Immortality is the gift we might secretly desire, but know it would be an abominable curse to receive. Truly living forever would mean watching our loved ones die, generations at a time around us, and watching the natural world we cherish wither away and decay.
But while eternal life may be a fantasy, the prospect of living longer than our predecessors is very real. The global Covid-19 pandemic may have halted debate, but the evidence clearly shows that over the long term, the longevity of global populations continues to increase.
To live longer
Even in relatively recent times, the statistics are striking. In 1960, for example, the average life expectancy for men was 50.7 years, according to World Bank data, and for women 54.6 years.
Fast forward six decades to 2019, and World Bank figures show that the average life expectancy for men had risen to 70.6 years and that for women had exceeded 75.
Looking to the future, Statista, a market and consumer data company based in Hamburg, Germany, predicts that by 2050, the average life expectancy worldwide will reach 76.7 years and, d ‘here 2100, an impressive 81.7 years.
Given that these numbers are averaged across societies around the world with vastly different economic fortunes, that must surely mean that some people will still live much longer.
There of course lies part of the explanation. The world’s populations are becoming wealthier, bringing with them improvements in diet and lifestyle, as well as more advanced medical treatment and healthcare.
It hardly seems surprising that, according to figures from the World Bank, the average life expectancy in 2019 for a low-income person was 66 years, while for an upper middle-income person it was 13 years. moreover, at 79 years old.
The pace of technological developments and the provision of infrastructure such as roads, railways, schools and hospitals also means that as the world’s population grows, it also urbanizes more rapidly. In short, our lives are better, from the moment we are born – often in expertly sanitized maternities – until the moment we die, perhaps in a quality long-term care home.
Part of the problem, unfortunately, is that as we age, we tend to become more disabled and more susceptible to disease, including cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.
Health and longevity is one of the six themes we have identified within the social and demographic change megatrend. And the more than 1,340 companies captured by the Fix the future strongly reflect some of the factors that are fueling our longer life expectancy.
By industry, they range from diagnostic and research companies to drug manufacturers, medical device manufacturers, health information providers and pharmaceutical retailers.
The history of drug research and discovery is littered with casualties in the form of companies that thought they had found a successful treatment only to crash and burn in late-stage trials or collapse when their drug has arrived on the market.
But there are plenty of established players, many of whom have the backing of the world’s most capable fund managers and are included in the Fix the future database.
Among them is Novo Nordisk, a Denmark-based multinational that researches, develops and produces treatments for people with serious chronic diseases, including diabetes, obesity and rare blood and endocrine problems. (The endocrine system essentially regulates all biological processes in the body, including metabolism and blood sugar.)
Novo Nordisk is listed on the Nasdaq Copenhagen stock exchange with a market value of DKK 1.2 billion (£138 billion). It produces half of the world’s insulin supply for people with diabetes and says its goal is to prevent more than 100 million people from getting type 2 diabetes (often linked to diet) by 2045. The company is also conducting clinical trials in more than 50 countries.
From an investment perspective, this means that not only does Novo Nordisk have established, recurring and resilient sales, but it is also locked into long-term demographic developments and growing healthcare needs.
Blacksmith and nephew
However, there are many other paths to health and longevity as an investment theme. There are manufacturers of medical equipment, for example, including Blacksmith and nephewthe UK listed group best known for hip and knee replacement surgery.
Listed on the London Stock Exchange with a market value of £10.6 billion, Smith & Nephew also manufactures products to help stabilize fractures and correct bone deformities and has sports medicine and ear divisions, nose and throat, as well as a unit specializing in advanced wounds. management.
Basically, the group describes itself as a medical technology company, indicating that it has its eye on the need to keep pace with modern treatments. In practice, this has resulted in the strengthening of its capabilities in robotics and digital surgery, and the increase of its investments in research and development from 4.7% of sales in 2017 to more than 6% in 2021. With sales of just over $5.2bn (£4bn) last year, that equates to around $312m.
Hospital operators such as HCA Healthcare provide the bricks and mortar of healthcare. It is an American company listed on the New York Stock Exchange, valued at just under $79 billion, and which operates private hospitals and other centers in 20 American states as well as the United Kingdom. .
In total, HCA Healthcare operates more than 2,000 facilities, including hospitals and medical practices, emergency rooms and urgent care centers, as well as diagnostic and imaging units and medical clinics without appointment.
For an investor, this means HCA Healthcare is exposed to the structural growth of private healthcare delivery – and the harsh reality that we will need more medical treatment in our old age.
And, of course, there are the insurers and sellers of health care plans, whose policies help cover medical costs and, in turn, help support the growth of private provision. Just one example is Fairfax Financial, a Canadian-based company that also operates in parts of Asia, Europe and the Americas and owns Brit Insurance in the UK.
Fairfax Financial is listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange and has a market value of just under C$14.6 billion.
The company sells life and health insurance, among other financial services, so in this regard is positively connected to the dynamics of aging populations and their medical needs. However, it is also about expanding opportunistically in regions where insurance penetration is low, which adds to its potential appeal and ability to increase revenue.
Fairfax Financial has a strong foothold in high-growth Asian markets such as Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam, where populations are growing rapidly, wealth is growing and welfare state safety nets are virtually non-existent.
Like the rest of us, no company is immortal, but some of the smartest investors assume that these companies and others will be with us for some time to come.