European markets face a triple set of impacts Monday as voters in Italy head to the polls in a national election that could deliver an anti-Brussels mandate to the region's third largest economy, Germany's months-long electoral deadlock concludes with a new term for Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Donald Trump accelerates trade-war rhetoric that could hammer Continental automakers.
Italy's Parliamentary vote likely has the biggest potential for market dislocation, particularly if the populist Five-Star Movement Party is able to secure enough seats to form a government, but analysts expect a so-called hung parliament when the complicated procedure is concluded Monday, a result that will delay much-needed reforms and potentially stall growth prospects in the country's rebounding economy.
"While this doesn't bode well for a sovereign with a high debt burden and in significant need of reform, the formation of a weak government is not a huge concern for the financial markets, which are cheered by the ongoing cyclical upswing in Europe and not as focused on medium-term issues," said Pimco's Nicola Mai. "What markets seem to care about most is that a "near-term accident" is avoided. In the context of this election, such an accident would probably be the formation of an anti-establishment government built on a Euroskeptic platform."
Early exit poll data on Sunday evening show a hung parliament. But, exit polling isn't likely to point to a decisive conclusion and votes won't be counted in any meaningful way until very early Monday at the earliest.
Europe's broader reform effort, however, received a shot in the arm Sunday after members of the centre-left Social Democratic Party voted to join a coalition government with their rival Christian Democrats of the centre-right. The move paves the way for Merkel's fourth term as Chancellor and allows for a major push on big constitutional and structural changes table by France's President, Emmanuel Macron.
However, the most immediately-impacting development over the weekend is likely to come from the escalating war of words between European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and President Trump, both of which threatened specific sectors in each other's economies as potential targets for tariffs and trade barriers after Trump reveal his intention to slap a 25% levy on steel imports late last week.
"If the Americans impose tariffs on steel and aluminum, then we must treat American products the same way," Juncker said Friday when he detailed a package of tariffs that could impact $3.5 billion in U.S. exports. "We must show that we can also take measures. This cannot be a unilateral transatlantic action by the Americans."
"So now we will also impose import tariffs. This is basically a stupid process, the fact that we have to do this. But we have to do it. We will now impose tariffs on motorcycles, Harley Davidson (HOG - Get Report) , on blue jeans, Levis, on Bourbon."
"We can also do stupid," he said.
Trump fired back the following day with a Tweet that vowed reciprocal tariffs on European cars as he alluded to a $22.3 billion "automotive vehicle and parts" trade deficit last year with Germany.
If the E.U. wants to further increase their already massive tariffs and barriers on U.S. companies doing business there, we will simply apply a Tax on their Cars which freely pour into the U.S. They make it impossible for our cars (and more) to sell there. Big trade imbalance!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 3, 2018
Non-EU automobiles are subject to a 29% tariff when brought into the bloc, of which 19% is a value-added tax and 10% is a tariff based on current World Trade Organization (WTO) rules. Cars imported into the United States from countries that don't have existing pacts with Washington are subject to a 12.5% levy, while pickup trucks are subject to a 25% tariff.
However, some of the largest production facilities of Europe's biggest carmarkers, including Volkswagen AG (VLKAY) , Daimler AG (DMLRY) and BMW AG (BMWYY) , are located in the United States, with plants in Vance, Al. and Spartanburg, S.C. and Chattanooga, Tn., that assemble around a third of the German cars sold domestically.
Last year, Germany's VDA auto union said that its members employed more than 110,000 people across 265 plants active in the United States, noting that "investment in the U.S. and the international exchange of goods are inseparable for us."
Why the market tanked on steel tariff news.