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The lockdowns brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic pulled forward many trends that were already in motion. Stay-at-home orders and business closures prompted unpredictable implications that have since affected all aspects of life, business and the market. Virtual life put pressure on people and businesses to adapt.
The pandemic and subsequent lockdown that led to the market crash in 2020 gave way to investment opportunities and a shift in the investor landscape. As the Dow lost 37% of its value from February to March, investors saw a significant drop in prices and took advantage of deep discounts to get into the market.1 The retail investor rose during this time, benefiting largely from these discounts, and continued to invest through lockdowns. Those who entered the market at that time experienced significant growth when the market rebounded. The stock market continued to go up, we believe partly because of unprecedented government stimulus, defying fundamental logic, which might have given more comfort in “gambling” with stocks. Strong retail investing persists in 2021; Google searches relating to day trading spiked in January 2021 as popularity in online investment communities expanded.2 Retail sentiment has strongly influenced markets in 2021, with certain names, mainly meme stocks, driven up earlier in the year, while having come down later in the year.
Cryptocurrencies gained more attention last year as life went digital, including payment processes, and market movements left investors looking for safer opportunities. Some saw crypto as a way to hedge against the market’s volatility, as cryptocurrency movements are typically uncorrelated to more traditional assets. Payment apps like Paypal adopted cryptocurrency to enter the space as all payments went cashless, and to provide more accessibility for users. Financial institutions have warmed up to the benefits of crypto, not only as a store of value, but also for the added security feature offered through its blockchain technology. Blockchain coding offers a heightened level of security and its complexity provides features that could help secure transaction data.
With all aspects of life forced into a virtual setting, internet traffic saw a significant increase as many looked for entertainment online. General screen time increased with some surveys suggesting an increase to at least four hours per day for over 40% of certain user demographics, up from 21% of users prior to the pandemic.3 Many workforces converted to full remote models, conducting business meetings via Zoom or similar tools, and teams had to find creative ways to connect with clients without in-person meetings. Converging home with the workplace resulted in challenges for some to maintain work/life balance, while others found that they regained more freedom in their day as commutes to the office were eliminated and work hours became more flexible. This shift has prompted employers and employees alike to question the necessity of office spaces, especially as the trying events over the past year and a half have placed greater emphasis on quality of life and well-being. Some are even considering leaving their jobs, as they reevaluate priorities and work/life balance to determine if they are happy in their line of work. As of April, 4 million Americans quit their jobs and another 27% have plans to leave their employer.4
Digital connectivity surged among many social platforms including video gaming, as those stuck at home sought out a semblance of social life, quickly accelerating the growth of the gaming industry. Fortnite, a popular video game where users can communicate within the gaming platform, saw the number of daily active users more than double in 2020. From 16 March to 23 May, daily active users increased from approximately 21,460 to 53,780.5 Fortnite also acted as a virtual space for entertainment where users could attend “live” online concerts. Entertainment was lost during lockdown, and performers explored alternative means to engage their fans and generate revenue. Platforms including Instagram and Twitch allowed entertainers to perform in real-time, while viewers experienced “live” music from the comfort of their home. The growth of this technology has allowed people to expand their reach to an even more extensive audience.
As attention shifted to mental health, with gyms closed for most of 2020 and indoor activities limited with businesses shut down, the housebound population saw an opportunity to focus on fitness and well-being. People transformed living areas into workout spaces and some home gym systems went out of stock for months. Amazon, which typically provides abundant access to global sellers and supply, saw significant shortages in all fitness equipment. Revenue in health and fitness equipment more than doubled from March to October of 2020 to $2.3B, with increased popularity in brands such as Tonal, Mirror and Peloton.6 Fitness coaches and personal trainers adapted as well, taking their clients online and converting workouts to function in home areas with limited resources.
Virus care and the vaccine rollout exposed gaps in the healthcare system on a mass scale. Initially, hospitals were entirely overrun, and patients suffered from insufficient treatment due to the novelty and rapid spread of the virus. About 30 million Americans were uninsured in 2019, pre-pandemic7, while another 3 million lost insurance coverage with layoffs during shutdown, adding to the burden of expensive and unmanageable healthcare costs.8 This has since provoked more healthcare reform discussions in an effort to provide accessible and affordable care.
On a global scale, businesses fell in line and adapted their models in order to endure despite lockdowns. Some survived via ecommerce and online efforts, while others, namely small businesses and service industry businesses like restaurants and hotels, relied on government aid or otherwise shut down. Taking business online allowed some previously offline businesses to maintain income, and with consumers now used to these modified business models, it is likely they will remain in effect to satisfy consumer expectation and demand. Some service-oriented businesses, unable to convert to a full online model, found innovative ways to reach clients. One example was distilleries: spirit sales tanked once restaurants and bars closed. Distilleries pivoted to start manufacturing a different alcohol-based product, hand sanitizer, which was in high-demand as consumers raced to stock up on all disinfectants to protect from the virus.9 Innovation during this time was key to success and survival.
The return to business as usual is not expected to look or feel the same as it did pre-COVID. Digital connectivity has grown significantly, proving the efficiency of online communication and collaboration. COVID placed such focus on health and wellness that individuals, and some companies, have felt a shift in priorities, with more attention on quality of life. The rapid innovation seen over the past several months has changed the trajectory for business models and consumer expectations alike. As the economy reopens in the midst of new virus variants, these trends may persist as the new norm.
1 Source: NPR (https://www.npr.org/2020/12/31/952267894/stocks-2020-a-stunning-crash-then-a-record-setting-boom-created-centibillionaire)
2 Source: tends.google.com (https://trends.google.com/trends/explore?geo=US&q=day%20trade,day%20trading)
3 Source: Virtual Capitalist (https://www.visualcapitalist.com/5-big-picture-trends-being-accelerated-by-the-pandemic)
4 Source: CNBC June 2021 (https://www.cnbc.com/2021/06/22/what-to-know-before-quitting-your-job-as-part-of-the-great-resignation.html)
5 Source: Statista 2021 (https://www.statista.com/statistics/1121978/daily-active-users-of-the-fortnite-app-during-the-coronavirus-outbreak-in-norway)
6 Source: Washington Post Jan. 2021 (https://www.washingtonpost.com/road-to-recovery/2021/01/07/home-fitness-boom)
7 Source: Healthcare Dive Sept. 2020 (https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/uninsured-rate-rose-to-92-in-us-last-year-pre-covid-19-recession/585316)
8 Center for American Progress Mar. 2021 (https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/healthcare/reports/2021/03/11/497019/policies-improve-health-insurance-coverage-america-recovers-covid-19)
9 Source: New York Times, Aug. 2020 (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/04/business/distilleries-hand-sanitizer-pandemic.html)
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