STUDENTS PLAYING FOR KEEPS ON THE STOCK MARKET

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by Victoria Scrozzo 

Shawn Catena keeps one eye on the four computer screens and another on the two young trainees. They’re crouched over their computers watching columns of numbers, deciding which stocks to buy and which ones to sell.

It’s almost 4 p.m. and the markets are about to close. Catena calls out advice for the pair while they hurriedly try to sell off their stocks. As day traders, they can’t keep anything past closing time.

This is the last day of training for the two University of Toronto students; tomorrow they’ll be thrown into a live market, with real money and real consequences.

Catena, 25, is the president of SwiftTrade Campus, the first student trading company in the world. Students are given the opportunity to trade real stocks with no financial risk to themselves. They even get a commission on sales and the option of future employment opportunities with SwiftTrade, the venture’s parent company, around the world.

Catena’s office, located at 180 Bloor St., originally only accepted applications from U of T students for the 60 positions available in September. But the company’s vice president of operations, Daniel Schlaepfer, says they received such an overwhelming response from Ryerson students that the decision was made last Thursday to also consider Ryersonians.

“Some applicants were a lot better for the job than U of T students, so we asked SwiftTrade to let us open this office to Ryerson students,” says Schlaepfer, adding there are plans to set up a location on Ryerson’s campus by next summer.

“The tools you learn are job specific; you won’t learn it in school. To hand an 18-year-old $1,000 to trade, it’s never been done before, and it’s invaluable experience,” he says.

And while a background in finance might look good on an applicant’s resume, no experience is required, says Schlaepfer.

“We train them completely, so there’s no background needed.”

Those hired can choose from three shifts a day and work up to 10 hours a week, making $15 to $30 per hour off commission. However, applicants might not see a paycheque for their first few weeks.

When students start trading, Schlaepfer expects them to have more losses than gains.

On their first day, students can take up to 15 losing trades, or $15 in losses, at which point the computer shuts them out. As they get better, the amount increases.

Catena teaches trainees basic trading methods, but once their confidence and knowledge of the market increases, students are free to research and try out other strategies.

“You don’t start playing a video game on the hardest level. You play three hours every day, and by the 10th day you’re pretty good. By the 11th day you’ll be even better,” he explains. “Students will have to reach certain goals to get to the next level. On 100 shares, I expect them to make $5. Once you’ve reached the goal for three days, I’ll let you trade with 300 shares, but the goal becomes $20.”

But Edward Blinder, a finance professor in the School of Business Management at Ryerson, thinks such a light approach to day-trading could be dangerous.

“If you want to play the market the right way you should be able to analyze it. In order to develop the proper gut feeling for trading you have to know finance or economics, and analyze world events. It takes more than pressing buttons.”

In his investment analysis class, Blinder’s students are about to begin a stock market trade simulation program called Stock Track. Working in pairs, students are allowed to trade on North American markets with $500,000. Blinder grades his students based on their trading strategies, not on how much money is in their portfolio at the end of the day.

“The stock market is not like a casino, it’s a serious place,” says Blinder. “Last thing we want to do is treat the market like TV poker championships. It shouldn’t be popularized for the masses.”

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