This post is part of Fusion's Teen Month series, a month-long dive into the lives, loves, and language of teenagers.
Brandon Fleisher, 17, has the interests of an average teenager. Born and raised in Ontario, Fleisher lives with his parents and two brothers (with a third just starting college) in Toronto. He’s a fan of the city’s professional basketball, baseball, and hockey teams, and also spends quality time on his Playstation. His 15-year-old brother says he can beat him on the family’s basketball hoop. Brandon does go to house parties.
Brandon could throw his own parties. He could throw all of the parties—he did make nearly six figures in the last two years picking stocks.
You may have heard about a 17-year-old kid from New York who last year claimed to have made $72 million trading stocks. “What makes the world go round? Money,” Mohammed Islam said at the time. A week later, he recanted the whole thing. “We were duped,” New York magazine, the outlet that published the story, admitted.
But I'm confident that Fleisher’s returns are real. Why? Because I called his dad Danny, a scrap metal recycling plant owner in Ontario. Danny opened up the trading account Brandon needed to pursue his interest as a minor, and fronted him the money: $50,000.
“I’ve always been a really big believer that when you’re running with real money, it’s harder to make decisions,” Danny said. “When someone does all the homework, researching industries, doing all the right things….you’re not always going to pick the right company, but I always invest with somebody doing more research and more thought provoking stuff, rather than a guy wildly picking stuff, not throwing darts at a board.”
Fleisher’s pursuit began one day in 8th grade, when he was assigned a mock stock-picking problem. The goal was to pick a company that over the course of several weeks would see the highest rate of return. While most of his other classmates chose well-known companies, he realized that a smaller company would have much more growth potential. He actually doesn’t remember if he ended up winning, but he beat almost everyone else, and was hooked.
Convincing his dad to let him invest, even as a proxy, however, would take a few more years.
“At that point I just thought he was a little young,” Danny Fleisher said. “It’s not whether I believed in him, but I think he was in grade 9 or 10, maybe 15 years old, and I just was not ready to do that.”
Instead, he told Brandon to demonstrate an ongoing commitment to the market. And Brandon did, apparently calling Tesla and Netflix as companies poised to exploit ongoing structural changes in consumption habits.
“He said 'We’re not going to the theatre anymore, they’re going to take over, they’re producing TV shows, they’re way into content'—not just, 'Wow, Netflix is cool,'” Danny said. “He brought it to another level, and could see how they were going to grow their business model, how they would generate profitability.”
By the time Brandon was a junior, his father was satisfied. He opened up a trading account that he would control, but would be effectively managed by Brandon. As of last week, Brandon’s portfolio, consisting of just five stocks, was worth $143,769.
If that sounds more reasonable than $72 million, it should. Brandon says as soon as he read Islam’s story, he knew there was no way the 17-year-old could be telling the truth.
“It wouldn’t be made public right when he hit 72 mil,” he said. “I’m sure the SEC would have investigated something like that, unless he’d started with $100 million. You can’t do that legally.”
As it turns out, Brandon knew of Islam from a site called the Leaders Investment Club. The site has become the mecca of teen traders, and it's where Brandon now recruits contributors for the project that actually takes up the majority of his spare time: a website called The Financial Bulls. Brandon hopes to position the site as a financial learning hub for investors, especially younger ones. It already has 6,000 email subscribers.
Most of the kids on Leaders, he insists, aren’t dishonest like Islam.
“We want to get our whole webpage as a course to invest,” he said. “We want it to be a place where, whether you’re a 40 year-old or 15-year-old, you can learn how to invest, instead having to go buy a $500 course.”
Brandon’s strategy evolved mostly from a well-known book by investing guru Peter Lynch, One Up On Wall Street, and then through trial and error. He ultimately decided that Form 4 filings, which large stakeholders must file when they buy or sell significant amounts of stock, were the best indicators of how a stock would perform.
“When an insider buys, that is like the biggest thing ever,” he said. “Why would you not trust this company with X amount of dollars if the owner of the company, who knows everything about it, just put X in the company?”
Brandon got his first taste of true market turbulence last month, when stocks reached volatility levels not seen in years. But he says he is investing for the long term, and was mostly unfazed. In fact he has not cashed out any of his earnings, and has committed to making all future profits out of the initial $50,000. If anything, he said, he has become more conservative in his spending habits. He just started his freshman year at Ryerson University in Toronto, where he plans to study business.
“He’s a good boy,” Danny said.
Rob covers business, economics and the environment for Fusion. He previously worked at Business Insider. He grew up in Chicago.