Hidden Alpha is Joel Litman’s flagship monthly investment newsletter, and after seeing several different ads online, I was curious to know if it was worthwhile or not.
So I decided to sign up and share what I found in this review.
Ahead, I’ll show you what the newsletter is about, how the stock picks have performed, and what I feel are the main pros and cons of the service overall.
About Hidden Alpha
Hidden Alpha is a monthly investment newsletter run by Joel Litman, founder of the Massachusetts-based financial publishing company Altimetry.
Aside from being a stock-picker, Litman describes himself as a “forensic accountant,” and his accounting background is a big part of the Hidden Alpha investment philosophy.
In short, the Altimetry website states that Litman and his team think U.S. accounting guidelines “obscure the true results of a company’s profitability.”
So instead of analyzing “regular” financial statements, they “deconstruct” and “reassemble” these using Uniform Adjusted Financial Reporting Standards (UAFRS), which the Altimetry site says gives Litman and his team the “true picture” of a company’s potential.
And from there, with the help of “audio forensics analysis,” Litman says that he and his team seek to uncover “mispriced companies poised for massive growth.”
“Instead of analyzing financial statements, we deconstruct them and reassemble them using Uniform Accounting. This process shows us the true picture of a company’s potential.
“Then we combine Uniform Accounting with additional audio forensics analysis to consistently find mispriced companies poised for massive growth, which we detail for our subscribers.”– Hidden Alpha FAQ page (altimetry.com)
Is this just marketing fluff, or does it actually work?
I can’t speak to the merits of UAFRS (aka Uniform Accounting) specifically, but Litman does seem to have shared some decent stock ideas with Hidden Alpha subscribers.
And his approach is very different from anything else I’ve encountered.
He basically markets himself as a “stock cop” who seeks to uncover the “real” truth about a company’s financials. And based on reading the monthly newsletters, Litman’s main objective is finding mispriced value stocks.
In other words, he looks for companies that he believes have strong fundamentals but that are potentially undervalued by the market.
Then, once he finds a company he likes, Litman shares his pick with subscribers via the monthly newsletter issues, research reports, and model portfolio.
I’ll delve more into the types of companies he recommends and how his stock picks have performed shortly, but that’s the general idea of how Hidden Alpha works.
Next, I’ll show you what happens after joining.
Joining Hidden Alpha (Member’s Area Tour)
The standard price of Hidden Alpha is $149 per year, but how much it’ll cost you ultimately depends on where you sign up and when, as Altimetry runs different ad campaigns.
For instance, I joined through a stock teaser pitch about SynBio (aka synthetic biology), which cost me $49 for the first 12 months (auto-renews at $199 after that).
And after paying that fee and skipping past the upsells (one was $399, and the other was $2,500), I wound up in the Altimetry member’s area:
From there, I clicked through to the section of the site dedicated to Hidden Alpha and spent some time digging into all that the service has to offer.
The two main sections of the site are the “issues & updates” and “portfolio” sections that you can see in the screenshot above, and these are what I’ll focus on next.
But there’s also a link that takes you to the “special reports” Litman has created, which cover different investments he’s recommended. And there’s a FAQ page that you may find useful if you want to know more about his overall investment approach.
All in all, it’s a very easy site to navigate, and unlike some other services I’ve joined recently, the member’s area isn’t chock full of annoying ads.
So far, so good.
But to properly evaluate the service, we’ll need to dig a lot deeper.
So let’s kick things off by digging into the newsletter.
Recommended: Go here to see my #1 rated stock advisory of 2022
The Hidden Alpha Newsletter: What to Expect
The “Issues & Updates” page is where you’ll find all of the Hidden Alpha newsletter issues, which go back to when the service began in 2019. It also contains updates on companies that Litman has already recommended.
As for the newsletter itself, the way it works is pretty straightforward.
At the start of each month, Litman publishes a 20-odd page write-up that walks you through his latest market insights, recommendations, and thoughts on his existing picks.
In that respect, it’s a pretty standard newsletter (although it is lengthier than most).
What makes Hidden Alpha stand out, to me at least, is the depth of insight Litman shares and how he focuses on stocks that he thinks could be undervalued.
In short, Litman typically shares the backstory of the company he’s recommending, picks apart its financials, and explains why he thinks it could be undervalued.
He also discusses his thoughts on the company’s management and talks about what he and his team found during their “Earnings Call Forensics” analysis.
What’s that about?
This is supposedly an “advanced audio technology” Litman and his team use to “analyze management’s voices on earnings calls.” And the goal is basically to figure out if the company’s management is telling the truth and believe what they’re saying.
