For a good chunk of July, an 18-year-old kid from Long Island, N.Y., named
was beating the 9,100 other contestants in
Investment Challenge. In just four weeks, he had turned $500,000 into $7.6 million, a 1,400% return. At that rate, in a year he'd have $76 quintillion. "I guess that's OK," he says. Actually, it's virtually unheard of. And to think -- this kid couldn't get a summer job on Wall Street this year. He was too young.
Here's the pity: The money he's made isn't real. The Investment Challenge is a game. Participants get $500,000 in fictional money and place fantasy trades. Whoever makes the most out of their half-million by Aug. 20 wins. (The winner gets to spend a day trading alongside
James J. Cramer
.) But the stocks are real, and the rules make the game a lot like the real thing. And Kupperman, who goes through a box of
every other day and carries a fake ID so he can get a drink when he goes out in Manhattan, really has no business being better at it than 9,100 people, some of whom do it for a living.
After all, he doesn't even know what the ticker symbols stand for when he's making a trade. "I think it's better that I don't know," he explains. "If you know what it is, you get too attached to it."
He was in first place until late last month, when he went to
, missed two days (but left before Rome burned) and fell back into second place.
Four days later, Kupperman was back in faux-business in the dark den of his parents' house in Brookville, N.Y. The shades were drawn, and the central air-conditioning was purring away. He was watching
and listening to
on the stereo. Empty boxes of Lucky Charms were scattered on the floor. And on his computer screen, a
stock scanner identified stocks that were on the move.
He made a trade. The ticker symbol was NTIA (
), the price was 22. "I don't really know what the hell it is," he says. "I have no idea. But it hasn't really done anything, so I just sold it because I got bored of looking at it. And I'm short PKTR
. I don't know what that is, either, but it just started moving again."
He trades like a banshee, making as many as 50 trades a day. As a momentum investor, he's a natural.
"I just figured when I grow up I need a job, you know?" he says. "It seems pretty interesting. I'd trade for real if I could get some money together. But I don't have any money to trade. That's my problem."
"I just figured when I grow up I need a job, you know? I'd trade for real if I could get some money together. But I don't have any money to trade. That's my problem." -- Harris Kupperman
He wants someone to give him money, real money. He has a summer job -- at the
in Hicksville, N.Y., where he makes six bucks an hour.
He was supposed to be at work on this particular afternoon, trying to persuade shoppers to fill out market research surveys. But it was a slow day at the mall, and he got a call telling him not to bother coming in. So he stayed home to mint his fantasy millions.
His father, an oral surgeon, is behind him all the way. He just persuaded his son to keep a notebook recording trades he would make if he had the money. In three weeks, he's up 20% in the notebook. "That isn't too bad," he says. "But I don't know -- it's not as good as I'm doing in
competition. I usually make like 10% or 15% a day."
The old man is boasting about his son to his neighbors and to his buddies at the
Tam O'Shanter Golf Club
in Glen Head, N.Y. Now the golf buddies, many of whom are stock market professionals, are calling young Harris for stock tips. The kid is a star.
Last summer, he worked for U.S. Rep. Rick Lazio of Long Island. But this summer, various Washington jobs fell through, and no one on Wall Street would take him. "I called all of them," he says. "They said, 'You're 18?' They laughed and hung up."
He first learned to trade at
in Andover, Mass., the boarding school that he graduated from in June. He says there were a half-dozen kids there who spent all of their free time trading stocks on computers in the school library. "They would just sit there at this one bank of computers and daytrade all day," he says.
But Kupperman didn't do any trading himself. He didn't have the cash. He didn't really fit in, either. People made fun of his Long Island accent. "I hated the people there, every last one of them," he says. "They were all really pretentious. A lot of them were out to sabotage each other. Everyone wanted to go to
He got into
in New Orleans and is headed there in the fall. Now he has just one month left in the last great summer, the summer before college. "Yeah, and I'm stuck on Long Island," he says. "There's nowhere to go. Me and my friends, we usually just get in a car and drive around from one side of the island to the other. We never end up doing anything useful."
He doesn't smoke pot or cigarettes. He doesn't have a girlfriend. He has seen
twice and thinks it's the best movie ever. He wants to make a lot of money, then go into politics. He's a Republican -- "probably." He thinks he might change his name someday. "Harris Kupperman: It's not Americanized enough," he says. He likes the name "John Wayne."
He makes another trade, bringing in some of the PKTR stock he'd been short. The stock started going down immediately. "Great," he says. "Just lost a point on that. I've lost like $20,000 today."
It was the middle of the day, in the middle of summer. The market was quiet. He was losing interest, losing ground. "My little brother's around here somewhere," he says. "He wants me to play
with him. If the market stays boring, I might just do that instead."
Nick Paumgarten writes for the New York Observer.