France's Macron and Le Pen head for runoff in second round of presidential election

Key Points
  • Macron and Marine Le Pen will face off in final round on May 7.
  • Macron gains 23.7 percent of vote, Le Pen on 21.7 percent.
  • Euro hits five-and-a-half month high against the dollar.
This is just the end of act one, celebration comes in two weeks: Macron spokesperson

Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen will face one another in the final round of the French presidential election on May 7, according to exit polls.

Global markets breathed a sigh of relief to see establishment candidate Macron receive the largest portion of votes in the first round.

Centrist Emmanuel Macron of the independent En Marche party secured the lion's share of votes in Sunday's preliminary election at 23.7 percent, with the far-right's Marine Le Pen of France's National Front party trailing narrowly behind at 21.7 percent, according to Harris poll estimates. Separately, the French Interior ministry announced its final figures at 5 a.m. local time on Monday morning which showed that Emmanuel Macron had won 23.75 percent of the vote versus Le Pen's 21.53 percent.

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Looking ahead, Macron is expected to win the second round of the French election with 62 percent of the vote versus 38 percent for Le Pen, according to a poll from Ipsos/Sopra Steria released on Sunday evening.

In a speech made after Sunday's exit polls were released, Le Pen vowed to defend France against globalization and declared that now is the time to free the French population from an arrogant elite.

Meanwhile, Macron told his supporters in Paris that he will seek to build a parliamentary majority as soon as Monday as part of his bid to become president and represent the voice of hope for both France and Europe.

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Current French Socialist Prime Minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, former conservative French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin and losing Socialist contender Benoit Hamon have all now called on all democrats to rally behind Macron in the final round, according to Reuters.

"The first round is always kind of a protest vote ... And then you have tactical voting happening in the second round," Antonio Barroso, deputy director of research at Teneo Intelligence, told CNBC on Sunday.

The Republican party's Francois Fillon conceded at around 8:40 p.m. local time, saying that he was the sole person responsible for his defeat and adding that he also intends to vote for Macron as Le Pen, he said, would lead the country to failure.

The euro reached a five-and-a-half month high against the dollar when markets opened Sunday evening. The single currency jumped to $1.09395 in early trade after having closed at $1.0723, according to Reuters data. This represents a 2 percent jump so far on the day.

French election: Now a referendum on globalization?

This move was to be expected given that it wasn't the two extreme candidates who made it through into the final round but the euro may not have much further to run for now, Elsa Lignos, global head of FX strategy at RBC, told CNBC on Sunday.

"I would be surprised if we went too far up. I heard people talking about 1.10 and even 1.12. That would be surprising just because there wasn't that much positioning heading into this election on a tail risk scenario ... really spot hasn't reflected much of a premium at all," she added.

Voter turnout was recorded at 69.42 percent as of 5:00 p.m. local time, according to an official statement from the Interior Ministry.

Don’t buy the exit poll results yet: Melenchon spokesperson

That figure compares to 70.59 percent at the same time during the last election in 2012, 73.87 percent in 2007 and 58.45 percent in 2002.

France's population counts around 64.89 million people, according to the latest estimates from the United Nations, with approximately 47 million eligible to vote in Sunday's election.

Of the eleven candidate field that stood for election, four key contenders – also including the Fillon and the far-left Jean-Luc Melenchon - between them representing political ideologies from the extreme left to the extreme right, had been tracking at extremely tight proximity in the lead-up to the weekend vote.

Analysts had declared prior to Sunday's vote that predicting the two frontrunners who would make it into the final round was too close to call in advance.