By Daniel Coats ’15, ’18
They were up against some powerhouse competitors: USC, UCLA, Pepperdine and others. But for the fourth year in a row, students in the applied investment portfolio Titan Capital Management program showcased their preparation, hard work and investment knowledge, winning the CFA Society of Los Angeles Investment Research Challenge. The team was made up of Cal State Fullerton College of Business and Economics finance students Sam Fedrow ’23, Brandon Leon ’23, Jericho Cezar ’23 and Jacquelyn George ’23.
At this year’s event, held at UCLA, finance students from universities across Southern California present investment research, recommending a buy or a sell rating of a certain publicly traded stock.
“This year’s team spent more than 600 hours researching and analyzing one company, Chipotle,” says Kelly Ko, finance lecturer at Cal State Fullerton and equity director of the Titan Capital Management program. “The credit all goes to the students. You can teach them skills and give them guidance, but you can’t teach work ethic, passion, altruism and humility, which are all elements making the difference between being exceptional and just good. And you need to be exceptional to win this competition, given the quality of schools competing.”
Team member George says the competition has been invaluable to her career preparation: “The CFA LA competition is going to benefit me in my career future because it has showed me how important and amazing the CFA designation is. I have connected with people who currently hold the designation and I have started to become a little more excited about the amazing opportunities that can come from that network. I also have learned through the process how to really analyze a company and I have learned terms and ideas that go into finding a good investment that I would not know now if I did not have that exposure.”
Team member Leon says presenting the report and the overall experience in the competition has been a major milestone in his career preparation. “It showed me how an accurate industry-level report is constructed. The biggest question you must ask yourself is, ‘What are other people not seeing, either good or bad?’” he says. “It took months of diligence with the financial data and analysis and the management and investors. We started with a sell report initially, but in the 11th hour on Christmas Eve, just a few weeks before the final report was due, we decided to flip the whole report to a buy and change everything.”
Leon went on to say: “The benefit was that the time spent researching the company made it easy to convert the report to a buy because we had more supporting data heading in that direction. Constant communication was vital as it was also different from traditional school projects. We sometimes met daily, for hours at a time, either in person or on Zoom. It felt like we were co-workers working toward writing a report for the company. And, we did eventually purchase a small stake in Chipotle in one of our student-managed funds.”
Determining Their Recommendation
Says team member Cezar: “The hardest part of competition, and the part where I learned the most, was determining our recommendation for Chipotle. The stock is expensive, as seen in the high P/E compared to other restaurant stocks, and that led us to immediately try to recommend a sell on it. However, we struggled to find evidence for our thesis. With the help of Professor Ko as our faculty advisor and our industry mentor, Derek Derman, we overcame our bias and saw the stock as a buy. Once that happened, we were able to find a plethora of evidence that supported the stock being a buy. As a result, I learned that no matter what decision you are trying to make, you have to ignore your biases as much as possible and follow the evidence.”
“We all put in countless hours of work to know our company inside and out, and it felt great to submit our final written report,” says team member Fedrow. “The most difficult part in preparing for the presentation was identifying the strongest parts of our argument to include. It was surprisingly hard to translate a 20-page report and hundreds of hours of research into a 10-minute pitch – it felt like we did not have nearly enough time to make our case. But because of that, we learned how to identify and explain the key drivers behind our recommendation concisely.”
To ensure the best chance of success, the Titan Capital Management program began recruiting students for the competition in spring 2022, and training started in August 2022, months before the official CFA LA event announcement in October. Over six months, the students devoted a combined 600 hours to preparing for the competition, in addition to their existing school and work commitments.
“It sets a high standard of excellence for our TCM and Student Managed Investment Fund programs, finance department, and business college that investment firms should expect from students at CSUF,” says Ko.
Titan Capital Management is one of the business college’s signature programs and gives students the opportunity to manage a real-world investment portfolio used to fund student services such as tutoring and career readiness. Graduates from Titan Capital Management acquire positions at major financial firms such as Goldman Sachs and PIMCO.
Read more of our articles on our student investment program.