Carousel of Political Discontent

Stuart Quint, Investment Insights PodcastStuart P. Quint, CFA, Senior Investment Manager & International Strategist

Hung parliaments in three recent elections may have investment implications. On this latest podcast, Stuart discusses what’s happening in Spain, Austria and Australia.

Quick hits:

  • Recent elections in Spain, Austria, and Australia highlight that voters are divided and unable to render a clear mandate for government.
  • Other parts of Europe appear vulnerable.
  • Politics pose risk to financial markets; loose monetary policy likely to persist in many places.

What do Spain, Austria, and Australia have in common? (No, this is not a trivia question nor the opening line of a bad joke.)

Each country in recent weeks has held elections, all of which failed to elect governments backed by a majority of the vote (with one case leading to yet another election).  Tepid economic growth has led to divided voters that could make it more difficult for governments to enact policies needed to stimulate economies. They each are riding “a carousel of political discontent”.

Starting in Spain

On June 26, Spain held general elections for the second time in six months (results of which were overshadowed by the Brexit referendum).  Both elections failed to confirm one party with a sufficient majority to form a government.  In fact, the two centrist-right and left parties lost parliamentary seats to smaller fringe parties. However, the June election did result in a higher seat count for the ruling center-right party.  Hope exists for the incumbent center-right party to be able to form a coalition, though most likely without support of a majority of parliament.[1]

Sobering developments in Austria

In May, Austria tried to elect a president, an office with more ceremonial functions than real political power.  The two final candidates came from the Greens and the far-right Freedom Party, parties not belonging to the traditional establishment.  After a very slight victory (50.3% to 49.7%)[2] for the Green candidate, the Austrian Constitutional Court annulled the results and rescheduled the election for October.[3]  Austria potentially might be the first country in the EU to elect a president from the far right, a sobering development in light of populist antipathy to the Euro project.

Instability in Australia

Elections that were intended to solidify the ruling coalition in Australia could end up having the opposite effect.  The ruling Liberal-National party coalition has lost seats in both houses of Parliament and faces the risk of forming a minority government.  Yet again, fringe parties siphoned off votes both from the incumbents and main opposition party Liberals. Australia has already suffered through five different Prime Ministers in the last six years. The last thing it needs is another unstable government and the risk of political paralysis and potential new elections.

Notable similarities

Three different countries with three different cultures still share some common themes. Slow economic growth has contributed to disillusionment with establishment parties. The new wrinkle is that cohesion in the traditional opposition, as well as incumbent parties, is unraveling. Fringe parties representing both ideological (far right and left) as well as parochial interests are gaining. Though unable to govern themselves, these fringe parties potentially could play greater roles as “kingmakers” for establishment parties to form ruling coalitions. More focus would be spent on holding together the coalition and catering to parochial issues rather than carrying through reforms to stoke confidence in the economy. Weak coalitions are prone to collapse and thus, new elections.

What’s the impact on other countries?

Other candidates for this cycle of discontent stand out in Europe, particularly countries in the Euro.  With its past history of rotating governments, Italy might reemerge as the popularity of incumbent PM Renzi has taken a hit from reform setbacks and lack of economic growth. The fringe opposition party Five Star enjoys significant popularity as shown in victories in recent municipal elections. The party espouses holding a referendum on Italy’s membership in the Euro. It might see opportunity to challenge Renzi in October when a referendum on voting reform is scheduled. If Renzi were to lose that vote, early elections are likely to ensue.

France also stands out with a vigorous populist far-right opposition party in the National Front of Marine LePen.  General elections in 2017 with the incumbent government suffering from depressed approval ratings could introduce additional market volatility. Along with a stagnant economy, France has also suffered backlash against efforts to reform labor markets.

What needs to change?

Political malcontent with economic growth has the potential to continue and add to market volatility. It also could lead to paralysis on fiscal and structural reform needed to accelerate growth. One consequence is likely: central banks will not be retreating from active monetary policy anytime soon in the face of weak growth, even if much of their dry powder has already been spent. Government inaction will still be replaced by central bank stimulation unless the situation changes.

Click here to listen to the podcast.

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Holdings are subject to change. Brinker Capital, a Registered Investment Advisor.

[1] http://www.abc.es/espana/abci-rajoy-cita-manana-moncloa-201607051229_noticia.html  accessed on July 5, 2016.

[2] http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-05-24/independent-van-der-bellen-wins-austrian-presidential-vote/7439372  accessed on July 5, 2016.

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jul/01/austrian-presidential-election-result-overturned-and-must-be-held-again-hofer-van-der-bellen accessed on July 5, 2016.

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