Election Risk Returns

In our 2024 Outlook and in our recently published Mid-Year Outlook, we identified elections as a top risk for investors this year, likely bringing the return of volatility from some of the lowest levels measured by the stock market volatility indexes in the U.S. and Europe (VIX and VSTOXX) in decades. Volatility jumped last week in reaction to the decision by French President Macron to call a snap election to be held at the end of June, after his party had disappointing results in the European Parliamentary elections. The move risks an abrupt change in domestic leadership that could worsen France's already stretched budget deficit. French government bonds sold off and took the banks that own them along for the ride. The volatility could continue with the French election still weeks away and more elections in other countries for investors to consider over the remainder of the year.

Stock market volatility is rarely as low as it was heading into last week

Stock market volatility is rarely as low as it was heading into last week

Source: Charles Schwab, Bloomberg data as of 6/16/2024.

The volatility index is based on the prices of options on the S&P 500 (VIX) and Euro STOXX 50 (VSTOXX) indexes and is calculated by aggregating weighted prices of the index's call and put options over a wide range of strike prices to assess the market's expectation about volatility over the next 30 days.

Budget blowout

The gain of 30 seats by far-right parties in the European Parliament out of 720 seats with 60% still held by the centrist coalition means that policy may shift slightly to the right—but most likely only in language, as European laws are also approved by the European Commission before being implemented. Most European policy is still decided at the country level. While we believed a shift to the right in the election was likely, the surprise was French President Macron announcing a national election on June 30 with a run-off on July 7. The election will determine the next prime minister of France.

A win by France's populist National Rally party would put them in control of France's domestic priorities and spending. Their proposals seem expensive: boosting pension payouts (reversing President Macron's pension reform and lowering the retirement age to 62 from 64), cutting the Value Added Tax or VAT (on food, electricity, and gas), exempting younger workers from income taxes, and a "Buy French" policy that goes against EU rules.