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Currencies traders are bracing for a jolt of tumult that may stem from the French election, with implied volatility for the euro-dollar pair shooting to its highest level since before the June Brexit vote that shook global markets.
With the first leg of the French elections less than two weeks away, and the second round slated for May 7, one-month options that now capturing the period are starting to reflect the risk of a surprise outcome that could send shockwaves across the EU.
The volatility that is priced into one-month options contracts that allow traders to either bet on fluctuations in the currency pair, or to hedge against them, climbed to 12.69 per cent, from 7.16 per cent a month ago — marking the highest level on a closing basis since June 14. Implied vol on the euro-yen cross, meanwhile, has climbed to 18.13 per cent, the highest point since the wake of the Brexit vote.
“While polling for the French election provides comfort to markets, the possibility of a surprise Marine Le Pen victory cannot be ignored. Therefore, we think it is prudent to take a look at how the night will unfold,” noted Jordan Rochester, a currencies strategist at Nomura.
Investment houses broadly expect Ms Le Pen, who has promised to hold a referendum on France parting ways with EU and the common currency, to lose in the election. But banks and pollsters have mis-judged political outcomes repeatedly in recent months, both with Britain’s Brexit decision and the shock election of Donald Trump.
Further muddying the picture is Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s surge in the polling. The far-left candidate, who supports a 100 per cent tax rate on top earners, is currently in third place in polling for the first round of voting.
Indications of growing investor angst are not limited to the currencies market. In fixed income, investors have ditched French bonds yet again in recent days, with the difference in the country’s benchmark bonds and haven German Bunds rising close to the near four-year peak hit in February. Japanese investors appear to be pulling back at a record-breaking pace.