ReutersReuters

Global stocks to grind higher, lacklustre year ahead

The global economy needs to find a more solid footing before most stock markets break out of their torpor, according to market strategists polled by Reuters who have broadly cut their 2023 forecasts compared with three months ago.

That may be a tall order, however, given major central banks still have months to go before pausing one of the swiftest and most aggressive campaigns of interest rate hikes on record.

Following a strong start to the year, equities the world over lost much of their gains following the nadir of the COVID-19 pandemic. Barring a few exceptions such as India, most have struggled to stage a sustained recovery.

Analysts cut their 12-month predictions compared with three months ago for most of the 17 global indexes covered in Reuters polls conducted between Nov. 14-29.

Asked how long the current downturn would last, a strong 70% majority - 66 of 90 - said it would be at least another three months. Nine said it would end within that short timeframe, while the remaining 15 said it already had.

Much will depend on how much longer central banks persist with their current mantra that interest rates, while perhaps rising in smaller increments in coming months, will stay higher for longer than investors expect.

"This theme will likely continue to dominate during the first half of 2023, leading to muted equity performance," wrote strategists at Credit Suisse in their 2023 investment outlook.

"Sectors and regions with stable earnings, low leverage and pricing power should fare better in this environment. In the second half of 2023, we expect that the discussion will turn to peak hawkishness, with earnings resilience in a slowing growth environment in focus."

Most of the 17 stock indexes covered in the Reuters polls were predicted single-digit gains by end-2023, which would not be enough to erase 2022 year-to-date losses.

The November quarterly survey was the fourth in a row in which strategists as a whole scaled back their estimates.

Perhaps the biggest unknown is just how successful central banks will be, particularly the U.S. Federal Reserve, in engineering a sharp decline in consumer price inflation from multi-decade highs without triggering a punishing recession.

The still mostly optimistic forecasts for stock markets to grind higher depend on mild recessions or none at all.

Indeed, asked what would be the main driver for stock markets to snap back to a rising trend, a more than 70% majority of strategists, 52 of 74, said better economic fundamentals.

Seven said company earnings, while six said simply the fear of missing out would be enough. Among the remaining nine, who gave myriad reasons, the most common was the Fed halting its interest rate rises.

But with many major central banks expected to continue hiking rates into next year, several economies were forecast to slow sharply or enter a recession soon.

"We remain of the view that equities continue to squeeze higher into December but do see an increasingly challenging growth backdrop in 2023, assuming central bank policies remain restrictive," wrote Marko Kolanovic, chief global markets strategist at J.P. Morgan in a note.

Wall Street's benchmark S&P 500 index SPX was predicted to end next year at 4,200, only about 6% higher than current levels.

The STOXX index of the euro zone's top 50 blue chip stocks STOXX50 was seen falling about 8% by mid-2023 and to be trading around there by the end of the year as well.

But the survey predicted relatively better performance for emerging market stock markets.

Supported in part by increasing domestic inflows to equity funds from a younger population keen to take risks, India's benchmark BSE SENSEX index, already up nearly 7% for the year, was expected to gain another 9% by end-2023.

Up only 4% year to date, Brazil's benchmark Bovespa stock index IBOV was predicted to rally 13% by end-2023. Mexico's S&P/BMV IPC index ME, down 3% in 2022, was expected to recover almost 7% by the close of next year.

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