Poole students apply real-world investment strategies through Bell Tower Capital
By Jess Clarke
When most of his high school classmates were texting with their cell phones, Poole junior Zach Abramczyk tracked the stocks of his favorite companies, including Bojangles, Starbucks and Wendy’s, on his iPhone.
“I became captivated by the stock market and started devouring everything I could read about it,” said the NC State business administration major.
It’s no surprise, then, that Abramczyk is the new managing director of Bell Tower Capital Management, NC State’s undergraduate-run investment fund. He oversees a stock portfolio with holdings in Caterpillar, CVS, IBM, Target, Walmart and approximately 35 other companies.
“We seek to invest in quality companies that generate strong cash flow, are not over-leveraged on the balance sheet and hopefully grow year after year,” Abramczyk says. Students use a value-oriented strategy to make long-term investments. They invest in companies that appear to be trading at a price lower than their expected intrinsic value, which means there is an opportunity to buy shares at a discount.
The Bell Tower fund, established in 2017, ended 2021 with $215,000 in assets under management. The fund has had an overall return of around 20% in 2021, compared to 28% for its benchmark S&P 500 index. Bell Tower’s three-year annualized return is 16%, compared to 19% for the S&P.
We are a group of students who do this as a hobby. At first glance, this is an excellent return.
Abramczyk rates Bell Tower’s three-year performance as overall satisfactory. “We are a group of students who do this as a hobby. On the face of it, that’s a great return,” he says. “And in terms of absolute performance, 2021 has been a solid year, and we can’t complain.”
The real value of Bell Tower goes beyond stock market returns.
“It’s always good to focus on what our real purpose is, and that is to give students the opportunity to learn in a fund environment,” Abramczyk says.
Application of key initiatives
Highlights from the fund’s 2021 annual report show that students have made progress with key initiatives.
Bell Tower has implemented a semester-long analyst development program for new members. Students learn investment strategies, basics of accounting, valuation modeling, risk assessment, macroeconomics, and markets. The students also revised their marketing strategy, aimed at recruiting more women and students of color. And they incorporated certain portfolio management principles to guide smart investment decisions.
These initiatives reinforce the real opportunity that Bell Tower offers to students. The experience they gain has helped alumni land positions at top organizations – Bank of America, Vanguard, Wells Fargo – in asset management, investment banking, accounting and finance.
Bell Tower is always one of the most talked about topics in every interview I’ve had… I don’t know of anyone involved with Bell Tower who had trouble finding a position after graduation.
“We provide students with the equivalent of an internship experience,” says Abramczyk. “Bell Tower is always one of the most talked about topics in every interview I’ve had…I don’t know of anyone involved with Bell Tower who had trouble finding a position after graduation.”
Bell Tower attracts dozens of applications each year.
As the fund’s equity director, Vats Mewada, a Poole junior, puts it, “Bell Tower is the focal point of the brightest minds in finance that NC State has to offer. It is thanks to everyone’s intelligence and hard work that the fund has been so successful.
With around 15 students involved, the fund is open to undergraduate students in all disciplines, although all current members are Poole College majors. Applicants must pass an exam – a quick pitch – as part of the interview structure. “I want to see their thought process, how they would go about doing stock research,” says Mewada, an economics student who recruits and trains students.
Skills for the future
His ability to conduct equity research was one of the skills Mewada spoke about when interviewing for an internship at Regions Bank. He and Abramczyk will have summer internships in the regions. They credit their steeple experience with helping them land the jobs.
“To be able to come in to an interview and say I’ve done a full research report on a company’s stocks…and I understand valuation patterns, that’s huge,” says Abramczyk.
For alumnus Haleigh Ensminger, a member of Bell Tower until her graduation last December, the fund shows up in job interviews and graduate school applications.
Bell Tower was one of the reasons she chose NC State.
“I heard about it at NC State Accepted Student Day when I was in high school and thought it sounded like a great opportunity,” says Ensminger, who majored in accounting and finance. .
In addition to learning finance with Bell Tower, she developed skills in areas expected by employers: communication, teamwork, presentation, receiving feedback in real time. She uses these talents as an intern at CPA Johnson Lambert. This summer, she will complete an internship with the professional services firm Ernst & Young before undertaking a master’s degree in accounting.
For Ensminger, the camaraderie among Bell Tower members is an example of NC State’s supportive campus.
What sets NC State apart in my eyes is the willingness and even the eagerness of faculty, staff, and fellow students to help you succeed.
“What sets NC State apart for me is the willingness and even the eagerness of faculty, staff, and fellow students to help you succeed,” she says. “NC State not only wanted to see me succeed, but wanted to be an essential part of helping me succeed. Although I probably could have done it on my own, I’m way ahead of the game with help and guidance from the university.