Berko: Health care stocks won't make your portfolio sick

By Malcolm Berko, Columbian business columnist

Published:

 
photoMalcolm Berko

Dear Mr. Berko: I like your column because it also makes me laugh, but one big criticism I have is that you never follow up to advise people when to sell the stocks you recommend. I think the Securities and Exchange Commission or the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority should require this to be standard practice for all financial columnists because it would be helpful to lots of people.

In mid-2011, I wrote to you and asked about investing in the health care industry. You told me to buy Aetna, Centene, Molina Healthcare, WellCare Health Plans, Cigna and Pfizer. They all doubled except for Pfizer, but Centene was bought out by Aetna. I put $5,000 in every stock and have over $30,000 in profit, and I need advice on what to do. I am worried that higher medical costs for these companies will cause their stock prices to fall, because my doctor told me that too many more people with bad health and no money want to get their health fixed. I will retire in six years when I'm 67 or 68. So should I hold these stocks or sell them or purchase more with the money in my money market account?

— EM, San Antonio

Dear EM: I remember your email because on that specific day, one of the numerous stupids from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority called my office and, without preamble, requested that I email him a copy of an earlier column in which I discussed Abbott Laboratories and Johnson & Johnson. And without preamble, I told him to stick it in his … ear!

I can't give you the personal advice you need, because, other than my feeling that your IQ may be only modestly higher than your age, I don't know anything about you. Therefore, I suggest that you search for a professional adviser in San Antonio who can give you the ongoing counsel you definitely need. If you discuss your goals, needs, risk tolerances, investment experiences and personal finances with the right adviser, he/she can guide your investment decisions for the "best" of your life. Recognize that there are legions of suave incompetents who, like swarming locusts, are inexorably searching for chumps to feed on. Don't be swayed by an engaging smile and silver tongue. It's inordinately safer to hire an average money manager you can trust than one who claims to be a genius but who you think may not be trustworthy.

Your doctor is right about one thing: Health insurance premiums and health care costs will begin to rise like lions after slumber very soon. In 2017, when the Affordable Care Act becomes the common language, there will be two critical changes:

1) Insurance companies will have diminishing access to ACA's reinsurance program, which permits insurers to bill the government for its costliest patients. Therefore, Congress will be compelled to raise payroll taxes, and Congress will also demand that the industry share the cost and increase your premiums.

2) Risk corridor programs. These programs guarantee that insurance company losses will be subsidized by us by transferring funds from lower-risk groups to high-risk groups. Again, Congress will be compelled to increase payroll taxes to cover these losses.

The health care architects suggested that the ACA would make health care less costly and simultaneously provide universal coverage. However, health care will become even more unaffordable for most Americans. That's scary, and your doctor is beginning to hear some of the lions roar. But hush, my darling. Don't fear, my darling. The lion sleeps tonight. And the lions will continue sleeping because Congress will continue to raise our taxes to pay the costs for most Americans. And because this is a given, it's almost a certainty that Aetna (AET-$82.68), Centene (CNC-$77.27), Molina Healthcare (MOH-$45.26), Cigna (CI-$93.91) and WellCare Health Plans (WCG-$74.38) will continue to earn billions. And Pfizer (PFE-$30.45) will continue making more than $10 billion every year. The ACA is a sinecure for the health care industry and your investment portfolio.


Malcolm Berko addresses questions about stocks. Reach him at P.O. Box 8303, Largo, FL 33775 or mjberko@yahoo.com.