Weak consumer demand environment

DS Smith profits drop; CEO insists sale is on track

Roberts: “We have started the financial year very strongly"
Roberts: "We remain focused on pricing, operational efficiency and tight cost control"

DS Smith has reported a fall in both its revenue and pre-tax profit while group chief executive Miles Roberts has insisted the company’s sale to International Paper remains on track.

The London-headquartered packaging giant recorded sales on continuing operations in the year to 30 April 2024 down 17% or by 16% on a constant currency basis to £6.82bn.

Adjusted operating profit dropped by 19%, or 18% constant currency, to £701m, while pre-tax profit fell by 24%, or 23% constant currency, to £503m.

The business said its adjusted operating profit was in line with management expectations, against a weak consumer demand environment and high inflation.

Meanwhile, it reported a decline in like-for-like box volumes of 2% but said this saw improving momentum across the year with like-for-like growth of 2% in Q4 FY2023/24 vs Q4 FY2022/23.

The company said strong customer relationships, innovation, and high service levels, together with strong cost management, had partially offset downward pricing pressure.

Lower free cashflow, reflecting its current capital expenditure programme and a working capital outflow, predominantly driven by commodity prices, has meanwhile resulted in 2.1x net debt/EBITDA (FY2022/23: 1.3x).

Ongoing capital and operational expenditure programmes to support the company’s customers and improve productivity and environmental efficiency remain on track, it added.

Roberts commented: “We are pleased to have delivered a robust performance, despite the challenging environment, driven by our focus on customers, quality, service and innovation together with the benefit from our self-help productivity initiatives.

“I am also very proud of the continued excellent progress in helping our customers’ sustainability challenges and to have achieved our target of 1 billion units of plastic replaced with fibre-based alternatives 16 months ahead of schedule.

“The positive trends in packaging volumes from the second half of last year have continued into the current financial year and we remain focused on pricing, operational efficiency and tight cost control.

“The increasing demand is resulting in higher paper and other input costs, including OCC. We anticipate this will be reflected in packaging price rises, with the benefits expected to be weighted to the second half of our current financial year and provide further momentum into FY26.”

Roberts added the business is currently working collaboratively with US company International Paper to satisfy the offer conditions of the takeover announced in April, and to “bring about the successful completion of the transaction”.

There has been some recent speculation that the deal could be in doubt, according to The Standard today (20 June) because International Paper is reportedly fending off a possible $15bn (£11.8bn) takeover bid from Brazil-headquartered market pulp producer Suzano.

The Standard said “it is thought Suzano’s potential offer is contingent on the DS Smith deal being abandoned”.

But speaking to Will Bain, who quizzed Roberts on his understanding of the situation on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, Roberts said: “Well, we’ve been working with International Paper for a number of months, and we feel there's a very strong proposition, a very strong business case to bring our two companies together.

“We’re recommending an all-share offer, and we continue to work very diligently with International Paper towards that. We feel it’s a very compelling opportunity not only to our shareholders but to their shareholders as well. And really what other companies may or may not be doing, I’m really unable to comment.”

He added he hadn’t had any discussions with Suzano himself, but that he was expecting the International Paper transaction to be completed “towards the end of this calendar year” and that shareholders have a vote in the summer. He said DS Smith would also retain a secondary listing in London.

DS Smith’s share price climbed in early trading today following the publication of the results and at the time of writing just before midday was up 1.31% on yesterday’s close to 356.60p (52-week high: 415p, low: 260.50p).

Separately, it has been revealed that DS Smith will be the first company in the world to install the Highcon Beam 3 digital die-cutting system, at one of DS Smith Packaging France’s sites.

Armand Chaigne, managing director of France & Spain Consumer at DS Smith Packaging Division, said: “DS Smith is glad to start a new partnership with Highcon; innovation is in DS Smith’s DNA. The implementation of the laser-cut machine Beam 3 in one of our French sites is exciting.

“This project supports the growing demand for sustainable packaging solutions and allows DS Smith to continue delighting our customers.”