In our first Bankrate Market Mavens Survey of leading financial market analysts, we asked: What forces will be the biggest drivers for stocks over the next year?

What they said:

I believe that 2015 will be the beginning of wage growth for American workers. This will be good for consumer stocks.

— Barry Armstrong, president, Armstrong Advisory Group

Stocks will be driven by monetary policy and by exchange-rate dynamics. The stronger dollar is hurting U.S. companies and diminishing the value of their overseas earnings. Foreign companies are making out like bandits. China’s foreign exchange rate is even falling again — they have no shame.

— Robert A. Brusca, chief economist, FAO Economics

The biggest driver for stock prices will remain corporate profits and their ability to continue to beat expectations. Inflation and interest rates remain important drivers as well.

— Chuck Carlson, CEO, Horizon Investment Services

The biggest driving force will be interest rates.

— Marilyn Cohen, president, Envision Capital Management

Over the near term, stock prices will likely be determined by the Fed’s success or failure in extricating itself from the markets. The capital markets have become highly dependent on loose monetary conditions, so a rapid increase in interest rates could have a meaningful impact on asset prices. In other words, the effects of ‘animal spirits’ must outweigh a new trend toward tighter monetary conditions. It will be interesting to see whether the Fed actually follows through on its plans to raise interest rates by the end of the year.

— Michael K. Farr, president and CEO, Farr, Miller & Washington

The timing of the Fed’s much-anticipated rate raise is likely a huge driver for the markets. Europe’s bond-buying program and how it settles the Greek issue is also something that we think markets will react to. Finally, growth in revenues of U.S. companies is going to be closely watched. Given the seeming pressures to raise employee compensation, companies may not be showing year-on-year margin growth. The companies that are growing the top line are the likely winners.

— Kim Forrest, vice president and senior equity analyst, Fort Pitt Capital Group

(Three things:) The Fed trying to raise interest rates, the U.S. presidential election and QE (quantitative easing) from the European Central Bank and Japan.

— Jeffrey A. Hirsch, editor, Stock Trader’s Almanac

There are really two drivers, and neither is particularly promising. The first is profits, which are likely to grow at a mid-single-digits pace at best; and the second is interest rates. With the Fed likely to begin to raise short-term rates by September, interest rates are likely to rise across the board, which effectively puts a lid on multiple expansion. Unless there’s a widespread outbreak of speculation (because of a strong dollar), the equity market is likely to remain volatile and trendless, with a slight upward trajectory.

— Hugh Johnson, chairman and chief investment officer, Hugh Johnson Advisors

The biggest story for equities will be Fed tightening. During each step of the tightening process, the equity markets will be hit by bouts of volatility. Returns likely will be mid-single-digits, representing earnings plus dividends — with little change in price/earnings ratios. But investors may not notice the gains due to the rough ride.

— David Lafferty, chief market strategist, Natixis Global Asset Management

The ‘safest’ parts of the market, like utilities and consumer staples, are the most expensive parts of the market and are also interest rate-sensitive. They are the most vulnerable. Financials and other cyclical sectors are considered riskier, but are also cheapest. They should benefit from the expansion and should outperform.

— Charles Lieberman, managing partner and chief investment officer, Advisors Capital Management

U.S earnings growth will continue at a reasonable pace. A Fed rate hike will put pressure on fixed income markets, making dividend-oriented stocks more favorable. A rising U.S. dollar may hurt multinationals, making small- and mid-cap stocks more attractive.

— Tom Lydon, editor, ETF Trends

Since consumers represent 70 percent of our economy, and (since) they have jobs and the prospect for increased wages and more money in their pockets due to lower gas prices, I see consumer-driven companies doing very well over the next few months.

— Ken Moraif, senior adviser, Money Matters

The biggest drivers for stocks over the next year will be the path and pace of both interest rates and earnings revisions, which will be affected by residual influences that include but are not limited to: oil prices, currency moves, wage growth, consumer spending and business investment.

— Patrick J. O’Hare, chief market analyst,

Activism and corporate change, whether forced or by need, will undoubtedly be the main driver for stocks in the next year.

— Jim Osman, founder and CEO, The Edge Consulting Group

Central banks continue to be a driving catalyst for investments around the world. However, as the cycle matures and policy becomes more divergent, corporate earnings will become increasingly important and impactful.

— Oliver Pursche, CEO, Bruderman Brothers

Energy prices and American consumer sentiment will be key for the stock market — including both U.S. stocks and international equities. The sad reality is that there aren’t many other catalysts for global growth as China slows and the economies of Europe and Japan remain anemic. Investors everywhere need the U.S. recovery to stay firm, for hiring and wages to continue their improvements, for housing to keep marching higher and for America to continue to show its strength.

— Jeff Reeves, editor,

I think investors’ expectations for the magnitude and speed of U.S. interest rate increases will play a major role in equity price performance over the coming year.

— Sam Stovall, managing director of U.S. equity strategy, S&P Capital IQ

I think that increasing consumer confidence and GDP (gross domestic product) growth will drive U.S. stock prices higher over the next year. The strength of the U.S. dollar should also help stock prices.

— Don A. Taylor, Bankrate’s Dr. Don, assistant professor of finance, New Jersey City University

U.S. stocks face strong headwinds: a strong dollar (which undermines the competitiveness of U.S. companies abroad); sluggish earnings growth; and declining profit margins. On the other hand, flows of capital from China, Japan and Europe into the U.S. should be positive, supporting (stock) prices.

— Francisco Torralba, economist, Morningstar investment management division

Earnings growth outside of the energy sector should be the biggest driver. We expect little, if any, price/earnings multiple expansion, given that valuations are already on the high side.

— Burt White, chief investment officer, LPL Financial

Lower unemployment should drive continued economic growth. Low interest rates will allow companies to continue with shareholder-friendly activities (stock buybacks, dividend increases, etc.).

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