After having slipped last year from No. 3 to runner-up, Wolfe Research’s Scott Mushkin rebounds all the way to second place, recording his best performance to date. The 46-year-old “far and away does the best work in the sector,” declares one portfolio manager. “He is in the stores; he does differentiated and thoughtful work; and he is a moneymaker.” Among the analyst’s long-standing sector favorites is Cincinnati-based grocery and drugstore chain operator Kroger Co. In May, amid a sell-off that had left the retailer’s stock lagging its peers by 6.2 percentage points, down 11.7 percent (on a split-adjusted basis) from the 52-week high point it reached in March, he advised clients to “take another helping” of the shares. Kroger’s No. 1 competitive advantage is its data analytics, he explains. The stores gather purchasing statistics through frequent-shopper cards and use the information to determine what to discount. “Their data is maybe the best in all of retail,” insists Mushkin. “It has led to higher return on invested capital — they’re taking share at a massive rate.” The stock has, indeed, turned positive, climbing 8.3 percent through mid-September, to close at $36.73 and beat the sector by 13.6 percentage points.