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Mining the silver tsunami as the populations age

GOH ENG YEOW on 16 Jun 2014

The Straits Times


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IT IS one of the paradoxes of the human condition.


We all want longer, healthier lives – a goal made more possible by medical advances.


Yet we tend to view the process of ageing as a negative, laced with fear and uncertainty.


Last year, the proportion of Singapore residents aged 65 and above exceeded 10 per cent for the first time, rising from 9.9 per cent in 2012 to 10.5 per cent of the population last year.


It is estimated that by 2034, Singapore will have a similar demographic profile to that of Japan, the world’s oldest country today, with about one in four people over 65.


For many, that flags a very real worry: Hordes of older people being supported by relatively fewer younger people years down the road, which may unleash social discontent.


In the financial sector, ageing is also viewed as a big challenge, as it may change the very nature of the business models of some industries.


Take the life insurance industry, for example. Many policies are sold on the premise of people guarding against the risk of dying too soon. So until last year, when the CPF Life scheme was made compulsory for Singaporeans who turned 55, few people bothered to buy annuities to insure themselves against the possibility of living too long.


Yet, as Health Minister Gan Kim Yong has noted, ageing is not necessarily a negative.


It is important for us to think of ageing positively, and shift our mindsets from worrying about the challenges of ageing to celebrating longevity.


In fact, there are market pundits who embrace ageing as the biggest money-spinning opportunity in the next decade.


One is Bank of America Merrill Lynch, which recently produced a massive 193-page report, The Silver Dollar, to outline how investors can benefit from opportunities presented by global ageing.


Mr Sarbjit Nahal, who co-authored the report, made no bones about the serious threat that longevity poses to the global economy. He noted that falling birth rates and greater longevity might trigger a potentially catastrophic decline in population in some countries.


But the silver lining is the explosion in spending power likely to be triggered by the baby boomers as they retire in the coming decade. By his estimate, the baby boomers will spend an eye-popping US$15 trillion (S$18.8 trillion) a year by 2020 as they age. And they will need more of everything from health care to lifestyle choices.


Merrill suggested three entry points for stock investors: pharmaceuticals and health care, financials, and consumer plays.


The opportunities created by baby boomers could give rise to industries generating trillions of dollars of revenue, and dominated only by a handful of major players globally.


For investors who make the right wagers, the investments in these companies can be hugely profitable.


Many of Merrill’s ideas boil down to common sense. Pharmaceuticals and health care make a no-brainer investment as the population ages.


Medical spending will soar, as more people are treated for age-related chronic illnesses such as high blood pressure. Demand for the treatment of diseases such as dementia can only rise.


And since only the pharmaceutical giants have the deep pockets to develop and test new drugs, it would be safe to conclude that they will be among the biggest beneficiaries from the upcoming silver tsunami.


Then there are age-related conditions such as hearing loss, vision impairment, walking difficulties and incontinence, which are likely to create trillion-dollar industries in their own right.


For the financial sector, Merrill suggested that the big opportunity would lie in Asia, whose appetite for wealth products would grow as its populations shift from low-income to middle-income while they age.


“Emerging market wealth is projected to rise from €158 trillion (S$267.7 trillion) to €437 trillion in 2030. Great for asset managers, capital markets players, insurance firms, private banks and investment professionals operating in emerging markets,” the report said.


As for lifestyle choices, ageing baby boomers are likely to keep doing what they did when they were younger: Spending lots of money to look good and going overseas for holidays.


And with more spare time on their hands, they may also visit the casinos more often. All these spell opportunities for gaming and leisure companies.


Merrill also suggested that businesses would be established to cater to the growing demand for robotics and automation in household appliances to help the elderly with their chores.


So, who says ageing is necessarily a bad thing? It is big business.


Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.

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