Although Hiroshi Koba of Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities Co. slips to second place after two years at No. 1, he retains an avid following. “Koba is recognized by most investors in Japan as having an encyclopedic knowledge of the retail sector,” one client insists. “He has particularly insightful comments on the company managements but also has a great feel for how profits are trending.” Currently, the 48-year-old analyst reports on 12 Japanese retailers, and he is optimistic on the prospects for his sector. The group soared 46.3 percent during the 12 months through late March, against the domestic broad market’s gain of 34.1 percent. Its companies will continue to benefit from several market conditions, he contends, including expected gains in employment income and the easing of the impact of last April’s sales tax increase. Regarding specific stocks, Koba expects Hiroshima-based menswear chain operator Aoyama Trading Co. to deliver the strongest performance in the sector. “I focus on their shareholder distributions policy and look for pickup in demand for its mainstay suits business,” explains the researcher, who projects that companywide profits will hit bottom in the fiscal year that ended last month and subsequently gather strength.