Why You Need a Healthy Dose of Healthcare

I generally keep my portfolio well-balanced, though I weight it towards investment styles that have proven to outperform over long periods. Small-cap value has a disproportionate slug in my IRA, and it’s served me well over the years.

But I also overweight healthcare. To me, demographics are destiny. With the massive cohort known as baby boomers (myself included) reaching ages where we’ll need more sophisticated care, we know demand for services is rising. Look at this chart from the February issue of Investing Daily’s Global Income Edge for the sad proof.


And as we’ve also pointed out in GIE and our other publications, the developing world is spending on healthcare at an accelerating rate as growing middle classes demand better treatments. In a cruel irony, companies in the developed world are creating both the demand and the supply for health care. We export our bad diets, tobacco and alcohol, and then charge for cures for diabetes and cancer.

Numbers for the growing spending on healthcare are a little squishy, but they all project a dramatic increase. IHS Global Insight pegs current global healthcare spending at $9 trillion, rising to more than $14 trillion by 2021.

The effect of the inexorable rise in healthcare costs and spending affects us in so many ways. Economist Ed Yardeni recently blamed high healthcare spending by all of us as one reason why retail sales have been so weak. (If you’ve read my recent Mind Over Markets, you know I agree with Yardeni that American consumer spending is a canary-in-the-coal-mine factor in our economy and the world’s.)

In his blog this week Yardeni pointed out that retail sales fell 0.9% in December—a shocker to many—and also 0.8% in January. “Some of that was attributable to the plunge in gasoline prices. But the windfall at the pump should have been at least offset by more spending at the mall, especially given the strength in confidence measures,” he wrote.

The mad mall money is being spent on healthcare, Yardeni thinks. Short term, the percent we pay on healthcare goods and services jumped from 20% during March to its highest figure on record, 20.6% in December. Long term, the trend is stark. In 2000 15.6% of our GDP spending was healthcare, and now its 20.6%.

This adds even more evidence to the need for overweighting healthcare, in my opinion.

And a friend of mine in the healthcare-industrial complex told me he considers his healthcare investments are not only good for his portfolio, but the profits he earns from them will help balance out the higher medical costs he sees coming down the track, like a freight train, and which he’ll have to pay.  What’s extra scary is he is an analyst for a large health insurance company.

I told him I thought Obamacare was supposed to be “bending the curve” to slow down the rise in healthcare costs. He almost choked on his chicken wing. Obamacare will help, he said, but the rush of new technologies and treatments that every hospital and doctor wants, and which patients will demand, will keep costs growing at a healthy clip for the foreseeable future.

What’s great about investing in healthcare is there are many easy ways to do it. You don’t have to get fancy, and you don’t have to pay high expenses.

You cannot go wrong with iShares S&P Global Healthcare (NYSE: IXJ), which is a member of our new, expanded Personal Finance funds portfolio. This tracks the S&P Global 1200 Healthcare Sector index, and it’s weighted 60% in U.S. companies, with about 100 holdings in biotech, drugs companies and medical-device makers. It’s not the sexiest fund, with a heavy weighting towards blue-chip firms, but that also makes it relatively stable.

Its five-year, average annualized return is 18% and its three-year is 24.6%. In the last year it’s returned almost 18%. Now, this is below the returns of its health category, according to Morningstar.  The category returns were 24.2% one-year, 30.4% three-year and 24% five-year. On the other hand, it’s about 40% less volatile than the category average.

If you want more risk for more return, go with my personal favorite, T. Rowe Price Health Sciences (PRHSX). It’s heavily weighted towards the U.S. (90% of assets), but it goes for smaller and more cutting-edge companies than the typical fund. About 40% of its holdings are in biotech stocks. Its returns: 29.3% one-year, 37.1% three-year and 30% five-year.

It’s about 30% more volatile than the average fund, but only about 10% more volatile than the average healthcare fund. And keep in mind that given the demand for treatment and new discoveries, the healthcare sector isn’t going to be jumping up and down like the oil and gas sector, for example.

If you want to mix your healthcare holdings with high income, consider Global Income Edge Conservative Portfolio holding GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE: GSK), which yields 5.4%. For a riskier bet, from the GIE Aggressive Portfolio, there’s PDL BioPharma, which yields 7.3%.

So whether you want more of a top performing sector in your portfolio, or you want to help mitigate your own healthcare spending, give yourself a healthy dose of healthcare stocks.