It is too soon to quantify the lasting effects of the pandemic on the world economy. However, in Questor’s view, Covid-19 and the lockdowns it has prompted are likely to accelerate longstanding trends in areas such as sustainability and e-commerce.
They were already strong trends before the pandemic. For example, the proportion of retail sales conducted online in Britain increased from 7pc to 19pc between 2009 and 2019. Meanwhile, 80pc of consumers surveyed in 2019 said they were seeking to reduce their plastic waste over environmental concerns.
Since then, Covid has thrust sustainability and digital sales to the forefront of the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) sector. Just over a quarter of retail sales in Britain now take place online. Across Europe, 29pc of consumers surveyed last year said they had stopped buying from specific brands because their packaging was not made from sustainable materials.
As a result, companies that fail to transition to the use of recycled materials or that lack sufficient online presence could be at a major disadvantage relative to rivals. Firms that can aid them in this dual sustainable and online switch could be in a strong position to generate rising profits over the long run.
Among them is FTSE 100 packaging business DS Smith. It focuses on supplying paper-based packaging that replaces plastic and can be recycled many times over. It operates in North America and across Europe. FMCG businesses account for more than 80pc of its customer base.
The company is in a strong position to capitalise on the rise of e-commerce and sustainability concerns thanks to its ability to provide innovative solutions to a wide range of businesses.
For instance, it has worked with multinational customers on packaging that will enable them to sell a growing proportion of their products through lucrative direct-to-consumer digital channels. It also offers simple and sustainable solutions for smaller bricks-and-mortar businesses that are seeking to move online.
Of course, Covid has also contributed to higher inflation. Loose monetary policy pursued in response to the lockdown-induced economic slowdown has already led to Consumer Prices Index inflation reaching 4.2pc. The Bank of England expects it to reach 5pc by April.
Like most companies, DS Smith has experienced higher input costs over recent months. Alongside economic uncertainty, this may have contributed to the weak investor sentiment that has caused the company’s shares to fall by 17pc over the past three months.