William Shakespeare's Macbeth once observed that life is "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." That's also an apt description of 2012, a year in which there was much ado in world markets about what turned out to be not very much at all.

"The worst case of a hard landing in China and a messy breakup of the euro failed to materialize," notes Candace Browning, director of global research at Bank of America Merrill Lynch in New York. In addition, the hotly contested congressional and presidential elections in the U.S. resulted in little change to the status quo. Political gridlock continues in a divided Congress, as evidenced by the stalemate over the so-called fiscal cliff of spending cuts and tax hikes set to take effect at the beginning of January.

Global Research Rankings

All of these issues ratcheted up anxiety, and many investors turned to sell-side researchers for guidance and assistance in understanding each new development. Throughout the year, Institutional Investor asked money managers and other buy-siders to tell us which analysts have provided the most helpful insights in a dozen countries and regions. The results of our 12 research team surveys have been published separately, but when the totals are aggregated, BofA Merrill is II's Top Global Research Firm for a second straight year. The bank wins 236 total team positions, ten more than last year, and maintains a comfortable lead over J.P. Morgan, which returns in the No. 2 spot. J.P. Morgan picks up 12 positions, bringing its total to 214.

Deutsche Bank, with 193 positions, holds steady in third place despite increasing its total by more than any other firm, with a gain of 30. Morgan Stanley, whose team-position total rises by 14, to 155, returns in fourth place.

Citi comes close to matching Deutsche's feat: It adds 28 positions, for a total of 129. That's enough to propel the firm from No. 8 to tie for fifth place with UBS, the highest-ranked firm to experience a decline in its team total. Last year the Swiss bank ranked fifth overall, with 135 spots. The tables on the surrounding pages rank firms by their overall team positions, first-place finishes, and equity and fixed-income annual totals. Deeper data can be found at institutionalinvestor.com. Many of the research directors at these firms expect the new year to look very much like the old year.