Is Hollande enemy or prisoner of finance?

Francois Hollande

Although Francois Hollande began his campaign to be president of France by declaring that his true enemy is "the world of finance", the socialist victor in the first-round of voting is also - to an extent - a prisoner of that world.

The point is that the French government and French economy is disproportionately dependent on the goodwill of overseas investors and banks.

Here are the statistics.

According to IMF figures, 59% of France's government debt is held overseas - which means that well over half of all lending to the French state is not motivated by sentimentality or patriotism in any way.

To put that figure into context, just 24.8% of UK general government debt is provided by foreigners.

Perhaps more relevantly, the French government has to borrow a colossal sum equivalent to 18.2% of GDP this year and 19.5% next year to finance debt that is maturing and the current deficit.

So, to extrapolate from the current ownership pattern of its debt, France needs to retain the goodwill of overseas investors to provide loans equivalent to something like 10% of its GDP this year and a similar amount in 2013.

Again a comparison with the UK may be useful: the UK's financing needs for this year and next are much lower, at 14.8% of GDP and 13.9%, with perhaps no more than 4% of this needing to come from overseas.

And remember that the UK has another huge advantage over France when it comes to financing its deficit: the Bank of England can and has been buying bucket loads of UK government debt; the European Central Bank is prohibited from doing anything remotely comparable.

So, to put it another way, Mr Hollande may believe that big international banks, sovereign wealth funds and hedge funds are the enemy. But if he goes to war with them, there is a risk that they will go on strike and stop lending to the French government.

Which, in a best case, would increase massively what the French government has to pay to borrow. And in a worst case would force France to go cap in hand to the eurozone's bailout funds and the IMF for help.

Also, there is no possibility of Mr Hollande appealing for patriotic help from France's banks: they already own a disproportionate amount of French government debt; and, whenever I speak to French bankers, they chastise the current president Mr Sarkozy as being too anti-capitalist and left wing, so it is doubtful they are feeling well disposed to Mr Hollande.

So does this mean that there is likely to be some great financial cataclysm for France if Mr Hollande is elected?

Well, the opposite may be true.

The logic goes that he must be aware that the French state dare not alienate the international investment community to any great extent.

Which is why many influential investors see Mr Hollande as an intriguing politician with a lot of mouth but not a huge amount in the trouser department. They note, for example, that when he made a flying visit to the UK a few weeks ago, he went out of his way to play down how dangerous he would be to the City of London and international financial businesses.

If there is an investor who knows a thing or two about governments' room for manoeuvre in challenging markets it is the hedge-fund veteran George Soros.

I interviewed Mr Soros yesterday for a new film I am making about the crisis in the eurozone. "Would Mr Hollande force a significant revision to December's fiscal compact that places new constraints on deficits and debts of eurozone governments?" I asked.

I didn't think this was such a dumb question, since such a revision is more than implied by Mr Hollande's rhetoric. But Mr Soros ascribes a minimal probability to Mr Hollande loosening the new fiscal constraints or turning the tide against austerity in Europe.

Robert Peston Article written by Robert Peston Robert Peston Economics editor

How Labour pays for student fee cut

Labour would reduce tax relief for those earning £150,000 or more a year, shrink maximum pension pots to £1m and cut maximum annual pension contributions to £30,000 to pay for a cut to £6,000 in student fees.

Read full article

More on This Story

More from Robert


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 327.

    “What are the present governments of Europe, but a scene of iniquity and oppression? What is that of England? Do not its own inhabitants say, It is a market where every man has his price, and where corruption is common traffic, at the expense of a deluded people? No wonder, then, that the French Revolution is traduced.” Thomas Paine.

    Nothing new under the sun.

  • rate this

    Comment number 326.

    "I hope we shall take warning from the example and crush in it’s birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength, and to bid defiance to the laws of their country." Thomas Jefferson (attributed)

  • rate this

    Comment number 325.

    ComradeOgilvy @324
    Ironic that Wen Jiabao was arguing Schumpeterian crisis in Europe when he visited last year. Capitalist-democratic social contract is that inequality is tolerated as long as capitalism is effective at producing wealth for most. There were times when this didn't happen. Paul Mason talks about the 30s but political theory spawned by the French revolution is fundamental.

  • rate this

    Comment number 324.


    Wasn't taking it all that seriously but too many open fronts already anyway. Freedom is what many anti-commies fear most. Not unfounded but not insurmountable either.


    I stand corrected on bureaucracy. Not unique to banks and not the issue I intended to highlight.


    HE'LL BE BACK!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 323.

    Nope! Definitely the 1980s.

    Tories didn't try to cut in '70's - Heath & Barber were on a hit'n'hope splurge, if I may potentially slightly mix metaphors (golf&shopping?), back then.

    In '80's, Maggie needed to make cuts, Govt was ineffective, they didn't work. We spent oil money on cleaning up mess!


Comments 5 of 327



Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.