Euro falls as France’s left wing looks to score stunning election victory, raising fears of more spending and deeper deficits

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The euro fell after initial projections in France’s legislative elections pointed to a shock victory for the leftist alliance, whose campaign for a sharp increase in government spending risks unsettling investors.

The common currency slipped 0.3% to around $1.0807 at the start of the session in Asia as traders began to digest an outcome they’d largely written off just days ago, and has the potential to reignite a tumultuous few weeks for markets. 

Initial projections show the New Popular Front, which includes the Socialists and far-left France Unbowed, is poised to get between 170 and 215 seats in the National Assembly. Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally — which had been widely expected to win the most seats — is seen coming in third, after President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist alliance.

While money managers have spent the last week or so fretting over a Le Pen-dominated government, the left’s success will likely still concern markets, given it amounts to a fresh dose of uncertainty in the euro-area’s second-largest economy and because the cohort is committed to a broad easing of fiscal policy. 

That would exacerbate fears over France’s already-bloated balance sheet and put the nation on a collision course with the European Union, which is already taking action to curb the budget deficit.

“French politics confounds yet again,” said Geoffrey Yu, senior strategist at Bank of New York Mellon. “Based on the results, risks of expansionary fiscal policy remain, and perhaps on the margins have picked up.”

While the left alliance is unlikely to win an absolute majority — potentially limiting how much it can do — the result could roil French assets in the coming days.

French markets plunged into a tailspin in June, wiping out billions of euros from stocks and bonds as Macron’s snap poll prompted concern that the far-right would take power. But over the past week, traders pared a chunk of those losses as opinion polls indicated that the National Rally would fall short of an outright majority. France’s CAC 40 Index last week erased about half of the losses it endured in the aftermath of Macron’s announcement. 

The picture painted by initial projections Sunday night is very different: Macron’s centrist party — favored by investors — is on track for second place, despite a poor showing in the first round of voting. The outcome could leave the president in a position to cobble together a centrist coalition.

Still, the inevitable political wrangling, and anxiety about the influence of the left within a hung parliament, could push up the yield on the nation’s 10-year debt — known as OATs — pushing the spread over safer German bunds wider once again. That spread had eased to close at 66 basis points on Friday, after rocketing to more than 80 basis points last month — levels last seen during the euro-area’s sovereign debt crisis.

The “shocking result” could easily send the spread back above 80 basis points, according to James Rossiter, head of global macro strategy at TD Securities. “Rates markets went into the elections with the OAT vs bund spread pricing in a scenario for a hung parliament — but a hung parliament led by RN not NFP,” he wrote in a note.

French bond futures start trading again at 2:10 a.m. in Paris, followed by cash bonds at 8 a.m. and stocks at 9 a.m.

An absolute majority for the left was identified by investors as the scenario they were most concerned about in the days ahead of the first round of votes. But that possibility was discounted after Le Pen’s National Rally convincingly won the first round. Among its pledges, the left coalition wants to reverse seven years of pro-business reform and hike the minimum wage. 

To implement its policies, the leftist New Popular Front would require nearly €95 billion ($102 billion) in extra funds per year, six times the spending planned by Macron and his allies and almost double that proposed by the National Rally, think tank Institut Montaigne said before the vote.

France is already grappling with a budget deficit that at 5.5% far exceeds the 3% of economic output allowed under European Union rules. The International Monetary Fund predicts that — without further measures — debt would rise to 112% of economic output in 2024, and increase by about 1.5 percentage points a year over the medium-term.

S&P Global Ratings downgraded France in late May, highlighting the French government’s missed goals in plans to restrain the budget deficit after huge spending during the Covid pandemic and energy crisis.

Vincent Juvyns, global market strategist at J.P. Morgan Asset Management, said tensions were likely with reforms spearheaded by Macron now in doubt, potentially hurting the value of French bonds versus their peers.

“Markets may demand a higher spread as long as the new government hasn’t clarified its fiscal position,” he said. “The European Commission and rating agencies are expecting 20 to 30 billions of cuts but the government will actually have to deal with a party which want to increase spending by 120 billion.”

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