Financial Institutions – Insurance: First
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Financial Institutions – Insurance: First



Brian Shea,

Blair Stewart

& team

Bank of America

Merrill Lynch

"They have keen insights into companies and industry catalysts."

Brian Shea and Blair Stewart guide the Bank of America Merrill Lynch quartet to a third straight appearance in the winner's circle. Shea, 47, is based in London; Stewart, 40, divides his time between that city and Edinburgh. The analysts report on 34 companies, two more than last year, and are "very adept at pointing out what is moving stocks," according to one U.S.-based investment adviser. The team upgraded U.K.-based auto insurer Admiral Group from underperform all the way to buy in early November, at 1,054p, primarily on valuation. "The stock has actually moved from being a formerly interesting growth stock to a now-interesting yield stock," Shea says. The shares had zipped to 1,160p by the end of December, for a gain of 10.1 percent that beat the sector by 2.5 percentage points. The researchers are less enthusiastic about the sector as a whole, however. "The operating outlook is satisfactory, but challenges remain, such as low interest rates, and this means that earnings upgrades are not in the cards," says Shea. Stocks are cheap in absolute terms, although "any further rerating will require things like better disclosure, a more certain regulatory environment and higher interest rates, which is not what our economists forecast," he adds. — Leslie Kramer

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