By Rahul Karunakar
BENGALURU (Reuters) - The celebratory mood has dampened among even the most bullish equity market analysts polled by Reuters, who now expect global stocks to recover most of this year's losses but close out 2018 below the peaks hit in January.
World stocks have been whipsawed since early February by several broad-based sell-offs led by trade war fears, rising interest rates, the turbulent U.S.-North Korea relationship, and a spiralling Italian political crisis.
The S&P 500 has dropped from its record high in January and volatility has picked up dramatically, leaving many investors worried a near decade-long bull run was ending.
"After nine years of markets outperforming the real economy, we think the opposite now applies as policy tightens," noted Andrew Sheets, chief cross-asset strategist at Morgan Stanley.
"We think that this bull market has limited runway which has not been extended by tax changes, technology or other factors. We think it is in the midst of a topping process, following a 'normal' historical pattern where credit peaks first, yields peak second and equities peak last."
Still, the May 15-31 Reuters poll of over 300 equity strategists, analysts and fund managers from around the world showed all 17 stock indexes polled were expected to climb from here and close out the year with gains.
That despite 11 of those indexes still in the red so far this year and well below where they were predicted to be by mid- year in the previous poll in February.
The latest consensus, though, was a downgrade to forecasts made just three months ago for 13 of the 17 indexes polled and the range of forecasts across most major stock markets showed optimism was dented with lower highs.
Still, about 58 percent - 84 of 145 - strategists who answered an additional question were confident or very confident world stocks will continue rising over the next 12 months. The rest said they were not confident or not at all confident.
"Global equity indices very likely are in a top-building process where selective highs are possible but where further upside potential has become rather limited," said Gerhard Schwarz, head of equity strategy at Baader Helvea.
Top global fund managers recommended a cut to equity allocations to a nine-month low in May after a turbulent month, according to a separate Reuters survey on Thursday.
Still, in the latest poll, U.S. and European stocks were expected to find firmer footing and recover in the second half of the year on expectations those economies overcome the current slowdown and corporate earnings there continue to rise.
But for some, their conviction clearly is weak.
"I don't think the story in equities is compellingly bullish. It's more that bonds look terrible. Equities look better than bonds, and you have to put money somewhere," said Robert Phipps, director at Per Stirling Capital Management in Austin, Texas.
British stocks were expected to end this year around where they were currently trading, partly on worries about the approaching divorce date with the European Union in March 2019.
While Canada's stock index was expected to rise and eclipse January's record high by year-end, an uncertain outlook for trade, including renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, has dampened strategists' enthusiasm.
Emerging markets have had a torrid time in recent months, coming under sustained selling pressure on concerns of a rise in protectionism and a possible decline in world trade, and as U.S. 10-year Treasury yields
That trend is expected to continue with nearly 75 percent of strategists expecting emerging markets to be more at risk of a sell-off over the next 12 months than developed ones.
While Russia's stock market was forecast to hit record highs later this year, a lingering standoff with the West could limit those gains.
Indian stocks were expected to wipe out recent losses and gain a little, but an array of political developments in and outside the country will likely restrain the market.
Brazilian stocks were predicted to power through the rest of the year on a solid economic growth outlook, but a lack of conviction about the October presidential elections could weigh.
The subdued tone of expected gains and the vast number of risks cited in the latest poll stands out from previous global surveys of strategists and fund managers in recent years.
"Rich equity valuations and geopolitical concerns should weigh on investor sentiment as we reach the end of the U.S. economic cycle. Italian instability in Europe and mid-term elections in the U.S. should further unsettle what has otherwise been broad-based investor complacency," said Kevin Redureau, equity strategist at Societe Generale.
(To read other stories from the Reuters global stock markets poll)
(Additional reporting and polling by correspondents in Bengaluru, London, Mexico City, Milan, Moscow, New York, Sao Paulo, Shanghai, Tokyo and Toronto; Editing by Ross Finley and Hugh Lawson)
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Updated Date: Jun 01, 2018 07:05 AM