The 2015 All-Europe Research Team: United Kingdom, No. 1: Michael Helsby, Alastair Ryan & team
The duo, who guide their European Banks squad to a second straight No. 1 finish, help deliver BofA Merrill’s first top ranking on this list, shepherding their 50-person crew up from second place.
Michael Helsby, Alastair Ryan & team
Bank of America
First-Place Appearances: 1
Total Appearances: 8
Team Debut: 1993
Newcomers Michael Helsby and Alastair Ryan assumed leadership of Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s U.K. equities coverage last year after former captain John Bilton moved to J.P. Morgan Asset Management to serve as the head of that firm’s global strategy team. The duo, who guide their European Banks squad to a second straight No. 1 finish, help deliver BofA Merrill’s first top ranking on this list, shepherding their 50-person crew up from second place. The analysts report on more than 200 U.K. stocks, and their London headquarters “is a port-of-call when I’m across the pond,” remarks one U.S.-based asset manager. “They’re experts on the U.K. banks — they have deep knowledge on Lloyds [Banking Group] and Barclays in particular — and they’re always quick to react whenever there’s news.” Barclays is among the BofA Merrill crew’s top picks for 2015. The London-based financial services giant has been reducing capital at both its investment bank and broader operations, making it “less systemically important,” notes Ryan, 43. As such, the firm should be able to operate with fewer funds on reserve, thereby building capital ratios and raising the potential for higher returns on equity. This happy confluence should mean a higher stock price while enabling Barclays to “step up strongly” with higher dividend payments, he advises. At the end of January, the shares were trading at 234.15p, and the analysts project a rise to 325p. They also are bullish on Bristol’s Imperial Tobacco Group, which is primed to pay $7.1 billion for a passel of venerable American cigarette brands — including Kool, Salem and Winston — as cast-offs in the merger between U.S. competitors Reynolds American and Lorillard Tobacco Co. Shareholders of the two U.S. companies approved the deal in January, and if regulators allow it to be completed, it should result in “material upside,” Ryan says. “We estimate 17 percent accretion from year one driven by tax synergies, cost savings and low cost of finance. Long term we are optimistic on Imperial’s ability to turn around performance in the acquired brands.” They peg the stock at 3,340p, which represents an implied upside of 6.9 percent to its late January trading value. Helsby, 42, hired on with BofA Merrill in 2009 to cover U.K. banks. He had followed the sector at Morgan Stanley, Fox-Pitt, Kelton and ING Charterhouse for several years and previously worked as a chartered accountant at PricewaterhouseCoopers and (now-defunct) Arthur Andersen. Before earning a bachelor’s degree in business studies from England’s Liverpool John Moores University, he spent five years at Ford Motor Co. as an electrical control engineer. Ryan joined BofA Merrill in 2013 after 15 years at UBS, where he first covered stocks in Poland before decamping to London to follow U.K. and European banks. He holds a master’s degree in economics and politics from the University of London’s School of Slavonic and Eastern European Studies.