As worries about populism in Europe rise, investors bet on stock market volatility

Traders work at the stock exchange in Frankfurt am Main, western Germany, on March 20, 2019. (AFP / Daniel Roland)
Updated 22 March 2019
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As worries about populism in Europe rise, investors bet on stock market volatility

  • More than 350 million EU citizens will head to the polls between May 23 and 26 to elect a new Parliament
  • The vote will shape the future of the bloc amid a backlash against immigration and years of austerity

LONDON: Investors are betting on heightened political uncertainty and greater volatility in European stock markets ahead of European Parliament elections in May amid growing concerns about rising populism.
In one of the first concrete signs in financial markets that investors are bracing for political instability, VSTOXX futures , which reflect investor sentiment and economic uncertainty, have jumped in recent weeks.
While the classic gauge of fear — known as implied volatility, which tracks demand for options in European stocks — is currently at 15.68, futures that bet on the same thing over the coming months show a pronounced jump.
That’s because investors have piled on trades that bet on big swings in stocks as election day nears.
Implied volatility for futures contracts expiring in May show a pronounced jump to 16.8, compared with 15.35 in April. The contracts measure the 30-day implied volatility of the euro zone STOXX 50 index.
“We are seeing a bit of a kink around May when we have European elections and we have this wave of populism,” said Edmund Shing, head of equities and derivatives strategy at BNP Paribas.

Looming elections
More than 350 million EU citizens will head to the polls between May 23 and 26 to elect a new Parliament, a vote that will shape the future of the bloc amid a backlash against immigration and years of austerity.
Mainstream center-left and center-right lawmakers may lose control of the legislature for the first time, as euroskeptic and far-right candidates build support.
Herve Guyon, Societe Generale’s head of European equity derivatives flow strategy and solutions, said the rise of populism had triggered a recent flurry of speculative trades.
“Political uncertainty might be coming from the EU rather than the United States. We’ve seen investors doing very large trades to benefit from an increase in volatility around these events,” he said.
“We as a bank don’t expect the elections to be a massive game-changer. The populists won’t get enough to disrupt the political system, but we do note some investors did take some positions on this event.”
The implied volatility is still well below levels seen in late 2018 when global stock markets were routed amid worries about rising interest rates, slowing economic growth and the trade war between Beijing and Washington.
In late December, it shot to above 26, its highest since February.
But the flurry of activity suggests investors are seeking out new opportunities after a slide in implied volatility across major asset classes.
Edward Park, deputy chief investment officer at asset manager Brooks MacDonald, said some of the activity may also be due to persistent uncertainty about Britain’s exit from the European Union as the Brexit date of March 29 nears.
This year, volatility across currency, fixed income and stocks markets has plunged as the US Federal Reserve and European Central Bank have taken dovish policy stances.
The Deutsche Bank currency volatility indicator hit multi-year lows this week, while the proxy for fixed income volatility is languishing at all-time lows.
In stocks, the Cboe volatility index, Wall Street’s so-called “fear gauge,” fell to its weakest in six months this week.
“There’s been a cross-asset volatility crash — in euro-dollar, US rates and equities — in the aftermath of (ECB President Mario) Draghi’s and (Fed Chairman Jerome) Powell’s comments and the expectation of lower rates for longer,” said Guyon.


Saudi Real Estate Refinance Co. plans up to $1.07bn sukuk sale this year

Updated 23 April 2019
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Saudi Real Estate Refinance Co. plans up to $1.07bn sukuk sale this year

  • The plan by SRC, a subsidiary of Saudi Arabia’s sovereign Public Investment Fund, comes as it prepares to purchase more home loan portfolios
  • SRC, formed in 2017, is also keen to tap foreign institutional investors for its debt sale this year

RIYADH: Saudi Real Estate Refinance Co. (SRC), modelled on US mortgage finance firm Fannie Mae, aims to issue up to 4 billion riyals ($1.07 billion) of long-term sukuk this year, its chief executive said on Tuesday.

The plan by SRC, a subsidiary of Saudi Arabia’s sovereign Public Investment Fund, comes as it prepares to purchase more home loan portfolios from mortgage financing companies and banks to boost the Kingdom’s secondary mortgage market.

SRC, formed in 2017, is also keen to tap foreign institutional investors for its debt sale this year, Fabrice Susini told Reuters in an interview.

“Our strategy is clearly to tap the market twice this year,” he said. “We are really looking at probably issuing something between ... 2 and 4 billion riyal that we may be issuing in two tranches.

He said SRC was looking at sukuk in the 10 to 15-year range, to help minimize refinancing risks. “Generally speaking we are trying to issue as long as possible,” Susini said.

He said the company was assessing whether it could also issue bonds in currencies other than the local riyal.

In March, SRC completed a 750 million riyal sukuk issue with multiple tenors, under a program that allows it to issue up to 11 billion riyals of local currency denominated Islamic bonds.

“The rule of the game for us is, like many projects across the Kingdom, attract liquidity from foreign investors,” Susini said.

He said SRC had spent 1.2 billion riyals from its balance sheet buying mortgages from local mortgage financing companies and provided liquidity to these firms.

It has also signed initial accords with several commercial banks to acquire housing mortgage portfolios.

Saudi Arabia’s housing ministry is targeting the mortgage market to reach a total value of 502 billion riyals by 2020 from around 300 billion riyals now.

The government wants to increase activity in the real estate market as it moves to revitalize the economy and is taking steps to reform the sector as part of its 2030 reform plan.

It has been working with developers and local banks to counter a shortage of affordable housing — one of the country’s biggest social and economic problems. Saudi Arabia wants 60 percent of its nationals to own homes by 2020, up from 47 percent in 2016.

The size of real estate financing relative to its gross domestic product is 5 percent in Saudi Arabia compared to 69 percent in the United States, 74 percent in the United Kingdom and 43 pct in Canada, the housing ministry has said.

“The goal of SRC in this market was to make sure that we will be able to refinance at least around 10 percent of the market in 2020, and 20 percent of the market by 2028,” Susini told Reuters.