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By Caroline Valetkevitch
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The S&P 500 will gain 7.5% between now and the end of 2022 to finish at 4,910, driven by earnings and economic growth that will extend this year's rally, according to the median prediction in a Reuters poll of strategists.
Those upbeat forecasts come even as growing concerns about the effect of a new coronavirus variant cloud the picture for the near term, with Wall Street https://www.reuters.com/markets/europe/wall-st-ends-lower-taper-acceleration-worries-pile-onto-virus-angst-2021-11-30 falling sharply on Tuesday, partly on concerns about the Omicron variant.
Yet the S&P 500 remains up over 21% in 2021, benefitting from an economy reopening from pandemic lockdowns.
For 2022, the benchmark S&P 500 will gain 7.5% from Tuesday's close of 4,567 to end the year at 4,910, according to the median forecast of 45 strategists polled by Reuters over the last two weeks.
That forecast is higher than the 4,725 in the late August Reuters poll, although many of the latest forecasts for 2022 were given before the Omicron news.
"Next year is going to slow a little bit, but it's still going to be stronger than trend" for the economy, and that's likely to extend the bull market, said Ryan Detrick, chief market strategist at LPL Financial, which has a 5,050 year-end 2022 target on the S&P 500.
Based on the poll, the Dow Jones industrial average will finish next year at 37,500, up about 8.7% from Tuesday's close.
While profit growth for 2022 is expected to be well below the blowout growth seen this year when businesses bounced back from the start of the pandemic, some strategists think consensus views may be underestimating strength.
"Analysts are still going to be behind the eight ball," Brian Belski, chief investment strategist at BMO Capital Markets, said this week in a virtual chat for his year-ahead outlook. He forecasts the S&P 500 will end 2022 at 5,300.
Strategists in the poll mostly saw earnings expectations improving rather than worsening over the next six months.
Higher costs from supply chain disruptions and labor prompted warnings from companies in the recent earnings season, but many companies so far have been able to pass costs on to consumers.
Wall Street analysts expect S&P 500 earnings to grow 7.9% in 2022, compared with an estimated 49.3% growth in 2021, according to I/B/E/S data from Refinitiv.
Many strategists in the poll, however, viewed a correction or pullback in the S&P 500 in the next six months as likely.
Among the latest reasons for concern, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell https://www.reuters.com/markets/us/powell-yellen-head-congress-inflation-variant-risks-rise-2021-11-30 signaled Tuesday the U.S. central bank would consider speeding up its withdrawal of bond purchases as inflation risks increase.
Earlier this month, the Fed began reducing its purchases of Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities at a pace that would put it on track to complete the wind-down by mid-2022. The program was introduced in early 2020 to ease the economy through the pandemic.
Savita Subramanian, equity & quant strategist at BofA Securities, told investors in a year-ahead video presentation this week that focus within the large-cap space should be on companies "with more stable and growing dividends that will benefit, rather than be hurt from, inflation."
"We like energy and financials for inflation-protected dividends," she said. BofA has a 4,600 year-end target on the S&P 500 for 2022.
(Other stories from the Reuters Q4 global stock markets poll package:)
(Reporting by Caroline Valetkevitch; Additional reporting by Noel Randewich, Chuck Mikolajczak, Stephen Culp, Sinead Carew and Alden Bentley; Additional polling by Mumal Rathore, Milounee Purohit and Anant Chandak; Editing by Mark Potter)