If the U.K. referendum campaign felt endless, investors had better get used to it. The poll is only the end of the beginning of a long period of political uncertainty that may weigh on markets and business activity in the coming 12 months.
For starters, Britain will linger in investors' minds. David Cameron's ruling Conservative Party is deeply divided on Europe and his leadership will be the subject of continued speculation regardless of the referendum result. The potential for continued political drag may continue to cast a pall over the U.K. stock market, which has seen a 62 percent drop in the value of initial public offerings in 2016.
Investors don't need to wait for the U.S. presidential vote in November to start fretting about polling data once again. Spain will take a second run at national elections on Sunday, following an inconclusive poll in December. This round may see a repeat of the failure of any party to win a majority, leading to subsequent horse-trading to form a government that might be unstable, and perhaps a third vote.
At issue for investors is whether an administration emerges that pushes on with potentially painful economic reforms to boost growth. Deutsche Bank economists see a 30 percent chance of a left-wing coalition taking power, including anti-austerity party Podemos. If that happened, concern about reversal of existing reforms could spark a jump in Spanish bond yields.
Even if there's no drama in Spain, there's scope for it in Italy's October referendum on constitutional reform. Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has called it "the mother of all battles" of his premiership. The measure is intended to give the country a more stable government, and he's pledged to quit if it doesn't pass.
But Renzi is also the standard-bearer for Italian post-crisis reform, and his Democratic Party is already under pressure after it was trounced by the anti-establishment Five Star Movement in local elections. If Renzi goes, it's not obvious what form a new government might take. If the drive for reform subsequently slowed, investors might push pressure on the country to get back on track -- by pushing up yields on Italian debt.
Even after the American presidency is decided, it won't be long before investors are looking forward to the presidential vote in France in the spring of 2017 and federal elections in Germany later in the same year. Amid all this, investors may well be contending with another U.S. interest rate rise, conscious of the market volatility that attended the last one in December.
Professional investors call this "event risk." Everyone else might just see as the new normal.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.
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