Managers predict key role for politicians in market direction

As in 2011, asset managers expect politics to keep driving markets in 2012. They discuss how to handle this climate.

In mid-2010, the global sector ­analysts at Union Investment were called to Frankfurt headquarters for a crucial meeting. It was not only to discuss matters such as the economy, interest rates and markets. It was also, as Union’s head of ­equities Michael Schmidt (pictured) explains, to discuss a key question that would affect all these areas profoundly: the influence of politicians on markets.

“It was the first time we looked at how to really embed political analysis into our ongoing analysis. Political analysis is influencing the longer-term picture. Who would have thought, for example, the Greek prime minister or ­Slovakian ­opposition party would play ­important roles in our thinking?”

Politics and regulatory effects have always been on his team’s analytical radar, but, as he says: “These have become more relevant recently.”

The influence politicians and their macroeconomic decisions had on markets last year was ­unquestionable. Markets moved, sometimes violently, as politicians took – or failed to take – the necessary decisions. Markets jumped as leaders in Ireland, Greece, Italy and Spain lost power, and they vacillated as politicians tried to predict which policies the markets themselves would accept.

The Vix ‘fear index’ jumped 20% in 24 hours when Greece’s former prime minister George Papandreou announced an austerity referendum.

German shares rose 7% when eurozone leaders agreed to double the €440bn bailout fund, then fell as sharply in the following week as the European Financial Stability Facility roadshows failed to gather cash, and pressure grew for the heads of Papandreou and Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi.

Gauging Opinion

Consequently, a study from Allianz Global Investors finds almost three quarters of the Dutch, two thirds of Italians and half of Germans believe more than half their investment risk is being determined by policy makers.

Wolfgang Mader, from risk consultants Risklab, says: “If you think about the rescue packages put together in the bond markets, political influence is becoming more important in ­current conditions.”

Although Schmidt feels ­eurozone politicians will ultimately find a workable solution to the bloc’s trauma, he says: “At the moment with the politicians, it is like being in the middle of the sea and told calmly ‘Don’t worry, we will not drown’.

“Politicians are still behind the curve. We need a vision of how Europe could look in terms of institutions, and what financial instruments there should be from the eurozone.”

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