En garde!: Paris bankers brace for restless night of French election

PARIS (Reuters) - Paris bankers and brokers will be on call, ready to scoot to the office as results of the first round of the roller-coaster French presidential election start to dribble in this Sunday.

Candidates pose prior to a prime-time televised debate for the French 2017 presidential election in La Plaine Saint-Denis, near Paris, France, April 4, 2017. L to R: Jean-Luc Melenchon of the Parti de Gauche, Francois Fillon of the Republicans party, Jean Lassalle, Nathalie Arthaud of France's extreme-left Lutte Ouvriere party (LO), Marine Le Pen of French National Front (FN), Benoit Hamon of the French Socialist party, Jacques Cheminade, Nicolas Dupont-Aignan of Debout La France group, Francois Asselineau of UPR party, and Emmanuel Macron of the political movement En Marche ! (Onwards !). REUTERS/Lionel Bonaventure/Pool

Their workload will depend on the outcome of the tight race that could potentially see two extremes -- the far right Marine Le Pen and the communist-backed leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon -- make it to the second round. [DATA/]

But the preparations underway already reflect the bankers’ experience in facing market volatility following Britain’s shock vote to leave the European Union and U.S. presidential elections last year.

Societe Generale SOGN.PA said it would be holding a conference call on the evening of Sunday, April 23 with some of its economists and strategists to discuss the first round results.

Traders and financial analysts in some of the world’s biggest investment firms in London will also be on standby for advising clients on Sunday evening and also primed for pre-dawn starts on Monday. However those contacted by Reuters said they would leave actual overnight trading in the euro or any cash bond or equity transactions to their Asia operations.

First exit polls are expected at around 1800 GMT on Sunday or 2000 Paris time.

In Paris, French asset manager La Francaise with 60 billion euros ($64 billion) under management has a special task force in place for the election that will be on call or could even meet in the office on Sunday evening to decide on what to advise clients on Monday.

“In any case, the task force will meet early on Monday ... and have a strong shot of coffee in order to brief teams,” one of the asset manager’s staff said.

One reason, brokerage Nomura said, is that it will be the April 23 vote that gives investors “the most information” as to who will be the next president after the may run-off.

“Jean-Luc Melenchon has seen such a rise in support that it is now a true four-way race,” Nomura’s forex strategists said.

“The gaps between candidates in the first round are close to the margins of error, while in the second they are far apart and in the ‘safe zone’ polling numbers.”

The latest polls show centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-right leader Le Pen narrowly beating other candidates in the first round, followed by the conservative Francois Fillon and far-left Melenchon.

Melenchon proposes a 100-billion-euro economic stimulus plan funded by government borrowing, corporate nationalization in some sectors, devaluation of the euro currency, withdrawal from NATO and possible exit from the European Union.

His sudden rise in opinion surveys is worrying many investors, because various poll scenarios show he could win should he reach the second round.

Le Pen does not off much solace. She plans to leave the euro currency and hold a vote on European Union membership.

“I will be ready on Sunday-Monday, but my hope is that there will be no disastrous scenario and I won’t have to work,” a London-based analyst covering French banks said.


Some investment banks and asset managers have already reduced and hedged their exposure to assets that could bear the brunt of volatility, depending on the outcome of the elections.

“As for fixed income investors, they have also already sold out, because there was a buyer –- the (European Central Bank) , which bought hundreds of billions of euros (of debt). There is no big reason to have a long position on France,” said Jean-Francois Legoux, a strategist at UBS Global Asset Management, based in Paris.

Forex brokerage Saxo Bank in Paris said it tried to make sure all clients were aware of potential risks, while offering all the money management tools so that they don’t have a significant exposure with no protection in the markets.

“In any event, just as with Brexit, any spasm is bound to be very short-lived,” one Geneva-based trader said.

For a graphic on French election, click here

Reporting by Maya Nikolaeva and Sudip Kar-Gupta; editing by Jeremy Gaunt