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Southeast Missouri State University Students Win Second Annual “thinkorswim challenge”

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/Zac Rankin
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Members of the Southeast Missouri State University team “Gettin’ Paper” brought home “the paper” and much more after their first place win at the second annual “thinkorswim challenge” sponsored by TD Ameritrade. Beating out more than 400 teams from around the U.S. in the virtual online stock competition, the team earned more than $1.3 million in final stocks. KRCU'sMarissanne Lewis-Thompson spoke with team member Zac Rankin about going from the underdogs of the competition to its unlikely champions.

Lewis-Thompson: So tell me a little bit about the competition.

Rankin: Alright, so the competition, was a national stock trading competition with 477 teams from the U.S., from colleges all over. And each team consisted of three to four members depending on how they wanted to set it up. They started you with $500,000 of virtual money, and by the end of the four weeks whoever came up with the most profit would [be] the champion. So it was pretty much, you know, if you look at the final scoreboard it might look like we were having a good ole time, and it wasn’t even really that close or anything like that, but it was up and down the whole time. It was a rollercoaster ride for sure.

Lewis-Thompson: So what made you decide to do this competition in general?

Rankin: Ok. So earlier this year, I’d say probably about in March I became pretty interested in the stock market, and I was reading articles online. And just looking up definitions of words, and you know just involving myself in as many ways as possible. And actually this semester I took a bunch of classes online learning about options, because I thought that was also really interesting. I’ve heard that options are pretty difficult to get into and to learn about, but you can definitely use them to create a big advantage in the stock market for yourself, and it just so happened that one of my professors let me know about this tournament, and once I heard about it I mean I was signed up that day with all my teammates. So I was really pumped, and it was all I could think about until it started.

Lewis-Thompson: So what were the steps that you took to make sure that you were coming out number one?

Rankin: We used a lot of technical analysis. Reading charts is probably my favorite way to indicate the direction a stock is moving, and after researching you know to see how the company was performing, and that the charts were aligned and you know every aspect was pointing in certain directions. We would take some pretty far out of the money calls or puts depending on which direction we thought the company would fall because a lot of times especially this was during earnings season. So a lot of times with earnings companies can really take a big jump forward or backwards. So you can really take advantage of those with options, especially the ones that are out of money.

Lewis-Thompson: So did you basically do some research on these companies before hand? Before putting your money into them or was it kind of like hmmm this looks like a nice one on the list let’s pick it.

Rankin: A lot of what we did. We watched TV shows like on CNBC such as “Mad Money,” “Fast Money,” and you know all kinds of stuff like that just to gage which stocks were kind of in the public eye at that time. You know getting a lot of volume, and because that’s the ones that had the potential to run a lot further. But you know there were definitely a lot of times where we decided to pick certain stocks just based off of the charts, and technical analysis. Even without earnings being released for that company. Just because the chart looks so good. And our two biggest trades one of them was based off an earnings release, and the other one was actually just gradual rise over time. So we definitely took many different perspectives to gain an advantage in the tournament.

Lewis-Thompson: So basically it was a nice little adventure with two roommates and a classmate to kind of put together this experiment to see if we really have what it takes with you know our bare basic knowledge of the stock market in order to compete in this competition, and then by all of your hard work win it all.

Rankin: Yeah, that's you know. You worded it pretty perfectly. I that is definitely how we were going into it. You know no expectations going forward. After the second week we won a weekly challenge for gaining the most in our portfolio for that week, and we won that because of all of our our risky trades at that point so far. We were actually consistently losing money so we were in last place in the entire tournament, and then we hit a million dollar trade and it sent us all the way from last to first kind of things. So we had the highest gain for that week, and then after that you know we just continued down that path of kind of tumbling downwards because of a lot of the risky trades that don't pay off. And then the day before the tournament ends Thursday, wake up and I actually hadn't been checking the leader board all that week cause it just I didn't want to let it get to my head you know. But my roommate was like hey you need to check this out, and we were in first place by quite a bit, because of one of the earnings that was released that sent one of our picks pretty far into the profit zone.

Lewis-Thompson: When it was announced that you had won, what was your first reaction?

Rankin: You know, it’s the same as I feel today. It’s unbelievable. I still, it feels like a dream. Like I don’t even know how to explain it. It’s just like I feel like everything I’ve been doing this year has been working up to this moment you know. You can’t go into something like this and you know plan on winning, or anything like that. Everybody else is trying to do the same, but you definitely have that idea in your head going into it. Just to come out on top how we did it’s pretty incredible.

Lewis-Thompson: So my final thing would be this, if there are other students who want to participate in something like this what would you tell them? What's your advice for them?

Rankin: I would say the best advice I can give with a tournament like this or just with the stock market in general is you just got to have patience. I mean I can't stress that enough. In my real trades that I had been doing prior to the tournament with stocks definitely blew a couple of chances just being greedy or not waiting long enough for stuff to happen and just wanting to get in and right away instead of being patient like I should and it's definitely a really helpful aspect to taking, for your tradings.

Lewis-Thompson: Well thank you so much for coming in and congratulations once again.

Rankin: Thanks a lot. Thanks for having me.

Each team member received $3,500 in a TD Ameritrade account, $3,000 for first place and an iPad air. In addition,  Southeast Missouri State University received a $30,000 prize as well.

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