By Rahul Karunakar and Sumanta Dey (Reuters) - Global equities are forecast to rise modestly in 2017, held back by concerns about the pace of U.S. Federal Reserve interest rate hikes and the waning effect of widespread monetary stimulus that has helped drive shares to lofty heights, Reuters polls show. While massive stimulus from some of the world's biggest central banks has underpinned a multi-year rally since the financial crisis, taking Wall Street to record highs, doubts over the potency of further monetary easing are growing. Those concerns have already restrained stock markets this year, with almost half of the 20 indexes surveyed now in the red for 2016, an outcome not predicted by any of the Reuters polls conducted earlier this year. Expectations in the latest poll of more than 200 equity analysts and fund managers over the past week were for all but one of those indexes to rise between now and the end of next year, but by less than thought three months ago. [Graphic: http://tmsnrt.rs/29t4c95] Investors aren't convinced that economic reflation is at hand despite rock-bottom interest rates that have left over $10 trillion in sovereign bonds with negative yields. Expectations for company earnings growth are also continuing to weaken. A majority of respondents who answered an extra question also said the top risk to global equity markets was that the Fed hikes rates more than expected. Currently markets are pricing in just one rate hike over the coming year but the Fed sees more. "The key risks to global equities are possible policy missteps or surprises from the Fed," HSBC Asset Management's Global CIO for Equities Bill Maldonado wrote in a note. "The market continues to price in a fairly dovish U.S. rate hike scenario, so the impact of a policy shock from the Fed will be far-reaching." After Fed rate-setters hesitated several times this year on taking a decision to hike, Fed Chair Janet Yellen said last month she expected one rate rise this year, leading most to conclude that will come in December, after the U.S. election. [ECILT/US] The U.S. S&P 500 <.SPX> is expected to end 2016 near current levels, for an annual gain of about 6 percent, followed by a similar rise in 2017 to end near 2,310. [EPOLL/US] Many said the outlook over the next six months was hazy, particularly ahead of the U.S. presidential election next month. DIMINISHING RETURNS The European Central Bank, the Bank of Japan and the Bank of England remain in easing mode. But there is a clear sense now of pessimism over the likely returns from any more stimulus they may implement. Concerns remain too over Britain's divorce proceedings from the European Union, which UK Prime Minister Theresa May said on Sunday would be formally triggered by the end of March. Sterling slid to its lowest against the dollar in more than three decades this week, while the FTSE <.FTSE>, which has been moving in the opposite direction, scaled 7,000 for the first time since mid-2015 on the export boost from the weakness in the currency. [EPOLL/GB] But strategists gave a median end-2016 forecast for the FTSE 100 <.FTSE> of 6,800 points, almost 3 percent down from Monday's 16-month high of 6,983.52. It is expected to go nowhere from there through to the end of 2017. The pan-European STOXX 600 index <.STOXX> is expected to gain more than 5 percent by the end of 2017 from Monday's closing level of 343.23. But the benchmark index is then forecast to stagnate until June. [EPOLL/EU] "European equities will struggle to make much headway in the first half of 2017 as investors struggle with the combined effects of the UK triggering Article 50 and, probably, higher U.S. rates," said Bill McNamara, analyst at Charles Stanley. Japanese stocks, which are down about 13 percent so far this year, are set to mark a calendar year drop for the first time since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took office and launched his aggressive "Abenomics" stimulus which initially had an explosive impact on the stock market. But analysts expect the Nikkei <.N225> to gain over 11 percent from current levels by the end of 2017. [EPOLL/JP] Although emerging market equities have performed unevenly in 2016, stock markets there are expected to slightly outperform developed economies. Having risen 37 percent so far this year, Brazil's benchmark Bovespa <.BVSP> stock index is expected to rise another 1 percent by the end of December and 9 percent by the end of 2017 from Monday's close. [EPOLL/BR] The poll showed 2017 will be a better year for most east Asian indexes too. Chinese stocks are forecast to rise 9 percent across 2017, and South Korea's KOSPI to climb 5 percent. [EPOLL/CN] India's BSE Sensex index <.BSESN>, which is up more than 8 percent so far this year, is forecast to scale new peaks over the coming year. [EPOLL/IN] (Poll data: ) (Other stories from the Reuters global stock markets poll:) (Additional reporting and polling from reporters in Seoul, Shanghai, Sydney, Tokyo, London, Frankfurt, Milan, Moscow, New York, Brasilia, Sao Paulo, Toronto and Bengaluru; Editing by Hugh Lawson)
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