What Is a Hulbert Rating?

A Hulbert rating is a score that tracks the performance of an investment newsletter over time. Investment newsletters are paid subscriptions that can offer investors a variety of market-related information, such as trading strategies, stock recommendations, and economic commentary. Some newsletters focus on specific industries or types of trading, such as options trading, investing in utilities, precious metals investing, or cryptocurrency investing. Hulbert Ratings, LLC assigns Hulbert ratings and encourages investors to judge a newsletter by its long-term performance adjusted for risk.

Key Takeaways

  • A Hulbert rating is an investment newsletter score created by financial advisor Mark Hulbert to track the performance of investment newsletters over time.
  • The Hulbert rating tracks the buy and sell advice of investment newsletters and evaluates performance using various metrics to arrive at a risk-adjusted performance score.
  • For nearly 36 years, Hulbert published newsletter rating scores in the Hulbert Financial Digest, which was acquired by MarketWatch/Dow Jones in April 2002.
  • In 2016, MarketWatch/Dow Jones ceased publishing the Hulbert Financial Digest, at which time Mark Hulbert began publishing newsletter ratings through the company Hulbert Ratings, LLC.
  • Hulbert publishes a newsletter honor roll that lists and grades investment newsletters that have outperformed in both up and down markets.

How a Hulbert Rating Works

The Hulbert ratings of investment newsletters are determined by maintaining hypothetical investment portfolios according to the buy and sell advice of each newsletter. Hulbert Ratings, LLC then tracks the performance of the newsletter by multiple metrics, culminating in a Sharpe ratio, a measure of risk-adjusted performance.

Financial advisor and contrarian investor Mark Hulbert began tracking newsletter performance in the Hulbert Financial Digest in 1980. After nearly 36 years, and a couple of high-profile acquisitions, Hulbert Financial Digest was officially laid to rest in Jan. 2016. Hulbert immediately formed Hulbert Ratings LLC, which picked up where the digest left off and which continues to track newsletter performance. Newsletters pay Hulbert Ratings LLC a flat fee to be tracked and audited.

Hulbert establishes an impartial evaluation of each newsletter by subscribing under someone else’s name to prevent the newsletter from sending their tips early and inflating the performance of the hypothetical portfolio. Some newsletters are less specific in their calls to action than others are. For those, Hulbert Ratings, LLC must infer buy and sell advice to track returns.

Aside from their value as an impartial review of newsletter performance, the very existence of Hulbert ratings helps keep newsletters (also known as market letters) honest about their performance.

Special Considerations

Hulbert ratings appear on the performance scoreboards published on the Hulbert Ratings LLC website. The site publishes performance scoreboards that show newsletter ratings for the most recent 12-month period and historical ratings over the trailing 3, 5, 10, 15, 20, and 30 years. Listed newsletter performance ratings go as far back as the inception of the service in 1980.

Newsletter Honor Roll

The Hulbert Investment Newsletter Honor Roll lists those investment newsletters that have produced above-average performance in both up and down markets. The list grades each newsletter's performance during up and down periods, showing the gain for each newsletter since April 2000.

Each newsletter is given a risk number, which reflects the volatility of the newsletter’s performance, as measured by the standard deviation of its monthly returns. Additionally, each newsletter is given a risk-adjusted performance number calculated using the Sharpe ratio.

Are Investment Newsletters Worth It?

After decades of Hulbert ratings, one thing is clear. Most newsletters, like most actively managed mutual funds, underperform the market. Hulbert himself has come to agree with the conventional but hard-to-follow wisdom that, for all the sophisticated hedging techniques and analytical instruments available, an investor’s best bet is to dump a sum of money into an index fund and hold it. Hulbert has even gone so far as to suggest that virtually all changes investors make to their portfolios are mistakes.

That said, Hulbert has defended newsletters as useful given the weakness of human psychology. Specifically, Hulbert views the average investor as incapable of following the index fund strategy, because the average investor will panic in a down market and end up selling low. Hulbert prefers consistently following a suboptimal strategy, namely acting on the buy and sell advice of an investment newsletter, compared to inconsistently following the optimal strategy, which is to invest in an index fund and hold during downturns.

Not everyone agrees, but when deciding on investment strategies investors should remember the truism that most actively managed funds and portfolios underperform the market.