By Andy Bruce
LONDON (Reuters) - A tentatively improving global economy and plentiful central bank cash should foster gains for the world's major stock markets next year, a Reuters poll of more than 250 analysts showed.
World stocks have risen this year after a disastrous showing in 2011, and that trend should continue into the new year, led by Brazil, Russia, India and China.
Although there have been some signs of late that global growth is picking up, the poll's respondents pointed to some sizeable risks to the outlook from big Western economies.
First and foremost, there is the U.S. "fiscal cliff", an automatic budget tightening at the end of the year, that could tip the world's biggest economy back into recession if politicians can't strike a deal to avert it.
There is also Europe's entrenched economic weakness and the ongoing risk the euro zone's smouldering sovereign debt crisis will flare up again.
Still, the general feeling was that the next year ought to be better than this one.
"This time last year, the risks to global growth were to the downside as the European debt crisis, China hard landing fears and the U.S. 'fiscal cliff' clouded the economic outlook," said Michael Hartnett, chief investment strategist at BofA Merrill Lynch Global Research.
"For 2013, we expect the resolution of fiscal policy issues, another year of accommodative central bank actions and improving corporate profits to skew the macro and market risks to the upside."
The survey was conducted over the past week but before the U.S. Federal Reserve announced a new round of monetary stimulus on Wednesday.
Many respondents cited expectations of central bank liquidity flushing through global financial markets as a reason to predict gains.
A NEW YEAR FOR CHINA
Asian stocks in particular should lead the way over the next year, supplanting Russia, which has recently performed best.
The Shanghai Composite <.SSEC>, the poorest performer this year among the poll's 18 indexes, is forecast to perform best, gaining just over 17 percent by the end of next year from Wednesday's close.
However, analysts in previous polls have long expected Chinese stocks to start rocketing soon.
"Economic fundamentals will be better next year, listed companies from the financial and industrial sectors will see their growth accelerate, and monetary policy may relax," said Zheshang Securities analyst Wang Weijun, predicting a "positive shake-up" for the market next year.
Chinese and Korean stocks have the lowest 12-month forward price-earnings ratios of around 8.5, further underlining their favoured status as the top performers for next year.
EURO ZONE STABILISATION
Shanghai will be followed closely by India's BSE Sensex <.BSESN> and Japan's Nikkei <.N225>, each gaining close to 15 percent.
Germany's DAX <.GDAXI> has enjoyed the best performance so far in 2012, with a 29 percent gain up to Wednesday's close.
While a repeat of that looks very unlikely next year, major Western stock markets should do well.
Italy's FT/MIB <.FTMIB> is seen performing strongly, with a gain of about 11 percent to end-2013, followed by the pan-European DJ Euro Stoxx 50 <.STOXX50E> and France's CAC 40 <.FCHI>.
"We expect some stabilisation in euro zone activity," said JP Morgan European equity strategist Emmanuel Cau, adding that because others were not as optimistic, any improvement could lead to a sharp rally in European equities.
U.S. stocks should perform well too, with the S&P 500 <.SPX> expected to rise around 8.5 percent by 2013's end, providing political leaders do avert the automatic fiscal tightening there, as most analysts expect.
"While not our base case, we believe that stocks could rise substantially if U.S. policymakers can negotiate a 'grand bargain' that credibly addresses long-term tax, spending, and entitlement reforms," said Jonathan Golub, strategist at UBS.
Taiwan's Taiex <.TWII> is expected to bring up the rear, with a gain of 4 percent between now and end-2013.
Equity strategists are a notoriously optimistic bunch, however they underestimated the gains in 11 of the 18 stock indexes for 2012 in a poll conducted in December last year. That conclusion is based on index moves so far this year.
Analysts probably tempered their forecasts for 2012 after they were badly wrong-footed in their call for 2010 and for 2011's disastrous showing for global stocks.
Still, the cheery tone of the latest poll was striking, especially when next year's economic outlook for many countries is hardly stellar.
Fewer than 10 percent of all end-2013 stock index forecasts projected a loss compared with Wednesday's closing levels.
Indeed, there were no negative end-2013 forecasts at all for stocks in Brazil, South Korea, India, Hong Kong and China.
It was a similar story for many major Western markets. For instance, only one forecaster out of 18 thought Italy's FT/MIB would finish next year lower than it is now.
(Additional reporting from Rahul Karunakar and reporters in London, Paris, New York, Tokyo, Shanghai, Sydney, Hong Kong, Johannesburg, Frankfurt, Milan, Sao Paulo, Toronto, Seoul, Moscow and Mumbai; Polling by Reuters Polls Bangalore; Analysis by Ashrith Doddi and Namrata Anchan; Editing by Ross Finley and Helen Massy-Beresford)