AI analysis: Le Pen on course to be France’s next president

(CNBC) – Marine Le Pen is on course to be the next president of France, according to one fund manager’s big-data analysis.

Arun Kant, chief executive and chief investment officer at Singapore-based investing firm Leonie Hill Capital, told CNBC he expected the right-wing populist to prevail thanks to his firm’s proprietary artificial intelligence (AI) system’s analysis of troves of data.

His analysis — which he said incorporates inputs such as social and traditional media discussions, polling, economics and demographics — predicts that Le Pen will “walk over” her opponents in the first electoral test and then prove most forecasters wrong and steal the lead in the second ballot, Kant said.

The French vote is split into two phases, with the top two candidates from the April 23 round due to face each other in a second run-off on May 7. In the running alongside 48-year old Le Pen are former economy minister and independent candidate Emmanuel Macron, conservative ex-prime minister Francois Fillon and socialist Benoit Hamon.

Kant’s AI program predicts that Le Pen would take 28 percent of the vote in the first round, he said, which would best 16.4 percent for Fillon, and 19 to 20 percent for Macron.

Current inputs are pointing to a Macron victory in the second round — 52.3 percent to 47.7 for Le Pen — Kant said, but he added that he expects the right-wing politician to gain considerable ground after a first round victory.

“If she wins the first round, this dynamic will change,” he said, noting the similarities between the populist appeal of Le Pen and President Donald Trump.

And with this predicted momentum, Le Pen will likely win the presidency, Kant said.

In fact, Kant said his AI analysis predicted that the only way Macron could win is if some unexpected factor were to pull undecided voters in his favor.

Le Pen, a former attorney, is leader of the French National Front (FN), a right-wing political party founded by her father Jean-Marie Le Pen. And this isn’t the first time she’s run for the country’s top job. In the 2012 election, she won 17.9 percent of the vote in the first round, a record result for the FN, but failed to enter the second round.

Her policies mirror those of Trump’s—she is a fierce critic of open borders and free trade. Like the White House chief, she also believes in nationalism and economic protectionism, having vowed to pull France out of the European Union.

Announcing her candidacy for the French presidency in a strident speech earlier this month in Lyon, Le Pen told supporters that European “borders have been erased and our countries have become station concourses.”

“What is at stake in this election … is whether France can still be a free nation,” Le Pen said at that rally, according to Reuters. “The divide is not between the left and right any more but between patriots and globalists.”

Kant declined to share his investing plans around his Le Pen projection, but he did explain that he expected her victory to mean the beginning of the end of the European Union. And with that, he said, currencies around the world will see massive fluctuations and “it may lead to a financial crisis much sooner than anyone thinks.”

Still, Kant’s prediction of a Le Pen victory is definitely not the consensus call.

As of Tuesday, betting markets implied about a 30 percent chance of Le Pen winning the presidency.

The bulk of strategists said they believe she can reach the second round, but will struggle to cross the 50 percent threshold needed to become president. Given the sheer unpredictability of recent political events like Brexit and Trump’s rise to power, however, several experts told CNBC that anything was possible.

There is a chance she could win the presidency, said Simon Baptist, global chief economist at the Economist Intelligence Unit.

“Le Pen has taken care to present herself as a candidate with reasonable views, which has helped her to push the National Front from the fringes to the mainstream. Recent events, such as the refugee crisis, terrorist attacks, and the rise of populist leaders elsewhere, have also played into her hands.”

A poll by French newspaper Le Figaro indicated the French were more pessimistic about globalization than other countries — sentiments that may play into Le Pen’s hands.

“The day before the US election, pollsters gave Trump a 1.6 percent chance of victory, so while I wouldn’t consider a Le Pen victory a baseline scenario, I wouldn’t count her out,” said Tony Nash, managing partner and chief economist of Complete Intelligence.

While Le Pen’s controversial views have only appealed to a minority of voters thus far, many have warned that her popularity could swell if rival parties fall prey to more scandals. Allegations emerged last month that Fllion’s wife was paid for a fake job; the 62-year old candidate has so far rejected the claims.

Markets, analysts said, are acknowledging the chances of a victory for the French right-wing.

“I think the market is telling us a clear message that investors are finally waking up to the risk of a Le Pen win,” Callum Henderson, head of global markets research for the Eurasia Group, told CNBC in an email. He pointed to the Bund-OAT spread’s beginning to “widen out sharply,” and France’s CAC 40 index “significantly” underperforming Germany’s DAX index.

And then there are others who adamantly rule out the prospect of a Le Pen presidency.

“Based on all the polls, as well as the polarization in France, she has virtually no chance,” warned Cas Mudde, associate professor at the University of Georgia. “People argue she can win because they doubt the polls after Brexit and Trump. However, in both cases the margins were much smaller than between Le Pen and Macron or Fillon.”

If Le Pen were to win, Henderson said, “markets would riot” because of her comments on France leaving the European Union. Still, he added, her rhetoric might not accurately reflect what would happen in the country.

“It is highly questionable whether she would be able to (initiate a French exit from the EU or the euro) if she did win because parliament would not likely pass much ideas, but the initial market reaction would be very volatile and very negative,” Henderson said.


Top: Marine Le Pen. Pascal Le Segretain | Getty Images

SOURCE: CNBC’s Everett Rosenfeld and Nyshka Chandran



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