It's no secret that rising health-care costs are a serious future concern. Individuals don't want to pay more and neither do insurers. The simplest way to battle health-care costs is at the source: YOU. Paying a premium in the short run for healthier food and exercise pays for itself down the road by reducing the need for expensive insurance premiums. Society is becoming more and more conscious of the benefits of healthy living, both in quality of life and cost-saving. Here are four companies poised to benefit from the preventative health-care revolution:
It's all in the food
You are what you eat. Whole Foods (NASDAQ:WFM) delivers on that philosophy, serving high-quality food at premium prices. Customers have proven their willingness to pay because the company generates net margins of more than twice the grocery retail industry average and is growing aggressively. CEO John Mackey is a leader in the Conscious Capitalism movement, which aims to treat fairly all stakeholders in the business, including the community. If Whole Foods fails to meet the market's growth expectations, the stock could take a hit, but such a drop could be a great opportunity for long-term investors. Another recession and/or higher food costs would hurt margins, but in the long run, Whole Foods appears on course to dominate not just grocery retail but the preventative health-care sphere as well.
You can't exercise naked (in public)
Nike (NYSE:NKE) is the most recognizable athletic brand in the world, and the more people exercise, the more Nike will be on their mind. Nike also houses other reputable brands such as Converse, Jordan, and Hurley and they aren't afraid to jettison losers like Cole Haan and Umbro. The company is growing aggressively abroad, with global revenue up 16% in FY2012. Nike also operates a direct-to-consumer business, which increased 23% overall in 2012. This is a key trend to watch, particularly the online segment, because the DTC model cuts out traditional retailers and means higher margins for Nike. Products such as the Fuelband, a fitness tracking bracelet, allow consumers to track their health via apps. This is another area to watch, particularly in the preventative health sphere, as more and more technology is developed to help individuals track their health on a daily basis. Finally, Nike faces stiff competition from companies like Adidas, Under Armour, and Foot Locker. Investors looking for growth might want to consider a smaller competitor, but Nike's brand will be almost impossible to completely displace.
It takes commitment
Obesity has been officially labeled a disease, and few companies have proven their ability to fight it like Weight Watchers (NYSE: WTW). Finding a diet is easy; sticking to it is much harder. That's where Weight Watchers' member network comes in. The company's diet is nothing special, but the member meetings keep customers motivated and paying. That's why Weight Watchers earns higher and more consistent net margins than its closest competitor, NutriSystem. While the member meetings are a sticky factor, the company is bloated with nearly $2.3 billion in long-term debt. With 2012 operating income of $510.8 million and a debt load nearly four times that amount, investors should be aware of the risks and the earnings they will miss out on in paying down the debt. That being said, Weight Watchers has a stable earnings history and should be able to handle the extra pounds. There are also threats from other weight loss mediums such as mobile that could steal customers. But with obesity a prevalent concern in today's society, Weight Watchers could be one to at least keep an eye on.
There's an app for everything
Mobile apps are disrupting the health-care market and where there's an app, there's Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL). Fitness tracking bracelets sync to iPhones, allowing users to record every step. There are apps that track everything from how you eat to how you sleep. Advanced medical examples include apps that assist diabetics with self-management and it won't be long before cardiac disease can be monitored 24/7 using mobile technology. Health apps, in particular, can be tremendously sticky and lead to repeat sales for devices such as the iPhone. Doctors and hospitals have also taken to iPads to run their business.
Apple has been under serious heat lately. The company's recent earnings showed better-than-expected iPhone sales but worse-than-expected iPad sales. But Apple's future hinges on new products, which have been promised for this fall and 2014. The biggest risk for investors is if the company fails to innovate and loses market share as a result. But if you think Apple will continue to change the game, the current depressed share price could be a good time to enter. And since we're speaking of Apple's presence in health and fitness, when's the last time you saw somebody working out with a Zune?
Jake Keator runs with an iPod but has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Apple, Nike, Under Armour, and Whole Foods Market. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.