JPMorgan Funds expects S&P 500 earnings to improve this year, but global market strategist Gabriela Santos said Wednesday they won't rise as much as projections imply.
The S&P is mired in a three-quarter revenue recession, and earnings were negative for the third quarter and are expected to come in negative for last quarter. S&P Capital IQ sees earnings for the fourth quarter falling 5.7 percent from the year ago period.
Where U.S. stocks end 2016 will largely depend on whether or not earnings growth comes through, said Santos. The S&P broke a three-year winning streak in 2015, ending down 0.7 percent.
"Predictions right now we think are a bit lofty," she told CNBC's "Squawk Box," S&P projected earnings of $126 per share for 2016 imply earnings growth of 18 percent, according to Santos.
"We would say it's more reasonable to expect a growth of much closer to 10 percent," putting total S&P EPS at $120 per share would make more sense, she added.
At that point the S&P multiple can expand to about 17 times earnings, which Santos called, "really not a very lofty expansion."