The value of the euro has jumped amid signs that the outcome of Sunday’s French presidential election may prompt a relief rise on financial markets.
Poll forecasts indicated that centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-right Marine Le Pen are through to the final round.
Markets were worried that the far-left Jean-Luc Mélenchon was creeping ahead of Mr Macron, giving voters a choice between two eurosceptic candidates.
In early trading in Asia, the euro rose 2% to its highest since mid-November.
Dean Turner, economist at UBS Wealth Management, said: “If these projections hold true, there will be some relief among investors that a mainstream candidate made it through to the second round.
“As things stand, Macron is on course to be the next French president, so it is likely that we see a recovery in risk appetite toward French and other European markets.”
As Asian markets opened, the euro jumped 2% against the dollar to $1.09395, its highest level since 10 November, the day after the results of the US presidential election.
Against the yen, which investors tend to flock to when they perceive high levels of risk, the euro jumped as much as 3% to trade at a five-week high of 120.905 yen.
The yen fell more than 1% against the dollar. Against sterling, the euro rose 1.4% to 85.005 pence.
The euro’s rally underlined investors’ nervousness, analysts said. “The market’s initial reaction was stronger than expected. It means that many people had their guard up ahead of the vote,” Yuji Saito, Tokyo-based forex director at Credit Agricole, told AFP.
Rallying around Macron
Mr Macron, a former investment banker, served as economy minister under current President Francois Hollande. Despite his relative inexperience – he has never served as an MP – polls see him defeating Ms Le Pen in the second round.
Richard McGuire, head of rates at Rabobank, said: “The assumption now is that centrist voters will rally around Macron, denying Le Pen the presidency and hence this will effectively be a pro-establishment, pro-European result which will be positive for risk appetite on Monday morning.”
Mr Macron’s defeated rival in Sunday’s election François Fillon has already endorsed him. Other senior political figures in France, including former Prime Minister Alain Juppe, have also thrown their weight behind Mr Macron.
However, Mr McGuire cautioned that, after the UK Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump in the US, no one should take anything for granted ahead of the second round on 7 May.
Pro-European Mr Macron was the Socialist finance minister until the autumn, when he quit to set up the En Marche movement, which proposes tax and spending cuts.
The anti-EU Ms Le Pen’s campaign majored on jobs, security and the threat from Islamic extremism.
‘Safe pair of hands’
Octavio Marenzi, chief executive of the financial research consultancy Opimas, in Paris, said: “Macron will be reassuring to markets, with his pledge to lower corporate taxes and to lighten the administrative burden on firms. He basically represents continuity.”
The view was echoed by Kathleen Brooks, research director at City Index, in London, who said the result was positive for two reasons.
“Firstly, Macron is a politically stable, centrist candidate, almost like France’s Obama… He is considered a safe pair of hands. Secondly, it helps to solidify the future of the EU and the euro, something that Marine Le Pen wants to destroy.”
In addition to a further strengthening of the euro, she expects the main share markets in Germany and France – the DAX and CAC 40 – to rise. “We could also see French bond yields fall on Monday, once this result is confirmed,” Ms Brooks said.
Bookmakers made Mr Macron the firm favourite to win the run-off, with both Ladbrokes and Coral offering 1-6 and William Hill 1-8, with Ms Le Pen at 4-1, 7-2 and 9/2 respectively.