Sectors: Beverages, Food & Tobacco

Naomi Takagi rises one rung to finish on top for the first time.

Naomi Takagi J.P. Morgan

second team Ritsuko Tsunoda BofA Merrill Lynch

third team Hiroshi Saji Mizuho

Naomi Takagi rises one rung to finish on top for the first time. Backers hail the J.P. Morgan analyst for her “deep industry insights,” “strong access to management and board members” and “reliable reporting.” Takagi urged investors to buy Asahi Breweries in April, at ¥1,238, believing its sales in China would grow and that valuation was low. She was correct. By late February the stock had bubbled up to ¥1,704, a gain of 37.6 percent that outperformed the sector by 17.9 points. Takagi, 42, earned a master’s degree at the University of Alabama in 1996 and was an analyst at HSBC Securities before joining J.P. Morgan in 2005.

Clients say a “hands-on approach” and “resistance to complacency and company lines so common to Japanese sell-side research” help Ritsuko Tsunoda of BofA Merrill Lynch Global Research leap from runner-up to second place. Tsunoda pushed investors to buy probiotics giant Yakult Honsha Co. in June, at ¥1,773, believing its China growth story had just begun. The stock soared 52.4 percent, to ¥2,702, through February.

Hiroshi Saji jumps from runner-up to No. 3. The Mizuho Securities Group analyst, whose earning estimates are “precise and accurate,” according to one supporter, upgraded Kikkoman Corp. to buy last April, at ¥877, based on its growth potential after the sale of its Coca-Cola Bottling Co. business. In mid-September, after the stock had surged 28.8 percent, at ¥1,130, and Saji downgraded it to neutral, on valuation. By the end of February, the shares had slid 6.6 percent, to ¥1,055.