Ken Odeluga | Apr 11, 2017 10:08
The acceleration of support for the left-wing outsider in France's general election, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, has jolted investors out of complacency over chances of a win by Eurosceptic Marine Le Pen, as shown by a jump in gauges of risk aversion.
With fewer than two weeks to go before first-round voting, this means investors are now faced with the choice of ramping up insurance against whipsaws at greater expense than a few weeks ago, or remaining relatively unguarded.
With polls continuing to point to a rejection of far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, it's little wonder that financial markets have seemed complacent.
However, wider geopolitical events over the last few trading days have tilted investor perceptions of the need to hedge the French risk event.
It coincides with an advance in apparent support for Communist Party-endorsed Mélenchon. An IFOP poll on Monday showed his share of the first round vote could be 18%, one percentage point higher than late last week. Markets are also reacting to Le Pen re-establishing a thin first round lead against Macron in latest surveys. IFOP’s Monday afternoon survey gave Le Pen 24%, actually down half a point, but Macron fell by half a point more to 23%. Mélenchon’s share rose from 13.5% two weeks ago in Harris Interactive Polling to 17% by Thursday after TV audiences resoundingly found him to be the star performer of last week’s debate.
The beleaguered conservative Francois Fillon is still slipping, falling further from 20% late last week to 18.5% at the time of writing. For now, the main source of growth in Mélenchon’s vote largely appears to be the Socialist Party’s Benoît Hamon, who has faltered to 9%, below 10% for the first time since late January.
What hasn’t changed is the structure of projected second-round voting. 58% of support would go to Macron, and 42% to Le Pen in the run-off, according to IFOP data released on Monday evening. Even here though, markets have reason to be warier. Opinionway’s poll, out that morning, put the balance at 62%/38% for Macron. It is these recalibrating expectations—particularly the notion that Mélenchon could replace Macron in a run-off against Le Pen—that have finally spurred a rise in European risk aversion.
Whilst still relatively implausible, chains of events that could install Le Pen as President grow more probable as Macron's support is eroded, given an almost unprecedented pool of more than one third of voters who continue to say they are undecided.
That takes to us to the crux of persisting risks to European markets from a seemingly low-probability outcome. They will be upended more severely as the probability of the least desirable outcome rises. It is a conundrum when the market’s worst case scenario still seems distant, whilst at the same time markets failed to predict anti-establishment upsets last year. A secondary risk is that a scramble to take cover will be more costly and disorderly the later it is left.
Yet longer-term hedging markets remain subdued despite Monday's spike in borrowing costs. One that is tied most directly to Le Pen’s intention to take France out of the eurozone is the 5-year Credit Default Swap. It will pay out if France redenominates back into francs. At less than 54 basis points (bp) late on Monday, the CDS still implies less than a 2% chance of Frexit next year and about a 9% chance over 5 years. Neither term suggests much urgency amongst debt hedgers.
Indeed, the France/Germany benchmark yield spread itself is still nowhere near its 190bp divide in 2011, hit amid heightened Grexit risk. By late Monday, it had eased by two points to 70bp. Noting the 50bp differential in 2014 (pre-QE), the current spread suggests the bond market sees the probability of a Le Pen win at little more than 10%.
Granted, there are many ways that these impressions of how much the market cares could be wrong. Shorter-term protection buying, for instance, can be more telling (see EUR/USD implied volatility chart above). However signal-to-noise ratios deteriorate in more targeted hedging. Alternatively, what looks like under-priced risk may simply reflect sliding price elasticity of demand. After all, it's been an expensive 10 months for hedging.
Rewriting Le Pen's chances
More to the point, the market’s preferred candidate Emmanuel Macron last week passed another big test with flying colours. The En Marche! politician again belied his political inexperience during the second TV debate by scoring several political points against chief antagonist Le Pen.
That's not to say a Le Pen victory is impossible. Assumptions of her defeat are based entirely on polling data—on which scepticism emerged after the Brexit vote and U.S. election. A potential ‘shy voter’ effect, combined with a more dynamic view of second-round scenarios—when drop-out candidates can be expected to barter their support—suggests higher Le Pen risk. Ironically, we have little option but to use polling data and crowd-sourced variants to demonstrate alternative scenarios.
Our speculative deductions have a more than evens probability of being disproved. Still likeliest scenarios for a Le Pen win are outlined below.
Under these ultra-cautious scenarios, Le Pen hits more than 50%, even without the unpredictable alliances that ‘soft Eurosceptic’ Mélenchon might forge.
We can see how the National Front candidate could get close to, though would remain below Macron’s current 58% assessment, which itself is likely to rise, should he progress to the run-off.
As per Donald Trump and Brexit though, her opponents and markets should be more concerned that higher levels of commitment among her confirmed support, together with an unusually high ‘free-floating’ electorate, may again combine to increase the chances of a result that appears improbable.
To be sure, severe market dislocations if Le Pen approaches victory or even clinches it, will probably correct themselves quickly, as they did after Brexit, the U.S. election and Italy’s referendum.
Even so, a short-lived rise of the spread between French and German 10-year bonds towards 190 basis points, or higher, in a panic scenario would still be hazardous, as would a 5% or more slide of the euro, and 10%-15% hits to major European stock indices. All are foreseen by major investors if markets' least expected scenario happens (again).
Disclaimer: The information and opinions in this report are for general information use only and are not intended as an offer or solicitation with respect to the purchase or sale of any currency or CFD contract. All opinions and information contained in this report are subject to change without notice. This report has been prepared without regard to the specific investment objectives, financial situation and needs of any particular recipient.
Any references to historical price movements or levels is informational based on our analysis and we do not represent or warrant that any such movements or levels are likely to reoccur in the future. While the information contained herein was obtained from sources believed to be reliable, the author does not guarantee its accuracy or completeness, nor does the author assume any liability for any direct, indirect or consequential loss that may result from the reliance by any person upon any such information or opinions.
Written By: Ken Odeluga
Trading in financial instruments and/or cryptocurrencies involves high risks including the risk of losing some, or all, of your investment amount, and may not be suitable for all investors. Prices of cryptocurrencies are extremely volatile and may be affected by external factors such as financial, regulatory or political events. Trading on margin increases the financial risks.
Before deciding to trade in financial instrument or cryptocurrencies you should be fully informed of the risks and costs associated with trading the financial markets, carefully consider your investment objectives, level of experience, and risk appetite, and seek professional advice where needed.
Fusion Media would like to remind you that the data contained in this website is not necessarily real-time nor accurate. The data and prices on the website are not necessarily provided by any market or exchange, but may be provided by market makers, and so prices may not be accurate and may differ from the actual price at any given market, meaning prices are indicative and not appropriate for trading purposes. Fusion Media and any provider of the data contained in this website will not accept liability for any loss or damage as a result of your trading, or your reliance on the information contained within this website.
It is prohibited to use, store, reproduce, display, modify, transmit or distribute the data contained in this website without the explicit prior written permission of Fusion Media and/or the data provider. All intellectual property rights are reserved by the providers and/or the exchange providing the data contained in this website.
Fusion Media may be compensated by the advertisers that appear on the website, based on your interaction with the advertisements or advertisers.
Get free real time quotes, charts and alerts on stocks, indices, currencies, commodities and bonds. Get free top of the line technical analysis/predictors.
More content, faster quotes and charts, and a smoother experience is available only on the App.