Unranked last year, Bank of America Merrill Lynch returns to this roster with its best showing since 2001, capturing first place. In May 2014 the former head of its European telecommunications squad, Emmet Kelly, jumped to Morgan Stanley (this year’s No. 2 firm), and the team is now overseen by newcomers David Wright and Frederic Boulan. Wright, 40, joined BofA Merrill two months after Kelly’s departure. He previously led comparable coverage for Deutsche Bank and tracked the sector at J.P. Morgan Cazenove, among other firms, and holds a bachelor of science degree in computing from England’s University of Durham. Co-captain Boulan, 36, earned a master’s degree in economics at ESCP Europe. He led Nomura International’s Continental telecoms research before signing on with BofA Merrill in September 2014 and held a similar position at Morgan Stanley. Their six-strong troupe in London reports on 24 names in this space. In a September thematic piece, the analysts reviewed companies’ relative strength in relation to their dependence on different markets and recommended that investors prefer Orange of France over Spain’s Telefónica. Orange, rated buy, was better placed to deliver on estimates, with the majority of its earnings deriving from more stable markets, they noted. On the other hand, even with its 50 percent exposure to deteriorating emerging markets, Telefónica — tagged with an underperform rating — still traded at a relative premium, the crew pointed out. Sure enough, the shares have subsequently moved in opposite directions. By mid-January, Telefónica’s stock had tumbled 23.5 percent, to €9.10, and Orange’s had jumped 14 percent, to €15.37. During the same period, European telecoms overall fell 3.3 percent. In general, BofA Merrill’s researchers forecast that the regional industry will meet market expectations this year, as its growth recovery is reflected in return on capital employed, and that sector valuations will rise.