In the post-pandemic era, market volatility has been the driving force behind sell-side research – enhancing the efforts of providers and making it, arguably, all the more critical.
With inflationary and geopolitical pressures on the forefront, U.K. brokers say investors are paying sharp attention to the markets, prompting a greater need for expert insights to help them navigate uncertainties.
“We’ve never had a more turbulent period than the last three years,” said Charles Hall, head of research at Peel Hunt, in a video interview. “In very turbulent times, the analysts that have real insight into companies — the dynamics, how they’re operating, what the executives are going to do — can add a huge amount of value.”
London-based Peel Hunt, which specializes in U.K. equity research, once again sits atop the list in Institutional Investor’s U.K. Small & Mid-cap Research Team. Investec came in second, while Numis Securities took third.
The list is part of an annual survey that ranks the top firms focused on small- and mid-cap stocks listed in the U.K. The survey includes three categories: research, sales, and corporate access. This year’s survey was conducted in April and May with polling closing on May 6; it included the votes of 398 portfolio managers and analysts across 281 firms.
For the U.K. Small & Mid-cap Sales Team, Investec topped the list, followed by Peel Hunt in second place and Numis Securities in third. On the corporate access front, Peel Hunt was No. 1, followed by Investec, then Numis Securities.
Major global events of the past three years — the pandemic, inflation, geopolitical conflicts — have made for a fast-moving environment, prompting investors to rely more heavily on research purveyors as they could no longer depend primarily on published financial reports and statements.
“What a company said two months ago may be totally different to what they say today,” Hall says. “There can be major events going on structurally in their supply chains, in their cost base, in their labor availability, in their geographic exposure. So with all these changes, it’s a much more dynamic environment than it was a few years ago.”
With inflation in the U.K. and other parts of Europe hitting record rates, Investec, which is dual-listed in London and Johannesburg, is seeing “a lot of alpha within sectors,” particularly with the resurgence of active funds — marking a shift away from passive strategies, which required less research.
“I think this is almost certainly linked to volatility and the uncertainty surrounding the markets,” said Clive Murray, head of equities at Investec. “It’s in our favor because that’s what we do. The primary markets are challenging but on the secondary side, I would suggest it’s very encouraging.”
Client demand for bespoke research and high touch trading is also rising, according to Murray, who says the “best execution” requirement of MiFID II has reignited the value of trade dramatically, making it a significant growth area for the firm.
Corporate access has also thrived as live conferences resumed and were further strengthened by the flexibility of the hybrid model, particularly for management teams looking to grow their international client base.
“The big shift is the fact that we have a hybrid model that works,” said Murray. “Corporate access has become much easier.”
Virtual one-on-one access to senior executives has been one of the main benefits stemming from the hybrid paradigm. “A lot of our managers want to meet the chief executive. They want to meet the finance director,” said Hall. “And that is particularly the case in the smaller mid-cap arena, rather than just the large cap.”
To be sure, challenges remain in the overall industry with distribution seen as the main barrier in sales, particularly in Europe, where institutions tend to very selective, making it difficult to ink research agreements without preexisting relationships.
Looking forward, both Hall and Murray highlighted ESG as a major theme to which their commitment and resources will be increasingly dedicated.