AI, wearables and more — these markets are booming as the world ages. The pros share 4 stock

The world is aging rapidly, and there are more and more ways to invest in this theme. Shams Afzal, managing director at Carnegie Investment Counsel, noted that 17% of the U.S. population is now over the age of 65, and that proportion is expected to grow higher. And the demographics of that age group is changing. There’s been a “marked jump” in education levels — just 5% of those aged above 65 were degree holders in 1950, much lower than the 29% in 2018, Afzal said, citing Population Reference Bureau statistics. The gender gap in terms of mortality has also narrowed, from seven years in 1990 to five years in 2017, he said. “The aging population discussion in recent years has mostly revolved around future challenges to labor productivity and its economic growth implications,” he said. “We see meaningful efforts by companies large and small, working to enhance the quality of life for individuals in this age group,” Afzal, also a portfolio manager at the firm, told CNBC Pro . CNBC Pro asks expert investors in the area what the emerging trends are and the stocks to buy. AI, robotics and wearables The aging population stands to gain significantly from breakthroughs in robotics powered by artificial intelligence, according to Afzal. One example could be a robotic personal assistant, he said, flagging one company to watch: Figure, which is developing a robot capable of performing household tasks, conversations and commercial applications. However, the company is only at the venture capital stage of financing. When it comes to health care, Afzal also flagged the increasing use of robotics in surgery. He cited studies that show that the need for hip, knee and other joint replacement procedures surge when people reach their late 60s and early 70s. Medical devices firm Stryker is one stock to play the theme, he said. “This is a large tailwind for Stryker. It is … positioned to benefit from an ageing population in the US and EU and from increasing adoption of robotics in surgeries across the rest of the world,” he said. Stryker’s surgical robots are “gaining momentum” in knee replacements, and its next generation of robots are expected to tackle the spine, according to Afzal. He said the stock is a “steady double-digit earnings grower” and experiencing healthy backlogs for its products that are “necessities in an operating room.” Pacific Asset Management’s Dani Saurymper also highlighted AI as an opportunity in the aging theme. Examples include robot-assisted surgery, treatment planning software and virtual nursing assistants, the portfolio manager said. Saurymper manages the Pacific Longevity and Social Change Fund. Arelis Agosto, research analyst at Global X ETFs, said wearables technology is one interesting area to invest in for the aging theme. “Many chronic illnesses require frequent measuring of vitals, where continuous monitoring via wearable sensors could make a noticeable difference,” she said. Continuous glucose monitors are one example, according to her. They are sensors placed under the skin that measure glucose levels and automatically transfer data to a smart device. Insulin pumps are another example. They are small wearable devices that deliver insulin to diabetic patients. When used together with continuous glucose monitors, the pump adjusts insulin levels based on the patient’s blood glucose readings, Agosto noted. “We view self-sustaining monitoring and therapeutic systems as the future of patient care, though it is particularly beneficial for elderly patients,” Agosto said. Global X ETFs, a fund management company, offers a way to tap the aging theme through its Aging Population ETF. For those looking for individual stocks, Afzal of Carnegie flagged Abbott Laboratories , particularly its continuous glucose monitoring business — which sells the FreeStyle Libre product. He highlighted it as an “area to watch,” noting that Abbott’s vision is to transform the product into a “lifestyle wearable sports device that becomes part of one’s tech ecosystem.” Education Education is one “great example of where multiple longevity themes intertwine,” said Saurymper. About 33% of physicians will be 65 years or older by 2030, and industry surveys predict there will be a shortfall of 140,000 physicians in the U.S. in 10 years’ time, he said. “As society ages, demand for healthcare professionals will only increase,” said Saurymper. He named one stock to consider on this theme of training health-care professionals: Adtalem , a medical and health-care education company. It offers a wide variety of health-care programs, including nursing and licensed physician degrees, and should benefit from the demand-supply imbalance, he said. Screening and prevention Agosto of Global X ETFs highlighted one recent major trend related to the aging population: the push toward preventative medicine. “The GLP-1 category is a great example of the success treatments can see if they have broad reaching potential to help prevent chronic illnesses,” said Agosto. GLP-1 drugs, originally developed as a treatment for diabetes, is now also being used for weight loss. Here’s how to invest in this category. She said that obesity accounts for 80% of the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, which one in every four elderly patients live with. “We view the broader shift to improve the care of chronic illnesses and the increased focus on prevention of such diseases as the single most important growth driver for the aging population theme,” said Agosto. Within the screening space, Saurymper likes Hologic , which makes and supplies premium diagnostic products and medical imaging systems. The firm has begun to use AI-powered algorithms to expedite mammogram reading times and to enhance cancer detection in its image analytic products, he said.

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