For the fifth year in a row, a team of students from Appalachian State University’s Walker College of Business have won the regional Charter Financial Analyst Institute Research Challenge.
The team consists of finance and banking majors: Amanda Carter, Andrew Johnson, Darrow Goff, MacGregor Shepard and Aaron Martschenko.
Goff said the competition is the most prestigious of its type.
“The CFA is the premiere, most recognized certification that you can get,” Goff said. “It shows that you know what you’re talking about.”
Each year, CFA holds competition for undergraduate and MBA students, where they are assigned a company that they research to determine whether that company is a buy, sell or hold.
The company they were assigned was Sonic Automotive.
The team met with the management, researched their practices and compiled data, then wrote an analysis explaining their findings.
Johnson said they looked at a large number of factors during their research: how the business fits within the larger automotive industry, who its competitors are, how its management works, what drives the company and whether that’s a good thing, what Wall Street analysts think, and then they had to build a financial model.
“We basically had to take all this quantitative information and make a qualitative statement about it,” Johnson said. “We start off very specific, and then come to decisions through the evaluation of the company itself and industry trends.”
CFA professionals selected the four schools with the best papers, and then those schools presented their findings at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where Appalachian State was named the statewide regional champion.
The three other schools in the regional finals were UNC Chapel Hill, Elon University and UNC Wilmington.
According to Goff, the team has worked tirelessly this semester to prepare.
“We came back a week early from Christmas break to begin working,” Goff said. “Any free time we’ve had outside of class, we’ve spent working on [the project]. I would say that right now, each of us has spent individually at least 300 hours doing work.”
Johnson said part of what makes the team so strong is that each team member has a specialty and area of expertise.
“Each of us has a role to play, and we each speak on something in the presentation,” Johnson said. “For example, Darrow is the best in the group at evaluation, Aaron is good at financial analysis, and Macgregor is an economic-minded person, so we gave him the economics questions.”
That being said, each team member also educated their fellow teammates so that all of them could speak confidently on every topic.
Ultimately, the team decided that Sonic Automotive was a sell.
“Our overall impression was a pessimistic one,” Johnson said. “That being said, we looked at so many factors that although we had overwhelmingly pessimistic viewpoints on Sonic as a company, there are positive aspects as well.”
The team moves on to the national level of the competition, known as the America’s Regionals, which will be held in April. Immediately following that will be the international stage of the competition.
Appalachian State has won the regional stage of the competition for five years in a row, and six out of the competition’s eight years running.
The farthest the team has gotten is the semifinal portion of the America’s Regionals.
Shepard believes this year’s team has the potential to go farther than any Appalachian State team has gone before.
“All of us are really prepared, we know the material and we have a really good stance on our company,” Shepard said.
For Johnson, the most rewarding part of the experience has been seeing all his hard work pay off.
“Regardless of the amount of hours we spend in Peacock [Hall], the amount of times we stay up until 2 a.m., the fact that we put forth our best effort and watched it pay off completely outweighs any of the stress and lack of sleep,” Johnson said. “We knew from the get-go that we were going to give this everything we have.”
Story by Tommy Culkin, Senior News Reporter