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US stocks to rise again in 2015; oil, Fed moves loom large: Reuters poll

[NEW YORK] US stocks are expected to climb in 2015 as concerns about the prospect of a Federal Reserve interest-rate hike are being offset by hopes for strong consumer spending as oil prices fall, according to a Reuters poll.

The S&P 500 index is expected to rise to 2,103 by mid-year and to end 2015 at 2,200, according to estimates from 48 strategists polled by Reuters in the past week.

That would represent a near 12 per cent rise for 2015 from a Dec 16 close of 1,972.74. Should that happen, it would mark the fourth straight year of gains for the average.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average is expected to reach 18,500 by mid-year and to end 2015 at 18,858, up over 8 per cent and 10 per cent, respectively, from Tuesday's close of 17,068.87.

The Federal Reserve is widely expected to raise US interest rates in the middle of next year to counter inflationary risks as the US economy improves and after several years of extraordinary monetary policy measures to prop up markets and the economy. "The market's ability to withstand higher rates is the big test of 2015," according to Leo Grohowski, chief investment officer at BNY Mellon Wealth Management in New York.

"We think it will be able to deal with it, but we also need to think about a stronger dollar and what that means for positioning. We also have to pay attention to oil prices. We think we'll bottom out soon, but if not the energy sector could struggle," Mr Grohowski said.

Investors worry that a rising dollar could hurt US companies' ability to compete overseas. The dollar has risen around 11 per cent since May at its strongest level since early 2009.

Many strategists cited the healthcare, financial, technology and consumer discretionary sectors as ones that will drive market expansion next year.

With oil prices having fallen more than 40 per cent since June, investors hope consumers will use their savings at the gas pump to spend elsewhere and give a boost to the consumer discretionary and technology sectors.

While consumers are welcoming low oil prices, their good fortune is expected to have the opposite effect on many energy companies, weighing on earnings and leading to slower spending on new projects in some cases.

Investors were upbeat about US economic prospects in 2015, but many expressed concerns about global risks. They worry about economic weakness in Europe and Japan and the political stand-off between Russia and Ukraine as well as violence in the Middle East.

"Just because we're doing better and our consumer is getting stronger, that doesn't mean things are going to get better abroad. I'm concerned about overseas markets, and the big things that could derail us are coming from abroad," said Bruce McCain, chief investment strategist at Key Private Bank in Cleveland, Ohio.