Holding steady in second place is Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities Co.’s Hiroshi Koba, whose “insight is based on keen observation, attention to minute details and close tracking of business shifts,” one fund manager observes. Another client hails the 49-year-old researcher for his expertise on specialty retailers, noting that he was early in alerting investors to “changes in corporate governance and management style” at Tokyo-based Chiyoda Co., which operates casual clothing, shoe and toy stores. Koba, 49, reports on 11 domestic names. In January 2015 he began touting Hiroshima-headquartered men’s apparel retailer Aoyama Trading Co., based in part on the company’s firm sales in the suits business. Management’s persistence in pursuing new and diversified sources of revenue and earnings is also noteworthy, the analyst believes, so he has repeatedly reiterated his positive stance. By the middle of last month, Aoyama shares had soared 61.1 percent, to ¥4,310, leading Japan’s retailers overall by 67.9 percentage points. Considering the sector as a whole, “around the end of the year, I expect to start seeing demand brought forward ahead of the upcoming consumption tax hike to 10 percent scheduled for April 2017,” says Koba. “The extent of such demand and its likely drop-off the following year are also factors to watch. I think profit growth will be dull in [this] fiscal year compared to [the last], so I am focusing on value stocks.” Shimachu Co., a furniture and home center chains owner based in Saitama, is his favorite name on this theme.