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Traders react as they watch their screens shortly after the open of trading on the floor of the New York Stock ExchangeLUCAS JACKSON/Reuters

The S&P 500 Index has gone virtually nowhere in the past year and a half, defying predictions from Wall Street strategists. One of the most bullish now says the next 18 months will be far more lucrative.

Canaccord Genuity's Tony Dwyer estimates the equity benchmark will end 2017 at 2,340, an increase of 15 per cent from Wednesday's closing level of 2,047.63, with half of the gains coming this year. The strategist expects that an improvement in the global economy and higher commodity prices will boost corporate earnings that have fallen for four straight quarters. The S&P 500 has lost 1.1 per cent since the start of 2015.

"The combination of historic monetary accommodation, better economic readings, a positive inflection in EPS beginning 2Q16, and the historic turn in market breadth and credit warrant a more aggressive position," Dwyer, an equity strategist and managing director at Canaccord Genuity, wrote in a client note Thursday. "We believe a more stable global economy, emerging currency and commodity price backdrop should allow for better EPS growth despite the macro headwinds."

U.S. equities have been stuck in neutral for over a year amid growing concern that unprecedented central-bank stimulus from Asia to Europe and the U.S. has lost its ability to boost growth. China's sputtering economy derailed stocks in August on worries the slowdown there would spread, while a 70-per-cent rout in the price of crude pushed energy companies to the brink of insolvency, threatening the global credit markets.

Mr. Dwyer had the most bullish S&P 500 forecast for 2016 of all strategists surveyed by Bloomberg until Feb. 3, when he cut his year-end target by 8 percent, citing collapsing oil prices and a rout in high-yield bonds. His revised 2016 price target of 2,175 sits close to the median forecast of 2,150, and implies a gain of 6 percent by the end of December. The index fell 0.4 percent at 2:11 p.m. today.

The only other of 23 strategists tracked by Bloomberg with a target for 2017 is Deutsche Bank AG's David Bianco, who sees the gauge rising to 2,400.

Equities have rebounded from the worst-ever start to a year amid signs that China's government has been able to slow the rate of deceleration in its economy and crude rallied more than 80 percent. Mr. Dwyer says those trends should continue and lead to an increase in profit among S&P 500 companies.

He says investors should be prepared to be "aggressive buyers" if stocks fall in reaction to the Federal Reserve's June meeting, the vote on Britain's membership in the European Union and next month's decision on oil output from OPEC.

Mr. Dwyer entered 2015 as the biggest bull among 23 S&P 500 strategists tracked by Bloomberg, with a year-end price target of 2,340. The benchmark index finished last year little changed at 2,043.94, lower than any strategist forecast heading into 2015.