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Household Finances Forget football. The real campus stars are competitive stock pickers

University football and hockey teams may get all the glamour, but some students have taken collegiate sports to an unexpected level: competitive stock picking.

Working on the principle that stock selection is an art that can be learned and honed with practice, the CFA Institute, the global organization of financial analysts, hosts an annual competition that pits teams of university students against one another for the crown of global stock-picking champion.

Investors may find some of the students' tips to be well worth considering. Last year's victor was a team from a university in Thailand that extolled the virtues of CPALL Public Co. Ltd., a Thai convenience store operator. The stock subsequently doubled.

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Recently, university teams from across North and South America descended on Toronto, to duke it out with competing analyst reports and presentations, sudden-death style, for the right to advance to next month's global championship in London.

The regional winner from the Americas, a team from the University of Nevada, wowed judges with a positive review of a U.S. micro-cap stock, sushi chain Kona Grill Inc.

Students from Canadian universities evaluated a number of investments, including Methanex Corp. (which they rated a hold); Dollarama Inc. (a buy) and Major Drilling Group International Inc. (a buy).

Among the stocks praised by U.S. teams were Chicago Bridge and Iron Co. A group from Harding University thought the stock could vault from current levels around $57 (U.S.) a share to $80.17, based on the company benefiting from the construction of liquid natural gas terminals.

Although the competition is open to students from any faculty, it tends to attract business and finance majors, many of whom are hoping the experience will give them a leg up in competing for jobs as equity analysts after graduation.

"I know students that have gotten job offers on the spot" when interviewers see the spreadsheets and presentations they used in competitions, says Stephen Horan, head of university relations for CFA Institute, the professional body for investment analysts and money managers, which organizes the competition.

About 3,500 students from 775 universities in 55 countries compete. Winners get $10,000 for their schools, plus $1,000 scholarships.

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Students are appraised based on a written report, similar to one produced by an investment analyst at a stock broker, and an oral presentation on their recommendation to a panel of judges, who are typically chartered financial analysts.

Students can pan an investment, as well as recommend a buy, depending on their reading of their company's prospects.

"We're not asking students to go out there and find the best company. We're asking students to go out there and perform the best analysis," Mr. Horan says of the process.

A five-student team from the University of Waterloo gave the nod to budget retailer Dollarama, based on a view the stock could rally from $61 to a $73 price target over the next year.

"All of the students are thinking of buying the stock once the competition is done," said Arsalan Hashmani, one of the team members.

He isn't worried that Wal-Mart will undermine the discount retailer. As part of their research, the students went comparison shopping and found that Dollarama's prices for comparable products were 50 per cent to 70 per cent less than at Wal-Mart.

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The University of British Columbia team evaluating Methanex started analyzing the company when its stock was at $32 and deemed it a buy, with a $37 target. But the shares surged recently to more than $41, based on the expansion of the firm's U.S. methanol making capacity.

UBC student Erin Robinson says the team still likes the company, but figures "some of the hope" for its prospects is now priced into the stock and a more cautious stance is warranted.

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