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Vanderbilt students manage $500K of $12M portfolio in TVA Investment Challenge Program

by Nov. 15, 2019, 4:54 PM

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A unique partnership with the Tennessee Valley Authority allows Vanderbilt scholars hands-on experience in investment banking. (Getty Images)

Vanderbilt University students in two business minor elective courses are getting hands-on experience in the investment world thanks to a unique program sponsored by the Tennessee Valley Authority. The TVA Investment Challenge oversees a $12 million portfolio that is managed by students at 24 colleges and universities, each competing with each other to beat the S&P 500 total return index.

Willis Hulings (Vanderbilt)
Willis Hulings (Vanderbilt)

The Vanderbilt team, comprised of students in FNEC 3700 (Investment Analysis) and FNEC 3710 (Corporate Valuation), is led by Willis Hulings, associate professor of the practice of managerial studies in the College of Arts and Science.

The team of students and teaching assistants are responsible for managing the day-to-day decisions and investments. They design short- to mid-term investment strategies, decide on stock positions and monitor performance reports within the guidelines of the competition.

As of Oct. 30, 2019, the Vanderbilt portfolio had outperformed the Index’s 23.2 percent rise by 1.6 percent; placing Vanderbilt somewhere in the top quartile of the competition. The final results in the competition will be announced at year-end, and an award ceremony will be held in Nashville in March 2020.

The classes and the TVA partnership are integral to Vanderbilt’s new business minor program, a trans-institutional program of the university, which prepares students for careers in finance, investment banking, asset management and consulting.

“The TVA-ICP is a superb experiential learning opportunity for students pursuing a career in business,” Hulings said. “Our department and the business minor are constantly looking to provide more immersive opportunities for our students, such as internships, directed studies courses and research opportunities, to improve the extra-curricular or real-life experiences of our students. These classes are part of a formal BUS Immersion Opportunity on Vanderbilt’s new Immersion hub.”

“Learning from a textbook can only get you so far. The fact that the TVA allows students to use what they learn in class to build a real portfolio is what makes this class and this opportunity so unique.”

    –Jon Lawrence

One of the Vanderbilt undergraduates in the competition is Jon Lawrence, a Columbus, Ohio, native double majoring in economics and Russian with a minor in business. After he graduates in December, he will work for a financial advising/planning firm.

“Learning from a textbook can only get you so far,” Lawrence said. “The fact that the TVA allows students to use what they learn in class to build a real portfolio is what makes this class and this opportunity so unique. This project definitely showed me how much work goes into making a fully informed stock recommendation. There are a lot of steps involved, but it was very rewarding to see our results.”

TVA Investment Challenge students at a recent gathering at Vanderbilt. (Image provided)
TVA Investment Challenge students at a recent gathering at Vanderbilt. (Image provided)

Each semester, students from the participating universities gather to review their portfolios and strategies and hear from private equity, hedge fund and other investment professionals and key leaders in business.

Vanderbilt recently hosted the regional conference, for which the keynote speaker was Michael Brakebill, CIO for the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System. He and his colleagues discussed the organization’s portfolio and investments.

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