The opening bell rang as the iconic “For the Love of Money” by The O’Jays played and 350 high school students all at once began yelling while gesturing and scrawling down notes from reports.
The bell inside the Mac Arthur Ballroom at the Arizona Biltmore turned the teens from students into day traders.
More than 70 teams of five students from 16 high schools across the Valley — including 10 from the East Valley — competed Thursday in the seventh annual Junior Achievement of Arizona’s Stock Market Challenge.
Each team started with $500,000 and had to grow their portfolio as much as they could while maneuvering the simulation’s volatile market that utilized many recent real-world events.
“The atmosphere was amazing; people were pumped up,” said Highland senior Karen Zieba. “There was a lot of excitement. We were scared because we didn’t know what stocks were going to drop all of a sudden. But it was exciting.”
Basha senior Lucas Westmoreland described the scene more dramatically.
“To be honest, I felt more like it was brain surgery going on in there,” he said. “It was to the point where our decisions were like life-or-death situations. It didn’t feel like we were buying stocks, it was like we were carrying someone’s life in our hands.”
The teams had 30 fictional companies in which to invest (or not) and each minute represented a day in the market.
Latino Fever from Gateway Early College High School won the event by nearly doubling its money. The team brought in a 92.9 percent profit in the simulation’s two-month period.
Gateway’s victory ended a five-year run in which a Desert Vista team claimed the title.
“It’s very critical that kids gain important financial literacy skills, just like investing in their education now will affect their quality of life in the future,” said Joyce Richards, Junior Achievement of Arizona president. “Through the stock market challenge, we can help the kids understand how saving and investing now will improve the quality of life for them and their families down the road.
“The overall objective, just like with us adults, is to have the greatest net assets at the end of the day. It’s a very eye-opening experience. For many of the kids, their parents never invested in the stock market or perhaps didn’t do a good job of saving themselves, so the kids think they can never invest in the stock market: ‘I’m not of that affluence.’ So this is breaking down many of those walls, that they can through studying and saving and making good choices.”
Zieba’s Firehawks team was the top East Valley finisher in sixth place with a 53.7 percent return on investment, followed by Thunder Storm from Desert Vista with a53.5 ROI.
“It was powerful; I felt powerful doing that. I wish it was real,” said Zieba, who also participated as a junior.
Local financial and business professionals delivered to the students five lessons on the stock market and enterprise system in recent weeks, which culminated in Thursday’s simulation.
The net gain, Zieba said, was students learned how to read a stock’s recent production to better predict what it will do in the future and you had to be willing to sell a stock even when you weren’t sure it had reached its peak.
“We did struggle with predicting at times,” she said.
That too was true for Westmoreland’s Dream Team, which came in 49th place with a 3.4 percent ROI — but still better than the 19 teams that lost money.
“We started off really, really well until we started to take bigger and bigger risks,” Westmoreland said. “We were thinking we were going to make a lot of money but, now, we shouldn’t have taken that risk. That’s where we lost a lot of our money.”
A government shutdown in the simulation led to a key cog in the Dream Team’s portfolio to plummet.
“To start off, I would have taken the money and run,” Westmoreland said with a laugh. “But it was an experience, a lot of fun and I definitely feel more confident for the future when I plan to invest in the stock market.”
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