives more," said Mr Sanjiv Bhatia, founder of Pembroke Emerging Markets.

Mr Rossbach also has his eye on a rebound in luxury spending, with LVMH and liquor makers Pernod Ricard and Diageo among his preferred reopening bets.

"A general point is that as people age, their purchasing power increases and they become more concerned with quality, not quantity, of their consumption," he said.

Getting online and insured

Insurers stand to benefit too, as a surge in unplanned early retirements since the emergence of Covid-19 raises awareness of unforeseen health and employment risks.

Strategists at Credit Suisse Group expect growth potential for insurers, particularly in markets with relatively low penetration such as China.

Ms Juliana Hansveden, a fund manager at Nordea Asset Management, sees insurance, medical and the Internet all coming together to create investment opportunities.

She is expressing confidence in the theme with a bet on loss-making Ping An Healthcare & Technology, which is helping patients in China avoid long waiting time at hospitals by providing online medical consultations. It is also working with parent company Ping An Insurance Group to bundle its healthcare offering with insurance policies, she said.

J. Stern's Mr Rossbach expects growth across the board for companies that can tap seniors and their new-found confidence online.

"Think of all the parents and grandparents who have used social networks or video conferencing apps for the first time to stay in touch with their loved ones, or have bought their first products through e-commerce or ordered their groceries or meals through delivery services," he said.

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