Riding out the storm with health shares

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This is no year for customary January picks of investment winners.

We trudge into the Year of the Ox after 12 months in which New Zealand Exchange’s main sharemarket, the NZSX, alone fell about $23 billion and the Australian sharemarket fell more than $A700b.

According to Bloomberg TV, world financial losses topped $NZ50,000 billion – $50 trillion wiped out in a year.
It’s long past time to seek safe, stable investments.

Health looks a solid sector, though it’s been hammered with the rest of the market. With our national health system creaking, the third of us with health insurance will be reluctant to trim this expense and insurance powers the private system.

Wakefield Health, which runs hospitals in the North Island, fell about 40 per cent in 2008. Further falls should be less drastic.

Ryman Healthcare, which builds and runs retirement villages, shares many of the features of a property developer.

Old people typically fund entry to villages by selling homes but the need for a lighter lifestyle should typically outweigh a lower price for the house.

Ryman Healthcare fell just under 30 per cent in 2008.

Metlifecare, in the same business, fell about 64 per cent. The smartly-run Abano Healthcare Group, which is expanding its Bay Audiology hearing clinics into Asia, also appeals. It fell about 11 per cent over the year, or about 16 per cent from its peak in early September. Abano has repelled two takeover bids.

Ebos, Christchurch-based Australasian distributor of medical and dental products, has attracted as a shareholder the Stewart family, one of the Abano bidders. Ebos fell about 18 per cent over the year.

Fisher & Paykel Healthcare, which makes specialist products, benefits from the lower kiwi dollar. Its shares have risen about 50 per cent since mid-year and fell only about seven per cent over the year.

Nevertheless, Government-guaranteed deposits in approved banks, building societies and even some finance companies cannot be beaten for security. The Treasury website treasury.govt.nz now hosts the approved list.

Christmas computer

Redundant computers litter homes after a Christmas splash on new machines.

There’s life in the old dogs with the free operating system Ubuntu. Linux needs less computer horsepower than Microsoft Windows. Ubuntu puts the kindest face yet on this sturdy software.

Linux can also enliven older machines stumbling along on old Windows versions such as 95 and ME.

You’ll need Linux applications but they are free. These tend to be a little less user-friendly but they include some fine, powerful software.

Ubuntu’s a huge download without broadband but you can buy it on disk from www.openoffice.org.nz for $8 including postage.

Buy a couple of times a year, share with as many as you like, and do minor updates via your dial-up.

At the site, you can also buy the versatile applications suite OpenOffice for distribution cost.

Prominent web designer Chris Maffey runs the site as a voluntary service. He offers no support and sells only online.

For those with a technology bent, Linux offers a great way to get into serious computing. For the rest of us,

Ubuntu provides a free alternative to Windows.

Neill Birss will chase up your biz tips: neillb@maxnet.co.nz