By Sumanta Dey
BENGALURU (Reuters) - East Asian stocks will likely have a bumpy ride through the rest of this year, with China and South Korea's markets managing single-digit gains from where they are now, restrained by concerns over economic growth, a Reuters poll found.
But the survey of strategists, analysts and fund managers taken June 27-July 11 concluded that 2017 looks a bit brighter as investors turn to emerging markets for better returns.
Global equities started the year with a scare, with one factor being the depreciation of China's currency, which exacerbated concerns about the pace at which its economy was slowing. Emerging markets have performed unevenly since, despite Wall Street rallying its way back to a record high.
Uncertainty over the pace of policy tightening in the U.S. coupled with Britain's June 23 shock vote to leave the European Union kept investors jittery and whipsawed major stock markets in recent weeks.
Concerns about Britain's exit from the EU have receded somewhat, but equity strategists - who are generally more optimistic than others - have tempered their views after their most recent calls didn't pan out.
The Shanghai Composite Index <.SSEC>, down nearly 15 percent this year, is forecast to claw back some of those losses and end the year at 3,050 points, or 1.8 percent above Monday's close of 2,994.92.
In an April poll, analysts had expected it to rise to 3,300 by end-December. Late last year, the consensus was 3,900.
STILL BOTTOMING OUT
"China's economy is still bottoming out and the new sectors that have gained importance, after Beijing tried to change track, won't contribute much or rally just yet," said Andy Wong, investment strategist at Harris Fraser Group in Hong Kong.
The world's second largest economy has steadily slowed in recent years as Beijing tried to reposition and derive growth from consumption rather than exports. Second quarter GDP growth data on Friday is expected at 6.6 percent on the year, according to a Reuters poll - the weakest in seven years.
Overcapacity in many industries, an overvalued housing market, weak consumer price inflation and global trade flows have cast a shadow over China's economy, raising the likelihood Beijing and the People's Bank of China will provide more stimulus.
"We expect one, maybe two more instances of policy easing from the People's Bank of China and that will support stocks in the short-term," Wong added.
Half of the 14 analysts who had an end-2016 forecast predicted the Shanghai composite index would close the year at or below its current level.
The specter of a sluggish Chinese economy is casting a shadow over much of Asia.
South Korea's KOSPI index <.KS11> will rise to 2,000 points by end-2016, according to the poll, up slightly from Monday's close of 1,988.54.
Taiwan's Taiex index <.TWII>, which closed Monday at 8,786.47, is forecast to lose 2 percent from here, after rising some 5 percent so far in 2016, to finish the year at 8,600.
BRIGHT SPOTS TOO
But the poll showed some bright spots as well.
India's benchmark BSE Sensex index <.BSESN> will rise a further 5 percent by the end of this year, driven by a stable growth outlook and on expectations the government will pass more economic reforms. [EPOLL/IN]
By end-June 2017, the index was seen likely to reach a record high of 30,700.
Next year promises to be a better year for stocks in China and South Korea as well, as investors turn to emerging markets on dwindling returns from developed economies.
"There are likely to be more periodic sell-offs in risky assets in the months ahead, but we do not expect these to prevent EM (emerging market) stocks from performing reasonably well," wrote David Rees at consultancy Capital Economics.
"If anything, the vote for 'Brexit' appears likely to ensure that global monetary conditions remain looser for longer," he said. "This, along with relatively low valuations, will support EM equities in the next eighteen months."
China's benchmark index will likely rise about 7 percent to 3,200 points by end-December 2017, while South Korea's Kospi index is expected to climb to 2,100 in the same timeframe, up about 6 percent.
At the same time, expectations for an interest rate rise in the U.S. have faded. Even a surprisingly strong jobs report in June failed to cement views of a Federal Reserve rate rise, triggering a rally in stocks and U.S. Treasuries.
Wall Street's top banks appear divided on whether this year will even bring a long-awaited follow-up to the Fed's rate rise in December, its first in nearly a decade. [FED/R]
(Polling by bureaus in Bengaluru, Seoul, Shanghai and Taipei; Editing by Richard Borsuk)