Wells Fargo issues first outlook for 2018 from Wall Street and it's not bullish

  • The Wells Fargo Investment Institute issues its 2018 year-end target range for the S&P 500.
  • The global investment team predicts the stock index will end next year between 2,450 and 2,550, a slight decline or gain from Wednesday's record close of 2,508.24.
  • The median of the Wells Fargo Investment Institute's target range for the S&P 500 in 2016 came closest to predicting the index's gains last year, according to CNBC's Market Strategist Survey.

The Wells Fargo Investment Institute doesn't expect the S&P 500 to rise more than 2 percent over the next 15 months, according to the firm's 2018 year-end outlook released Thursday.

While some Wall Street strategists have included 2018 S&P targets in their equities notes, the Wells Fargo note marks the first major outlook report for next year.

Wells Fargo gave a range of 2,450 to 2,550 for the S&P next year, a decline of 2.3 percent or a rise of nearly 1.7 percent from Wednesday's record close of 2,508.24. The S&P 500 also hit an intraday high Wednesday of 2,508.85.

"The synchronized global recovery that took hold in 2017 should gain in 2018, though restrained by ongoing global headwinds from high debt, slow labor recoveries overseas and political uncertainties around the world," Wells Fargo's global investment strategy team wrote in a Monday note that was distributed to the media Thursday.

"We also anticipate that earnings gains will fuel moderately higher U.S. and international equity markets," the report said. The strategists added that since the U.S. economy is likely in the "final third" of expansion, investors must be particularly aware of risks.

In late August, the Wells Fargo Investment Institute raised its 2017 year-end target range by 70 points to 2,300 to 2,400. At the time, the increase still forecast, at best, a roughly 1 percent decline for the S&P.

Among 15 strategists surveyed by CNBC last year, Wells Fargo Investment Institute's Scott Wren came the closest to predicting where the S&P would end the year, albeit at a range. The middle of his target range was 2,240, and the S&P ended 2016 at 2,238.83.

— CNBC's Tom Franck contributed to this report.

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect the S&P 500 hit an intraday high Wednesday.