The best case scenario for markets would clearly be the elimination of the two “extreme” candidates: if Macron and Fillon manage to top French voters’ preferences on the 23rd, we anticipate a risk on move from financial markets. The worst outcome for risk assets would be a second round featuring Le Pen and Melenchon. Although we would expect markets to be volatile for some time, such an outcome wouldn’t equate to the end of the world (yet), as it is unlikely that an extremist candidate, even if appointed President, would be able to do much harm without a parliamentary majority.
Historically, France always had two strong candidates, coming from the two main parties. This time round, there is a significant chance that none of them will be represented in the second round. Indeed, this election has faced a series of twists:
? Initial favorite candidate, Francois Fillon (center-right), has lost more than ten points in the polls, partly because of his family’s allegedly fictitious employment issues. Although only third in most polls, Fillon can count on a solid base of center-right voters to keep alive the possibility of being in the second round.
? Macron (center) has managed to emerge as a credible candidate and is now ahead in all polls – with a remaining fragility, though: his voters’ loyalty is seen as lower than than of Fillon or Le Pen’s.
? Marine Le Pen’s campaign hasn’t seen any momentum so far. Starting from a very high position, she has slowly been trending down over the past two months – still, she should still manage to access the second round. She doesn’t seem able to attract new voters, though.
? Finally, Melenchon (far-left)’s support has surged in the past few days pushing him up to the fourth position in the presidential race with a score very close to Fillon’s one. Meaning he could still make it to the final round.
If anything, as soon as the risk of “Frexit” comes into view, we believe the issue for markets will not be France leaving the euro, but the euro leaving France. The most likely reaction to such an episode of financial stress would be a political response in the opposite direction, we believe. If Le Pen and Macron move on, they expect a likely unwind of some of the “redenomination risk” premium embedded in bunds and compression in peripheral spreads. Melenchon in the second round, on the other hand, would present a risk to markets given his favorable second round polling against Fillon and Le Pen. In a favourable outcome EURUSD may move quickly towards their 1.10 3 month forecast. An adverse scenario may see a drop towards recent lows below 1.04.
Historically, exit polls provide a first estimate of results at 8pm local time. However, conclusive results could be available a little later as it could be hard to get a precise estimate of the two winners early, if results are very close. Note that although French media are not allowed to publish any results before 8:00 pm on Sunday, it is possible, as happened in the past, that medias in other countries will. Participation rates at 12pm and 5pm are also worth watching: we believe a high participation rate could be negative for Le Pen (and to a lesser extent for Fillon) – and potentially positive for Macron or Melenchon – and viceversa, providing an early indication on the direction things might take.