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Global stocks will continue their march to higher ground but an escalation of the U.S.-China trade war poses the biggest risk, Reuters polls of more than 200 equity strategists, analysts and fund managers from around the world found.

Last year was not a good 12 months for long speculators as only three of the 17 top global indexes ended 2018 higher than they started it. Of the 14 that made losses, only five are expected to recoup them by the end of 2019.

However, all 17 indexes polled by Reuters are up so far this year, with some having posted double-digit gains. While the pace of gains will largely slow, all but two are predicted to end this year higher than where they finished last week.

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“The trade war is the primary issue, with recent softness in U.S. macro – where resilience had been accepted wisdom – a product of the uncertainty it is creating,” said Robert Griffiths, global equity strategist at Credit Suisse.

Still, respondents to the quarterly Reuters poll were generally upbeat and stuck to their guns in the May 13-29 poll in expecting nearly all major bourses covered to make solid gains through to the end of next year.

End-2019 projections for 13 of the 17 indexes were raised from a February poll, along with eight mid-2020 median forecasts. Eight mid-2020 forecasts were downgraded and one was unchanged.

When asked what the biggest risk to their forecasts was in the coming year, almost 60 per cent of more than 100 respondents to an additional question said it was an escalation in the trade war between the United States and China.

In second place, with 22 per cent of economists picking it, was a worse-than expected slowdown in U.S. economic growth. In third spot was the 17 per cent who said a slowdown or stall in corporate earnings growth.

MOSTLY UPS

U.S. stocks will build on this year’s already strong gains over the rest of 2019 and the benchmark S&P 500 index will finish 2019 at 2,925, up about 3.5 per cent from last week’s close.

Although the S&P 500 remains up about 12 per cent for the year so far, stocks have sold off recently amid persistent worries over the trade battle.

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Shares on the neighbouring Toronto exchange will nudge higher over the rest of the year, but investors will need to wait until the second half of 2020 for the index to better April’s record peak.

Brazilian stocks are expected to post double-digit gains this year, outperforming the Mexican market, as President Jair Bolsonaro’s new government pushes ahead on key economic reforms.

European shares are seen mostly moving sideways until end-2019 and making just modest gains later on, as investors refrain from big bets on a region whose export-oriented economy makes it vulnerable to trade war risks.

The pan-European STOXX 600 benchmark is seen ending the year at 380 points, just 1 per cent above the level it was at when the poll closed last week. However that would be a 12.5-per-cent rise for the year, its biggest yearly gain since 2013.

Germany’s DAX and Italy’s FTSE MIB, the main stock indexes for the euro zone’s biggest and third biggest economies, are expected to stall or decline slightly from where they closed the end of last week.

London’s FTSE, will manage only modest gains in the second half as the country’s tortuous exit from the European Union hangs over the market, deterring investors despite share valuations being attractively cheap.

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For next year, respondents gave fewer forecasts for the FTSE 100, reflecting deepening uncertainty over the direction the U.K. market will take as there is little clarity as to how, when or even if an already delayed Brexit will happen.

“Another postponement of Brexit would likely hurt U.K. growth and shares,” said Ireneus Stanislawek, equity strategist at Vontobel Asset Management. “The quicker Brexit is resolved the better.”

Indian shares are expected to reach a new record high by year-end, drifting up from a pre-election rally in which investors correctly bet the ruling party would retain power and continue current economic policies.

And Shanghai’s Composite index, which closed last week up more than 14 per cent this year after shedding a quarter of its value in 2018, will add another 4 per cent by year-end despite investor concerns over a slowing economy and Beijing’s trade dispute with Washington.

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