Photo: Isabel Infantes/EMPICS Entertainment

As older consumers radically change their spending patterns, what do investors need to know?

Keeping older people safe is a moral imperative—and in our economic interests
September 1, 2020

Even without a second wave of infections, Covid-19 has done brutal damage to businesses such as restaurants, pubs, travel and tourism firms and those in the arts, entertainment and culture sectors—the businesses that exist because we are (or were) social beings.

Share prices across these sectors are down by up to 60 per cent since early March. By high summer, 48 per cent of arts, entertainment and recreation businesses and 22 per cent of accommodation and food service companies were closed with no concrete plans to reopen, according to the ONS. As government life-support is switched off, weaker players will disappear.

Millions of jobs, as well as all hopes of returning to a normal social life, now depend on reviving businesses that live or die on human interaction. Tackling this challenge will be especially hard because Covid-19 is most dangerous for those we increasingly rely on to sustain these sectors: older consumers.

The International Longevity Centre published a report last year, “Maximising the Longevity Dividend,” highlighting huge projected growth in the spending power of consumers aged 50-plus over coming decades. This will happen, the ILC said, because the number of older people is rising, but also because their wealth is increasing. People aged 50-plus accounted for 30 per cent of total earnings in 2018, the ILC reported, which would rise to 40 per cent by 2040. Older people would account for 63 per cent of consumer spending by then. Most importantly, the ILC said: “People aged 50 and over are shifting their spending towards non-essential purchases such as leisure. The top three growing sectors for older consumers are recreation and culture; transport; and household goods and services.”

There are signs Covid-19 has reversed that trend. According to YouGov polling carried out as pubs were reopening, around 55 per cent of people aged 50-plus would not venture back until later this year at the earliest, and around 10 per cent said they never would. If they are as good as their word, the hit to leisure spending will be large, even allowing for areas that prosper—bicycle sales, perhaps, and other outdoor pursuits.

And if the cash-strapped government ends the “triple lock” on annual state pension increases of at least 2.5 per cent, the impact on our struggling leisure sector could be greater still.

For investors, the message is clear. Keep an eye on how behaviour among older consumers is evolving: it will shape returns. And all of us should remember that quite apart from any moral obligation, keeping older people safe is hugely in our collective economic interests.