International investors are overestimating Marine Le Pen’s chances of winning the French presidential election even though she is leading polls, according to Philippe Setbon, chief executive officer of Groupama Asset Management.
The investment arm of Groupama, the world’s second-largest mutual insurer, is buying French stocks, betting the populist National Front leader will lose and the market will surge, Setbon said in an interview.
Groupama Asset Management, which oversees about 97 billion euros ($103 billion), is targeting domestic-focused French companies, he said, without specifying individual stocks or industries. The asset manager allocates 3.5 percent of its assets to equities, according to the company’s website.
Le Pen’s anti-euro, anti-immigration stances would prove damaging for France, while her closest contenders Francois Fillon and Emmanuel Macron would boost business, Setbon said.
“If it were Fillon or Macron elected, with a clear program for change and restructuring, there is an interesting positive return to come for French assets,” he said.
Stock indexes across Europe have started the year broadly flat, with both the SBF 250 and SBF 120 indexes of stocks listed in Paris down about 0.4 percent.
Le Pen has “zero” chance of winning because the country’s two-round voting system serves as a check against extremist parties, Setbon said. A runoff is set for May 7 if no candidate wins a majority in the first round on April 23.
Intermediate Capital Group Plc, a private debt specialist with 29 percent of its portfolio in France, said this month it would freeze investment in the country if Le Pen wins because of her protectionist policies. She was ahead in a major survey of voters’ intentions for the first round, according to results published last week.
Amundi SA, Europe’s largest money manager, is also betting against Le Pen. Some investors have stayed clear of Europe following the U.K. vote in June to leave the European Union, Didier Borowski, the Paris-based asset manager’s head of macroeconomics, said in an interview earlier this month.
“At some point in the coming months we will be reassured concerning the political risks in Europe, especially in France, where we don’t expect French National Front leader Marine Le Pen to be elected,” he said.