Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Why the French Elections Matter

From an economic perpective, France matters because the European Union (EU) matters and the EU matters because it now totals 495 million people in 27 countries and has an economy larger than that of the US. The European Union is fast becoming a power in the world's economic order. Yet, while it has mass and some clout, because it comprises 27 different countries spread over thousands of miles and many languages, it does not have a unified political or economic structure that has been able to drive the big ideas in the world. France is not one of the largest members of the Union, but it has a prominence in the EU that gives it a cachet far greater than its size. France's prestige and importance come from three things:

1. It was an originator and charter member of the EU 2. France has long promoted the "third way" or middle ground between the US and its foes around the world. 3. France is a squeeky wheel in terms of its culture, language and desire for a position of power on the world stage. While France has authentic prominence and a clear desire to lead the EU, it's leadership has been thwarted because it has lagged most of the other nations in the EU economically. I described the reason for that last time: a lack of faith in the free and flexible markets for commerce and labor. Many observers now believe that the economic malaise in France has reached the proportions that the French people are willing to give up some of their state-sponsored security blanket for the greater economic growth and employment gains that they see bubbling up in countries that are following a more free market approach. If France moves politically and economically to the right, by electing pro-business Nicolas Sarkozy over socialist Segolene Royal, the entire economic world will be the winner, and Sarkozy will assume almost an immediate leadership role in the EU, and consequently the world.

France and much of Europe has tremendous untapped growth potential that is likely to blossom if Sarkozy can lower taxes on entrepreneurs and deconstruct France's maze of job-stifling limits on employers' hiring and firing flexibilities.

Over the past decade, the EU has grown at only about half of the rate of the US, England, Canada, and Australia, where more pro-business policies are in place. With a pro-growth President in France leading the way and offering the proper incentives, the EU could increase its rate of growth by nearly a third.

Finally, as country after country in the EU has adopted more business friendly policies, we have shifted more funds into companies in the region. We now hold between 15% and 20% of our equity assets in European companies.

If Sarkozy wins, we believe the opportunities for continued stock appreciation from companies in the region are greatly enhanced.

Below is the most recent betting line on a Sarkozy win in the election. It has risen from near 70% last week to near 80% today. Bettors are not necessarily voters, but these betting lines have been remarkably accurate in recent years.

I'll keep you posted on the outcome.

Price for 2007 French Presidential Election Winner at