French Election Relief Sends Euro Soaring

Stocks worldwide and the euro are "en marche", after centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron won the first round of France's presidential election.

European stock markets surged as investors welcomed the first-round results, with Macron favoured to win. Le Pen on Monday called her opponent "weak" against Islamic terrorism.

"Congratulations @EmmanuelMacron", tweeted the center-right Danish prime minister, Lars L√łkke Rasmussen.

"It's good news, and now investors have a reason to focus on the fundamentals in Europe, which are strong", said Luca Paolini, chief strategist at Pictet Asset Management, a United Kingdom -based firm that manages $165 billion in client assets. "The centre is stronger than the populists think!"

"This evening I made a decision to take my leave of the presidency of the National Front", Le Pen told TV channel France 2.

Leaders normally maintain a studious silence when the vote isn't on their turf. He said that they express a choice "outside the system".

Support for Macron also poured in Monday from the seat of the European Union, as well as German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Jewish and Muslim groups troubled by Le Pen's nationalist vision.

"It may be counterproductive", said Josef Janning, head of the Berlin office of the European Council on Foreign Relations.

Melenchon got 19.64 percent on Sunday and, though a fervent opponent of Le Pen for years, he has so far refused to say who he will back in the runoff. "Any significant shift toward Le Pen in the polls could dampen investor sentiment due to her anti-euro stance". True, polls and prognosticators failed to predict Britain's vote to leave the European Union, or the USA presidential victory of Donald Trump.

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KEEPING SCORE: Japan's Nikkei 225 index gained 0.4 percent to 18,511.52 and the Kospi in South Korea rose 0.5 percent to 2,148.33. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index climbed 0.4 percent to 23,921.39 and Australia's S&P ASX 200 advanced 0.3 percent to 5,818.70.

In a televised statement, the Socialist leader said France risked "becoming isolated and breaking away from the European Union" if the far-right, anti-EU Ms Le Pen were elected. "He says there is no such thing as French culture", she said.

"She's clearly done better than in 2012", said Joel Gombin, a Front expert at the University of Picardy Jules Verne, calling it a half victory. "They seem to view that possibility as close to zero".

Traders top-sliced some of the euro's overnight gains, but it was still up more than 1 percent on the dollar, more than 2 percent against the yen and 1.3 percent on the pound as the early flurry of deals subsided.

In Berlin, the banner headline on the mass-market tabloid Bild, above a photo of a jubilant Macron, was: "Europe breathes a sigh of relief".

There were several reasons for optimism among pro-Europeans.

The centrist Macron is the early favorite to defeat Le Pen, the candidate of the far right. Although the pair come from opposite ends of the political spectrum, they share a hostility toward the European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

Macron, who nabbed 23.8% of the vote, will face euroskeptic candidate Marine Le Pen, who finished second with 21.5% of the vote. This is like a Kennedy deciding a week before a national election that he didn't want to be thought of as a Democrat anymore or a Bush declaring that he didn't want to be seen as a Republican because the party itself was polling badly - except the Le Pen example is even more far-fetched, given the infamy that's attached to the FN brand for decades.

Le Pen offers an alternative for anyone skeptical of the European Union and France's role in it, said Louis Aliot, another National Front vice president.

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