Cheap oil, fewer nose jobs hurt Thai hospital stocks
OIL slumps. Middle Eastern patients cancel treatments abroad. Thai hospital stocks slide. It’s the butterfly effect in action. Weak growth outlooks in the Gulf States are prompting greater competition from local clinics, stemming the flow of visitors to the world’s top medical tourism destination.
That’s clouding the outlook for Thailand’s health- care shares, which surged more than 800 percent over the past seven years, as valuations start to look stretched amid the falling demand.
Bangkok’s Bumrungrad Hospital Plc., known as the grandaddy of international clinics, has slumped 16 percent since early March after patient volumes from the United Arab Emirates ( UAE), its second- biggest source of overseas visitors, fell 20 percent in the first quarter.
Thailand attracted as many as 1.8 million international patients in 2015, many of whom stayed on afterward for a beach holiday.
More than one- in- three foreigners treated at Bumrungrad are from the Gulf states and Kasikorn Securities Co. says declining growth in the region and a rise in competition from clinics in the UAE, where the government is encouraging its citizens to stay home for medical care, are curbing demand.
“In the short term, the economic slowdown in the Middle East will weaken some investors’ confidence on earnings growth for domestic hospital operators,” said Jintana Mekintharanggur, the Bangkok- based director of equity investment at Manulife Asset Management, which oversees about $ 325 billion globally. “We are still bullish on the sector” in the long term, as it will benefit from growth in countries like Myanmar and Vietnam that have less- developed health systems, she said.
The SET Health Care Services Index has fallen 2.7 percent since closing at a record high on April 21. It’s still the best- performing industry group in the SET Index, rallying almost 28 percent over the past 12 months. It trades at 6.8 times its book value, compared with 3.8 for the MSCI World Health Care Index.
The health gauge fell 0.3 percent as of 10: 31 a. m. in Bangkok, the worst performer among 28 industry groups on the SET Index, which was up 0.7 percent. Bangkok Dusit Medical Services Pcl., which has the biggest weighting on the measure, dropped 0.8 percent. “Most hospital stocks have very stretched valuations, which has probably spurred some concern about overestimated earnings potential,” said Adithep Vanabriksha, Bangkok- based chief investment officer at Aberdeen Asset Management Plc. “We still see their growth potential, but have to be very careful with the current share prices.”
Between 1.3 million and 1.8 million medical tourists traveled to Thailand last year, according to figures from Patients Beyond Borders, a consulting firm in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
The country is well known for cosmetic and sex- change procedures. Medical tourism generated 107 billion baht ($ 3 billion) of revenue in 2014, according to the latest Thai government estimate.
Sitting at the apex of the industry is Bumrungrad, which attracts more than half- a- million foreign patients a year and has a network of 32 referral offices everywhere from Mongolia to Ethiopia. Sixty- seven percent of revenue came from overseas visitors last quarter, company figures show. Myanmar residents were the biggest source, accounting for 8.4 percent of total patients, followed by 8.3 percent from the UAE and 5.9 percent from Oman.