Famed investor Warren Buffett once called the high cost of health care a "tapeworm eating at our economic body." While he might be disgusted by the costs, it hasn't stopped him from profiting from it though share purchases by Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK-B ) .
Investment idea #1: Big pharma
Buffett owns shares of Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ ) , Sanofi, and GlaxoSmithKline, but recently pared back his ownership of Johnson & Johnson.
Johnson & Johnson stock has been on a terror lately, so it shouldn't be all that surprising that Buffett would lighten up, especially after an extended period of the company struggling with recalls when selling low probably wasn't the best idea. Investors should probably consider following Buffett's investment idea, especially if Johnson & Johnson has become a large portion of your portfolio.
I honestly don't see what Buffett sees in Sanofi and Glaxo; both have patent expiration issues. He's owned them for years, and neither is a particularly large holding, so I wouldn't necessarily recommend following his investment.
Investment idea #2: Cleaning kidneys
Berkshire has made a fairly large investment in DaVita HealthCare Partners (NYSE: DVA ) , which runs dialysis centers.
The investment thesis seems to be a combination of a well-run company -- DaVita's large size allows it to negotiate discounts for drugs and devices needed to treat dialysis patients -- and the business model is fairly easy to understand, unlike drugmakers or medical device companies.
DaVita isn't cheap -- shares are up 29% over the last year, but if DaVita can continue growing earnings at the same clip, following Buffett's investment idea could be a nice investment over the next few years.
Investment idea #3: What not to buy
We can learn as much about the areas of health care that Buffett doesn't own as we can from his purchases.
Berkshire used to own shares of health insurers WellPoint (NYSE: ANTM ) and UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH ) but Buffett said they were picks from Lou Simpson, who managed the investment portfolio of Berkshire's subsidiary Geico. The shares were sold a few years ago, about the same time that Simpson retired.
Still, Buffett's lack of interest in health insurers is interesting. Berkshire owns other insurance companies, such as Geico, so maybe Buffett just figures that Berkshire doesn't need any further exposure to companies that make turn a profit by investing premiums. Or maybe the regulation of health insurers, including Obamacare, makes them a little too unstable for Buffett.
Buffett has also avoided smaller drug developers. I've previously covered reasons for his distaste and why some of the reasons aren't applicable to individual investors.
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