A financial analyst is a specialist responsible for the assessment of the viability, stability and profitability of a business, sub-business or project to recommending either purchasing, selling or holding various stocks. Simply put, financical analysts are hired by shareholders to study and assess the value and financial performance of companies. In the United States, financial analysts are sometimes referred to as "Wall Street analysts," just as financial services firms in the U.S. are sometimes referred to as "Wall Street firms."
An analyst will write reports on the companies they are supposed to cover, trying to describe the businesses and their opinion of the company's investment potential, usually from a fundamental analysis standpoint. They also summarize that report with a rating, such as "buy", "sell", "market perform", "overweight", "hold", etc.
The analysts get their information by studying public records of the company and by participating in public conference calls where they can ask direct questions to the management. Previously, analysts were said to obtain lots of information (especially from clients of their investment bank), via exclusive meetings with upper management. Regulation FD (Fair Disclosure), is said to prevent most of this from happening at present.
It is often required for analysts to earn a Master of Business Administration (MBA) or a professional qualification such as Chartered Financial Analyst designation (CFA) in the U.S., or Certified International Investment Analyst designation (CIIA) in Europe and Asia, to advance beyond a certain level within a firm. Alternatively, analysts may earn a Master of Science in Finance (MSF).