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The 2014 All-America Research Team: Paper & Packaging, No. 1: George Staphos

< The 2014 All-America Research TeamGeorge StaphosBank of America Merrill LynchFirst-Place Appearances: 15

Total Appearances: 24

Analyst Debut: 1993

“George can keep you out of trouble,” declares one buy-side fan of All-America Research Team Hall of Famer George Staphos, who secures first place on this lineup for an 11th consecutive year. The 49-year-old Bank of America Merrill Lynch researcher’s total appearances at No. 1, 15 since 1999, is second only to ISI Group economist Ed Hyman’s 35 among currently top-ranked Hall of Famers. Staphos tracks 25 stocks in his own portfolio and 12 additional names with colleagues. Examples of companies he has advised clients to reconsider over the past year include Rock-Tenn Co. of Norcross, Georgia, and Canada’s Domtar Corp. In September 2013, Staphos downgraded Rock-Tenn from buy to neutral, citing his concerns that increased industry capacity would slow containerboard pricing. By mid-September 2014, while its peers had advanced by 16.6 percent, the packager’s stock was flat, closing at $51.38. Regarding Domtar, at the beginning of this year, Staphos noted that demand for uncoated paper was declining and pulp pricing was soft, so he downgraded the manufacturer from buy to underperform. Through mid-September its New York Stock Exchange–listed shares tumbled 19 percent, to $37.69, against the 3 percent gain posted by U.S. paper and forest products producers. On the other hand, the analyst continues to recommend buying Atlanta’s Graphic Packaging Holding Co., crediting the folding-cartons producer’s earnings momentum. Favored since April 2011, the shares had rocketed 157.5 percent by the middle of September, to $12.95, climbing 49 percent over the 12 months through mid-September alone. “George is thoughtful and conservative, which matches our approach,” says another portfolio manager.

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