Although Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s squad slips to second place, the researchers continue to win praise for their “good coverage [and] helpful analyses,” in the words of one fund manager. Newcomer Fabio de Melo Lopes assumed leadership of the London-based team of two in March, when former captain Kartikeyan Swaminathan shifted to coverage of the household and personal care products and food sectors. Lopes and his colleague reinstated reporting on Smurfit Kappa Group in July with a buy rating, largely crediting the Irish containerboard manufacturer’s strong free cash flow. By the end of January, the stock had bolted 34.5 percent, to €21.86, while Europe’s broad market inched up 2.1 percent. Another name the BofA Merrill researchers prefer is UPM-Kymmene Corp., a Finnish newsprint maker, thanks to likely pricing improvements from capacity reductions. Lopes, 35, joined BofA Merrill in 2010 armed with an MBA from the IESE Business School of the University of Navarra in Madrid.