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Economy fears take shine off global stock outlook

Staff Correspondent : Clear signs the global economy is cooling prompted analysts to trim their outlook for most of the world’s major stock markets compared with three months ago, according to a Reuters poll that still pointed to meaty gains from here.

Thursday’s quarterly survey of 350 equity strategists from all over the world showed only the US, Taiwanese and Russian stock markets escaping downgrades, with Moscow again expected to lead the way with double-digit gains.

While the latest poll lacked the sheer exuberance seen in the March survey, perpetually optimistic equity bulls were again out in force.

They shrugged off the fact that 11 out of the 17 markets covered by the poll are so far deep in the red for 2011, and instead projected strong gains from here for every one of them.

In comparison with oil and commodity markets that have proved hugely volatile this year, and with the fiscal crisis in Greece wreaking havoc on currency and government bond markets, some respondents pointed to stocks as the best alternative.

“Equities still look attractive when compared to other global asset classes,” said Angus Campbell, head of sales at London Capital Group.

The search for yield has become difficult for investors. High inflation has eroded cash assets, safe government bond yields are at rock-bottom and gold’s heady ascent to record levels leaves it looking expensive to many.

Still, the extent of the slowdown in Western economies is unclear and there has been no solution yet to the Greek sovereign debt crisis. Both could yet tame the bulls and bring out the bears.

European politicians are scrambling to avert a Greek sovereign debt default in mid-July, which if realized has the potential to hurl the financial system in Europe and elsewhere back into systemic chaos.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average, containing some of the world’s most famous companies, was the only index based in an advanced economy to be upgraded compared with the March poll.

Despite dismal labor market data and growing signs the US economy is cooling fast, analysts were very upbeat about the prospects for the Dow and S&P, which have each gained around 90 percent since their nadir during the Great Recession.

There seemed to be little concern among equity bulls about the imminent end of the Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing (QE) program that coincided with a sharp rise in asset prices. The poll was conducted before the Fed cut its US growth forecasts on Wednesday, with no hint of any further QE in the pipeline.

“We are still double from where we were two years ago; I think the market is doing great. We are in slowdown and correction but that’s following a 30 percent gain from the August lows,” said Bob Doll, chief equity strategist at BlackRock in New York.

Economists polled by Reuters last week were less sure of the outlook than equity analysts. They slashed their outlook for major Western economies in the June 15 poll, reacting to a raft of dire jobs and industrial production figures.

There was little cheer on Thursday from unemployment claims data, which showed jobless benefit claims rising last week after employment stumbled in May.

Strategists saw the Dow rising 7.4 percent from its Wednesday close of 12,109.7 to 13,000 by the end of the year—up from 12,700 seen in March—and then to 13,700 by around this time next year.

Similarly, the S&P is seen soaring nearly 9 percent to 1,400 by end-2011, from Wednesday’s 1,287.1.

The poll once again pointed to stellar returns on Russian shares. Having already rocketed almost 300 percent since the global recession, the Russian RTS looks set to gain another 17 percent from now until the end of the year thanks to a resurgent economy still reveling in strong oil prices.

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