Milan, Italy — This afternoon I got coffee with an economist at an Italian investment company, who told me the #1 thing her clients fear is Beppe Grillo.
Grillo is a comedian-turned-politician who is doing shockingly well the Italian elections (coming up this Sunday and Monday) by running on an aggressive anti-bank, euro-skeptic platform.
He's capitalizing on the deep frustration that exists in Italy due to the weak economy, and the perception that the current government is too corrupt and cozy with banks. His support spans the political spectrum, though he seems to be drawing a bit more heavily from the left.
Were he to gain a sizable block in the upcoming parliament, he represents a pretty serious threat. to the current efforts at reform (the Brussels approved government is eager to liberalize the economy, reduce the deficit, reform the labor market, and so on). Financial markets have loved the efforts made over the past year or so, even if the public and the real economy have not.
Italian media is in a polling blackout, so there isn't much data made public on the actual numerical state of the race.
However, bankers have access to private, secret polls during this time.
Today we got to see one of these private tracking polls.
Here's what we'll say about it. It resembles this Google Trends chart, which shows search volume for the four main candidates: Berlusconi (conservative), Mario Monti (center), Pier Luigi (center left), Bepe Grillo.
Now, the order of the candidates is not what to watch. The order here does not resemble the actual order of the tracking polls. What to watch here is the direction of each line. That very much resembles the trends in this race. And we're talking trends that have manifested themselves just in recent days.
The banker who showed me the chart said that a month ago he would have optimistically said that after the next election, a nice center-left coalition would rule with stability and continue on with reforms.
Today he is worried.
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