Presidential Election Risks Suddenly Grips France, Europe ETFs

France’s country-specific exchange traded fund plunged Tuesday, lagging behind European markets, as investors suddenly began to scrutinize the political risks in the upcoming presidential elections carefully.

The iShares MSCI France ETF (NYSEArca: EWQ) declined 2.7% on Tuesday, while the broader Vanguard FTSE Europe Index Fund ETF Shares (NYSEArca: VGK), which tracks the group of European countries and includes a 15.6% tilt toward France, fell 1.1%.

French financial markets retreated as traders began to acknowledge the risk of far-right Marine Le Pen winning a French presidential election against incumbent Emmanuel Macron later in April, Reuters reports.

“Markets woke up on Le Pen,” Jerome Legras, head of research at Axiom Alternative Investments, told Reuters.

Marine Le Pen has been gaining traction in recent days, capturing 48.5% of voter intentions in an opinion poll of a likely runoff against Macron and marking the highest sentiment score among voters she has ever attracted.

“There’s been a bit of a wake-up call now that Macron has a very slim lead, and traders will start positioning for the risk of a tighter victory or even defeat for Macron,” Mohit Kumar, a strategist at Jefferies, told Bloomberg. “The election was not really on people’s radar given that it’s only really recently that Le Pen seems to have gained a lot of ground.”

The Harris Interactive poll for business magazine Challenges warned that a Macron victory that had previously almost been a foregone conclusion was now within the margin of error.

“We can clearly sense it in the business stream this morning,” Nathalie De Medina, a sales trader at broker Oddo Securities, told Reuters.

Observers pointed out that the selling pressure on Tuesday was particularly noticeable among areas that were vulnerable to a La Pen win.

“Look at Vinci and Eiffage; their underperformance is a casualty of Le Pen risk,” a trader told Reuters, underscoring the far-right leader’s plans to nationalize French highway operators.

Many investors see Le Pen as being generous in terms of public spending but also less business-friendly than Macron.

“Le Pen would likely be seen by markets as less reliable on public spending and economic competitiveness, and an unenthusiastic motor and/or unreliable partner for Germany and NATO at a crucial moment for Europe and the West,” NatWest economist Giovanni Zanni told clients last week.

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