High-likelihood risks will require greater focus on scenario planning through 2023–2024
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Western Europe is set to see acute risks throughout 2023, stemming from both strong macroeconomic headwinds and rising political uncertainty. While these risks are not part of FrontierView’s base case for the region, they highlight the need for greater focus on scenario planning in the medium-to-long term, especially because of their considerable impact on markets’ potential performance. Additionally, they underline the difficult operational environment that multinationals are set to experience in terms of both demand opportunities and operational costs.
- Government-mandated gas rationing in the EU (35%): While warm weather and high gas inventories will likely soften the need for European governments to implement strict rationing measures in the winter of 2022, ongoing supply issues and low LNG import capacity will continue to present significant issues during the winter of 2023. Additional risks to supply, such as disruptions to US exports or suspension of Russian LNG supplies, may prompt a period of acute gas shortages, which will require a much more considerable government involvement in energy consumption and result in rationing that prioritizes households and essential services throughout 2023.
- Spain’s far right enters government (30%): The center-right People’s Party (PP) is currently ahead in polls but isn’t projected to win enough votes to form a majority government. With the cost-of-living crisis forecast to continue into next spring, angry voters could vent their frustration by voting for Vox, a far-right party. If Vox secured a sufficiently large proportion of the vote, the PP could be forced to form a coalition with it, as happened on a regional level this year. However, Vox’s nationalist stance could inflame tensions with Catalonia, one of Spain’s wealthiest regions, boosting support for the separatist movement. In this scenario, heightened uncertainty would raise borrowing costs and weaken business confidence.
- Housing market crash in Nordics (30%): Elevated inflation and tighter policy rates in the Nordics can cause a sharper market correction, leading to a much steeper drop in housing prices, which will translate into a notable shock to regional banking and financial institutions. The latter would have wider spillover effects on the European banking system, leading to a sharper rise in lending rates and a drop in liquidity, exacerbating the economic shock.
- ECB hawkish policy (25%): The European Central Bank (ECB) hikes rates notably above the current projections of 3.0% by Q2 2023. The sharp tightening of monetary policy leads to a significant increase in yield spread between Northern and Southern European markets, increasing external borrowing costs and further dampening credit performance outlook. The sharp bond yield increase will dampen governments’ ability to provide additional fiscal support, deepening and prolonging the crisis.
- Italian populism exacerbates fiscal issues (20%): Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s various missteps and attempts at moderation present an opportunity for Matteo Salvini to capitalize on her lack of authority. The League can expand its influence over the coalition, increasing tension with the EU and NATO. These developments rattle investors, raising Italy’s borrowing costs. However, Italy won’t default on debt. In a worst-case scenario, the ECB and EU will massage the requirements for the new anti-fragmentation tool. Still, the prolongation of political instability will worsen the outlook for Italy’s economy.
- EU/UK negotiations break down (15%): While both the EU and the new UK cabinet have signaled greater willingness to renegotiate the Northern Ireland Protocol, risks to the outlook remain. Should negotiations break down, the EU may seek to impose punitive measures on the UK, which will further dampen trade and investment activity and weigh on both the EUR and the GBP.
- Germany’s coalition falls apart (15%): Broad disagreement over energy policy and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine may prompt the FDP and/or the Greens to exit the coalition, prompting a period of increased policy uncertainty and severely constraining the ability of the government to introduce necessary fiscal support.
- Netherlands increases gas output (15%): Under current plans, gas mining is set to decrease by 50% in 2023 and be completely suspended by 2024. Given the uneasy energy situation, however, the government may be pressured, both domestically and externally, to either increase the mining quotas or extend the gas fields’ utilization period. This should alleviate some of the gas supply pressures felt by the wider region, but it is unlikely to address the ongoing concerns over gas supply inventories in 2023.
- Early elections in France (10%): President Emmanuel Macron finds it impossible to implement even a watered-down version of his reform agenda due to an increasingly fractious legislature, forcing him to call an election this spring. Emboldened by another strong electoral showing, the far left and far right refuse to budge, prolonging a state of paralysis unless the Republicans, under new leadership after December’s party election, prove more conciliatory. In the absence of a formal coalition, France becomes increasingly ungovernable, weighing on business confidence and, by extension, investment.
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