It’s one of the greatest investment stories ever told. Nathan Rothschild was born into the second generation of his already wealthy family. Unlike many in the second generation who start to squander their wealth, Nathan took a liking to finance and turned it into an art.
In 1815, following the Battle of Waterloo, Rothschild’s couriers reached London, the center of international trade. The order hit the exchange: sell. Other traders jumped on the trade as well. After all, the Rothschild’s courier was faster than a government one. A sell order could only mean one thing: that the British had suffered a crushing defeat.
Except that wasn’t what happened. The Battle of Waterloo marked the end of the Napoleonic era. Nearly a century of peace, often uneasy, would reign in Europe for the next 100 years. But the traders in London were selling heavily. Government bond prices plummeted.
That’s when Rothschild stepped in to buy. He knew that if he had bought first, prices would go far higher. Better to make a sale and let other traders panic. He ended up making a small fortune on that trade, to add to the family’s wealth and prestige in the financial world.
There are many lessons from the incident. First, it’s important to look past the first knee-jerk reaction to new data. That’s a lesson many traders could learn today. If you’re looking to invest for the long-term, these short-term fears provide great buying opportunities to exploit.
Second, it’s hard to predict what markets will do following geopolitical events. Even if the British had lost at Waterloo, the island nation would have survived and endured. The selloff may have been longer lasting, but it would have righted itself eventually, as nearly all political fears have done. In modern times, events as seemingly disastrous as the Cuban Missile Crisis or the tragic 9/11 attacks have caused some market fear, but that fear has waned within weeks. Political fears are fleeting.
Finally, the best lesson is to buy on uncertainty. That’s where the good price action is. Rothschild managed to get away with his deceptive trade once. That wasn’t true going forward. Skepticism was built into the market in future Rothschild trades as a result.
That uncertainty brings us to modern times. It’s been a great few months to be long French stocks, ahead of their election. On Sunday, French voters elected Emmanuel Macron and rejected Marnie Le Pen. Macron is a centrist, Le Pen is on the right. Turnout was low by French standards—about 75 percent of the electorate versus typical turnout in the 80 percent range. Nearly 9 percent of voters submitted blank ballots for the top position. And according to exit polls, 43 percent of Macron’s voters voted for him as the “lesser of two evil” candidates to keep Le Pen out.
What’s missing here? Leftist candidates. They made a poor showing, with none of the major left-wing parties failing to make it to the final round last weekend. What’s more, the incumbent Socialist President Francois Hollande decided not to run. With an approval rating in the single-digits, that made sense. But it was also the first time since the French Fifth Republic was founded in 1958 that an incumbent didn’t seek re-election.
Why did these parties on the left make a poor showing? It might have been a result of the pendulum of politics swinging back after going too far to the left. With a moribund economy, having candidates talk about tax reform and fewer regulations nearly made it sound like a U.S. election, not a French one.
As this situation was unfolding at the start of the year, one thing was clear. France’s next bout of leadership would be more pro-capitalist and less socialist than the current party in power. That means reform is on the menu, and French stocks would be likely to benefit.
That’s why, as far back as February, I was buying the iShares MSCI France Index (EWQ) for subscribers of my Crisis Point Investor newsletter. As most French stocks trade on pink sheets in the U.S. and there are only handful of direct investment plays, buying the index seemed like the best way to benefit from the country’s imminent move away from the far left and towards the center (if not further to the right).
What’s more, French stocks didn’t make much of a move in 2016. While U.S. stocks soared higher, the pre-election fears and the slow economic growth of the Eurozone meant that this basket of French stocks actually declined nearly 1 percent in 2016. On an earnings and revenue basis, French stocks were even cheaper than U.S. stocks. That’s pricing in a lot of uncertainty!
It should be no surprise that as the election neared, other investors started buying into the thesis as well. Shares of the ETF were up double digits even before the final vote was held. Will Macron make France great again? With French politics, it’s tough to tell. But even some modest reforms could go a long way to unshackling the French economy and give it a bit of the entrepreneurial spirit that causes economies to grow.
Is there room for pessimism? Absolutely. It’s hard to govern from the center. Macron will have forces on the right and left criticizing evert decision he makes. And, as I’ve said, I view politics as a pendulum. It won’t stay in the middle forever. It will have to go somewhere—either moving further right or make a swing back to the left.
As with buying during the Battle of Waterloo, the money was made buying on the uncertainty before. Now that the uncertainty of the election is over, there’s still some upside to French stocks as reforms are made, but it will be much slower going.
But elections happen all the time. And the wave of populism, which brought Brexit and Trump last year, and brought Le Pen to second place this year, seems to still be going somewhat strong. What we’ve seen, however, is that the fears fade quickly.
Andrew Packer is a Senior Financial Editor with Newsmax Media. He currently writes the Insider Hotline investment advisory, serves as investment director for the Financial Braintrust, and writes the monthly newsletter Crisis Point Investor.
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