Stock investors may be looking at weak returns over the next decade, according to Stifel market strategist Barry Bannister. That's because the secular bear market that started in the 2020s is likely to persist. "Near-term trades aside, in recent years we have forecast that the S & P 500 is likely to be broadly range-bound in the decade 2021 to 2031E," Bannister wrote in a January 9 note. He sees the price to earnings ratio of the S & P 500 cut in half over the decade as earnings per share double, leaving the index little changed overall. Stifel forecasts that in 2031, the S & P 500 will be about flat with its Dec. 30, 2021 peak level. That's a sharp contrast from the more than 16% annual return seen in the previous decade's bull market. "Any near-term rally view, including ours, is just a trade because the gross overvaluation of 2021 likely locked in a weak 2020s decade," said Bannister. Stifel's forecast is that the S & P 500 will reach 4,300 in the first half of 2023, but the investment bank sees the index falling if crude oil rises sharply. One other data point supports modest to no returns in the S & P 500 over the next decade. The S & P 500 relative to commodities fell below its 122-year trend, which usually signals flat returns in the next ten years. Of course, this process of price to earnings ratios halving could take less than a decade, but that's only likely if the Federal Reserve bludgeons markets, as was done between 1929 and1932. But, given the central bank's commitment to a soft landing, it is unlikely that they'd ramp up their rate hike path. In the decade, there will still be some opportunities for investors. Bannister recommends active portfolio management and investing in value versus growth opportunities. Emerging markets are likely to benefit as the U.S. dollar weakens, and defensive stocks will make more sense than cyclicals in slowdowns while cyclicals will lead amid recovery optimism. In addition, hedge funds will likely do well. Investors may also want to consider cash, alternative assets such as real estate and covered call option writing, Bannister said.