Barclays, which did not appear on this lineup in 2015, earns a share of second place this year, tying with Bank of America Merrill Lynch. The former leaders of its U.K. squad have moved on — Timothy Whittaker retired, and Kenneth Lee became head of Barclays’s European equity research while continuing to lead its Accounting & Valuation reporting (for which the firm claims third place this year). Now newcomer Richard Paige, 41, manages the 50-strong crew, including a cadre of four dedicated to following domestic small-cap and midcap players. Working out of London, the analysts monitor more than 250 companies, with comprehensive coverage of the FTSE 100. One long-term client who hails their ability to provide access to corporate executives especially values their research explaining “how companies and industries work, which is a more sustainable way of finding stocks that can outperform markets in the future.” One stand-out that Paige and his associates have long been touting is Ashtead Group, a London-based industrial equipment rental company with operations in the U.K. and the U.S. They anticipate that the company’s earnings will get a bounce from the “cyclical recovery in U.S. nonresidential construction” that began in mid-2014, he says, and be bolstered by “strong drivers for rental over ownership” — a trend that should continue “for a number of years.” Moreover, the group contends that market participants are overreacting to the potential impact that concerns over slumping oil and gas industries and overcapacity could have on Ashtead. During the 12 months through mid-January, the shares declined by 5.3 percent, to 960p, but that was still better than the performance posted by both the domestic market and Europe’s industrial machinery companies overall, each of which fell 11.5 percent. The analysts assign Ashtead a target price of 1,413p. Paige and his U.K. mid- and small-caps crew moved to Barclays in June 2011 from J.P. Morgan Cazenove. He worked as an equity researcher at that firm for more than 13 years, having launched his sell-side career at Cazenove, after obtaining a bachelor’s degree in geography from the University of Oxford in England.