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The Flight of the Sell-Side Analyst

Sell-side analysts are fleeing smaller issuers, leaving executives at those abandoned companies to fend for themselves in dealing with large investors. Indeed, analysts who work for the sell-side research units of large brokers and investment banks are heading en masse for the economic shelter of large-cap companies.

The effects of the analyst migration extend beyond the orphans to those companies that are hanging on by a thread. Reuters reports that 380 are down to a pair of analysts tracking their stock, while 473 companies have just one. At such companies, executives will surely be under increasing pressure to keep from losing their existing coverage or to replace lost analysts in some way.

That's because decreasing coverage means a dwindling exposure to investors — a situation that makes raising capital difficult. "If you don't have analyst coverage, investors don't really know about you," warns Ashwani Kaul, a senior market analyst at Reuters Research. At the same time, Kaul reckons, the analyst rush to big-caps creates "a void for investors who are interested in small- and mid-cap companies."

Investment banks and brokerage houses derive operating profits from investment-banking fees and share-trading commissions, not analyst reports. In the end, sell-side research tends to be a loss leader, bundled for clients along with lucrative services.

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