SMBC Nikko Securities’ Ryota Sakagami debuted on this roster in 2013 as a runner-up, jumped to No. 2 last year and now climbs to the top. The 37-year-old holds two economics degrees, a bachelor’s from Kyoto University and a master’s he earned at the University of Tokyo. He worked for eight years as an economist and strategist at Nomura Research Institute then Nomura Securities Co. before assuming his current responsibilities as chief equity strategist at SMBC Nikko in April 2011. Investors appreciate Sakagami’s attention to detail and broad scope, both. “His opinions are based on intensive analysis of economic and market data,” reports one client, “and he has a wide range of knowledge in several key areas.” Japanese shares have performed well of late, and Sakagami forecasts that they will “continue climbing in 2015, in spite of impact from instability overseas.” While the S&P 500 rose 12.6 percent during the 12 months through late March, the Tokyo Stock Price Index soared 37.9 percent, to 1,580.51, and the Nikkei 225 Stock Average jumped 37.5 percent, to 19,560.22 — and he predicts that the domestic benchmarks will top out at 1,700 and 21,000, respectively, this year. Informing the researcher’s optimism are his belief that Japan’s economic environment will improve, boosting wages and the prospects for an escape from deflation. He also foresees implementation of corporate changes that will place a greater emphasis on return on equity, as well as more generous shareholder returns, and projects that the nation’s listed companies will deliver the highest profit growth rate among major countries and regions. Given this outlook, retail and services industries are among the groups he favors, since business-to-consumer businesses should benefit from rising wages. He also prefers information technology services companies, which he thinks will perform well as domestic investment enhances efficiency, and late-cyclical sectors that are “lagging heavily,” such as basic materials, heavy machinery and shipbuilding.