Neal St. Anthony
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The men’s hockey team is not the only recent champion from the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD).

A five-student team in the financial markets program of the UMD business school last month won the Americas stock-research competition in Boston, sponsored by the CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) Institute.

And the UMD team, which produced an impressive piece of analysis on Minnesota-based Fastenal, will compete with several other finalists on April 27 at the CFA Research Institute global competition in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

“Very simply, they made it to the ‘final five’ among more than 1,000 teams from hundreds of universities around the world,” said Mark Salter, executive director of the CFA Society of Minnesota. “We’ve never had an [Upper Midwest] team get that close. This really shows the strength of the financial markets program up in Duluth.”

In 2015, a UMD student team earned first place in the local final of the CFA Institute’s annual Research Challenge in Minneapolis against 10 other Upper Midwest schools. The UMD team did not survive in the Americas competition regionals from North and South America.

“We got involved in the CFA society and competition in 2011,” said UMD’s Joe Artim, director and instructor for the financial markets program. “The Carlson School team [on the Minneapolis campus] won the Upper Midwest competition for four years.

“In 2015, we captured the [Upper Midwest] title and advanced to the Americas competition. That was our first time at the next level of completion. We felt we had a strong team but we lost. Last year, we captured the Upper Midwest title and advanced to the Americas competition. We lost to Seton Hall University, the Americas region champion. This year, the team really concentrated on areas we needed to improve. And here we are. They won. They’ve done a remarkable job.”

The UMD team members — Ryan Woitalla, Reed Leonidas, Nawal Mirza, Frank Takkinen and Ryan Kimbrel — were excited last week in a telephone interview from Duluth.

“This is incredible, and we are thankful,” Leonidas said. “This has really prepared us for our careers.

“Most of us want to be equity analysts and to be able to analyze companies and their value. We’ve been getting congratulatory words from people in industry. It’s very impactful.”

Mirza, a UMD senior from Pakistan, said: “This has been wonderful. It’s one of the best things I’ve done in college and in my life. I’ve learned so much about working together as a team.’’

Kimbrel recalled that the initial work on what became a five-star analyst report on Fastenal began last September. A high point was a visit to Fastenal, the Winona-based distributor of industrial and construction supplies that has been one of Minnesota’s best-performing public companies for 30 years.

“It was a huge, daunting task at first,” Kimbrel said. “But we started to learn more about each other and the company. Incredible. A learning experience that you just don’t get in the classroom. It’s about hard work, late nights, weekends. To see it pay off … has been humbling.”

The team from UMD was cited by the Upper Midwest judges for its overall work, particularly on the oral presentation and defense of the analysis.

There is an “analyst day” at participating companies, which have included Graco, Donaldson, Stratasys, Polaris and MTS Systems in recent years.

Student teams from 1,000-plus universities compete in local contests sponsored by more than 100 CFA chapters around the globe in February, followed by global-regional competitions, such as Boston this year for the Americas. The top several teams proceed to the global competition.

Local CFA volunteers grade the papers and select the top teams to invite for in-person presentations. Other volunteers serve as judges.

By the way, the UMD team put a bullish, 12-month target price of $64 per share on Fastenal (FAST), which has traded between $39.79 and $58.74 per share over the last 52 weeks.

Josh Hill, a UMD graduate and senior vice president of Captrust Financial Advisors, is the CFA industry mentor to the UMD team.

“I couldn’t be more proud,” Hill said recently. “Every year I’m impressed with the passion and quality of their effort put forward.”

The purpose of the CFA Research Challenge is to help develop best practices for future investment professionals and to provide the opportunity for experienced practitioners to give back to the next generation.

“We are among the top five teams in the world,” UMD team member Takkinen said, almost in disbelief. “We’ll do the same presentation we did in Boston. We’re preparing answers for questions we anticipate from the judges.”

Being a championship team has its perks.

The CFA Institute covers the cost of the UMD team to compete in the world championships in Malaysia this month.

Neal St. Anthony has been a Star Tribune business columnist and reporter since 1984. He can be contacted at nstanthony@startribune.com.