Paris loses crown as Europe’s biggest stock market to London

Rallying ahead: Labour Party leader Keir Starmer (second from left) and Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer Rachel Reeves visit the Rolls-Royce Aerospace Campus in Derby. The jet-engine maker is among the biggest gainers this year. — Reuters

PARIS: France’s political upheaval has led the country to lose its spot as Europe’s biggest equity market, less than two years after stealing that crown from the United Kigdom.

President Emmanuel Macron’s shock announcement of a snap election sparked a rout that wiped off about US$258bil from the market capitalisation of French firms last week.

Shares of banks Societe Generale SA, BNP Paribas SA and Credit Agricole SA – all big holders of government debt – lost more than 10% each.

Stocks in the country are now collectively worth about US$3.13 trillion, narrowly losing out to the United Kingdom at US$3.18 trillion, according to Bloomberg data.

The CAC 40 Index has erased all its gains for 2024, a sharp reversal from scaling record highs a month ago.

“We are in a period where there are no certainties for three-to-four weeks and the market could unfortunately become more unstable,” said Alberto Tocchio, a portfolio manager at Kairos Partners.

At the same time, a confluence of factors including improving global growth and a pickup in merger activity has made UK stocks popular with investors again.

Although the country is preparing for its own general election, the outcome is seen as being more stable with the opposition Labour party leading in polls by a wide margin.

“We like UK stocks for valuation reasons but also as a portfolio diversifier given their attractive sector profile,” said Ulrich Urbahn, head of multi-asset strategy and research at Berenberg. “On top of that, the political uncertainty seems to be higher elsewhere, at least for the moment.”

The FTSE 100 Index has hit all-time highs this year, fuelled by export-reliant stocks such as Shell Plc and Unilever Plc.

It has outperformed the Euro Stoxx 50 index by far in the past three months, with jet-engine maker Rolls-Royce Holdings Plc among the biggest gainers.

On a global scale, the United Kingdom now ranks as the sixth-biggest stock market.

In France, market strategists aren’t convinced about flocking back into equities yet due to uncertainty related to public finances and policy.

Besides banks, toll-road operators Vinci SA and Eiffage SA have slumped on concern that highways could be re-nationalised if Macron’s party loses power.

The news comes at a time when France’s heavyweight luxury stocks were already under pressure from an uneven recovery in China.

“Given the unusual political conundrum currently and high headline risk between now and the election, we see no reason to rush to buy the dip,” Barclays Plc strategist Emmanuel Cau said in a June 12 strategy note. The two-round vote occurs June 30 and July 7.

To be sure, investors see some reasons to remain cautious on the United Kingdom, too.

The July 4 election will mark the biggest political shakeup since Brexit, and the new government will have limited financial headroom and face scrutiny from bond vigilantes.

The country’s stock market is also reeling from companies choosing to list either in Europe or in the United States, partly driven by pressure from activist investors seeking better valuations. — Bloomberg

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