SALT LAKE CITY — While many so-called experts were surprised at the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, some people were savvy enough to see it coming all along. Take Freddie Gonzales, 17, of Fort Duchesne, who parlayed his belief of a Donald Trump victory into a big win for himself as well, beating out hundreds of other Utah high school students to claim the top prize in the high school division of the annual Stock Market Game competition.
The statewide virtual investment contest pits students throughout the Beehive State against each other to determine who can pick the best stocks and achieve the greatest returns over an eight-week period. The game challenges students to invest a hypothetical $100,000 in common stocks on the New York and American stock exchanges, along with the NASDAQ index.
The competition — sponsored by the Utah Division of Securities — includes elementary, junior high/middle and high school divisions. Teams work interactively to research and trade stocks and mutual funds, with the winners in each category recognized during a ceremony on Friday at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in downtown Salt Lake City. Gonzales is a senior at Uintah River High, a charter school on the Northern Ute Indian Reservation.
He discovered the contest through his financial literacy class taught by teacher Aaron Christensen. Though Gonzales struggled in the class, he was able to excel in the competition, Christensen said.
“(Freddie) took to it really well,” Christensen said. “He was really interested when we talked about stocks and how (the market works).”
Because Uintah River has only about 80 students and there were just six students in the financial literacy class, Gonzales was forced to play the game solo, with no other help from teammates, while every other entry was comprised of two- or three-student teams.
In choosing his stocks, he selected companies he thought would benefit from the outcome of the presidential campaign, and made a bold prediction that paid off “big league.”
“Two (stocks) were steel corporations. The reason I chose United States Steel Corp. was because I thought that a lot of construction businesses needed steel for the work they perform,” he told the audience at the award luncheon. “And I thought Donald Trump had a good chance of winning the presidential election, and he made many promises to help American steel companies.”
That hunch was literally right on the money as the stock jumped 70 percent. It was by far the biggest winner of his four-stock portfolio, he said.
“He’s really bright and really smart,” Christensen said. “He was able to foresee that Trump had the potential to win and there were areas of the market that could benefit.”
Gonzales said he is unsure what career path he may choose after high school, but he is interested in possibly becoming an underwater welder, a vocation similar to his mother’s. As for the world of high finance, the answer is “maybe.”
“I enjoyed the stock market game and feel I learned a lot about the stock market and how it works,” he said.