Philadelphia High School Students Are Winning Portfolio Managers

IMHOTEP students and their teacher, Ife Parker, are flanked by Aberdeen U.S. CEO Gary Marshall and marketing associate Julien Franklin.

A group of aspiring financial wizards got to experience the inner workings of an asset management firm on June 1, when 15 high school students and their teachers arrived at the offices of Aberdeen Asset Management in downtown Philadelphia. The students, representing IMHOTEP Charter School, MAST Community Charter and Furness High School – all located in Philadelphia – were among the top-performing teams in the Knowledge@Wharton High School Philadelphia Investment Competition, sponsored by Aberdeen.

The Investment Competition, a free, online investment simulation for students and teachers, challenged student teams from five high schools to manage a portfolio of $100,000 in virtual cash over a 10-week period. Students were rewarded for their return on investments – how well their portfolios performed — and for their investment strategies. “We didn’t want to focus the entire competition on how much money you had coming in,” noted Julien Franklin, an Aberdeen marketing associate who helped instruct teachers and students throughout the competition. “We wanted you to demonstrate your thought process. We know that in 10 weeks time, your investment strategies don’t always pan out. We [want to know] you have been thinking things out in a clear, thoughtful manner.”

The three teams presented their strategies to a panel of Aberdeen experts during the June 1 visit. MAST Community Charter talked up its diverse portfolio, including stocks like Amazon, Apple, Best Buy and JC Penney. It also detailed its short selling strategy, which enabled the team to profit from the falling price of a stock by borrowing a security from a broker and selling it, with the understanding that it must later be bought back and returned to the broker. The IMHOTEP team, which used a more traditional “buy low, sell high” strategy, focused its presentation on the strengths and weaknesses of one of its key investments, Exxon Mobil, because of America’s dependence on oil. Furness High’s investors researched stock ratings, choosing those companies with a rating of seven or above to include in their portfolio.

In the end, the IMHOTEP students scored the winning strategy, taking home $50 Barnes & Noble gift cards and $5,000 for their school. The team’s thorough stock examination — for instance, evaluating Exxon Mobil’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats through a SWOT analysis and using Porter’s Five Forces to look at the health of entire industries — contributed to their victory.

“It was a learning experience,” said Leonard Brown, an IMHOTEP sophomore who led his team’s presentation. “I didn’t know what the stock market was. I’m not going to say I fully understand it now, but I can speak about it. I wouldn’t look at it as a career choice, but maybe I will invest in stock in my private life to have that income.” Added teammate Ajee Miller, also a sophomore: “ At first I didn’t want to do this, but I like money. I liked the competition and how we held on. Even though we started losing money, we didn’t give up. I learned a lot.”

It was also a learning experience for IMHOTEP educator Ife C. Parker, an American history teacher who decided to take on the competition despite knowing little about the stock market. “Students learn more working on projects than just regular lessons; their learning is determined by them,” noted Parker. “I wouldn’t have been able to give them any direction without the [Knowledge@Wharton High School] lesson plans, articles and videos. It was intimidating for me and for the students at first, but we made the commitment that we could do this. I was learning with them.”

For more information about the Investment Competition and to download a guidebook that details how it works, go to http://kwhs.wharton.upenn.edu/competitions/philly-invest/.

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