On the one hand, this is a pretty cool concept. And if it’s genuine, it would definitely add an extra layer of value to the research in each newsletter.
But on the other hand, as a subscriber, you cannot verify how credible these “earnings call forensics” tests are. You can only go off what the newsletter says.
And that’s pretty ironic considering that the whole point of these “tests” in the first place is to avoid having to exclusively trust what other people are saying (lol).
Nevertheless, even without that section, this is still one of the most in-depth newsletters I’ve come across. Not only does Litman go deep on each company, but he shares charts to illustrate his points and discusses the “possible risks” he sees with each investment.
Most of his recommendations are larger, more established U.S. stocks. So this newsletter may not appeal to those looking for smaller, more speculative plays.
But I think the combination of the investment ideas Litman shares and the depth of his analysis would appeal to long-term value investors.
Anyway, after sharing his latest stock pick, there’s a “timetable investor” section that covers the bigger macro picture, a portfolio review section, and some “best buy” picks.
So let’s discuss those now.
The “Timetable Investor” Section
The “timetable investor” section is where Joel Litman uses a “gauge” to “go over the macro market signals” and provide a more or less bullish, neutral, or bearish outlook on several different aspects of the financial market and economy.
Specifically, this section of the newsletter analyzes the credit markets, earnings growth, momentum, and company valuations.
And after assigning a “grade” to each of those areas and discussing how these relate to his recommendations, Litman shares an “overall grade” on the market.
This section is very different from Litman’s analysis of specific stocks, but I found it quite informative as it shows you what his take is on the broader macro environment.
In other words, it can help give you a sense of where he thinks the market is at from month to month and where he thinks it’s headed in the future.
The “Portfolio Review” Section
As the name suggests, this section of the newsletter is dedicated to analyzing the existing Hidden Alpha stock picks and what Joel Litman recommends doing regarding them.
This is typically where he will discuss any companies he recommends selling, but it also covers general updates on companies he is still bullish on.
The “Best Buy” Section
Lastly, the ‘Best Buy’ Holdings section of the newsletter highlights stocks that, according to Litman and his team, are “great buys at their current levels.”
From what I can see, this is more or less a way for people who’ve recently joined to find out what companies Joel Litman is the most bullish on when they’re first getting started.
Analyzing the Hidden Alpha Stock Portfolio
The Hidden Alpha model portfolio is where Joel Litman shares his stock picks and any related information about them, such as when they were recommended, the stock ticker, price-related info, and any instructions that help clarify what he’s recommending.
How have his stock picks worked out?
That depends on whether you look at the “open” or “closed” positions.
The “open” positions tab shows you Litman’s current recommendations, and they are mostly up right now. Out of 24 picks in total, 20 of them are in the green. The best pick is up 83% in less than a year, while the worst-performing one is down 6% in less than six months.
That said, the trouble with only going off of the “open” positions is that this doesn’t tell you how the portfolio has performed overall.
To get the full picture, we also need to consider the “closed” positions. In other words, the stocks that Litman has recommended selling.
And as of writing, there are 34 stocks in the “closed positions” portfolio, and just over half of them (18 picks) have seen low-to-mid double-digit losses. As for the winners in the closed portfolio, four have seen triple-digit gains, and the rest have seen double-digit gains.
I can’t reveal the names of the companies in the model portfolio here since Hidden Alpha is a paid service. But the following shows you how the 34 “closed” positions have done as of writing (December 15, 2022) so you can see for yourself.
Note that I’ve had to take four screenshots because there were so many picks, and you can click on any of these to see a larger version if you want:
As you can see above, there’s a lot of variety to the Hidden Alpha stock picks, and Litman uses different “themes” to group his picks together.
Some of the recommendations are smaller companies, but most are larger, well-established companies that he is interested in for different reasons.
And the cool thing is that if you want to know more about each pick as you’re scrolling through the portfolio, you can click on the name of the company, which takes you to the newsletter or research report where Litman has explained his thesis on it.
There have been some duds recommended in the portfolio, which is true for any newsletter service. But most of the losing picks were closed out in 2022, a year that has not been kind to many investors. And I’m pretty impressed with the Hidden Alpha picks overall.
Is Joel Litman the Real Deal?
Joel Litman doesn’t have a typical Wall Street background, but he is a genuine investment expert and has an extensive academic and financial background.
For starters, Litman is a Clinical Professor of Business Strategy at DePaul University and a professor at Hult International Business School.
He’s also a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). And according to different stock teaser presentations I’ve written about (like this one, for example), Litman is a forensic accountant, which basically means he investigates companies’ financials to find inaccuracies.
Aside from that, Litman is the CEO of a global investment research firm called Valens Research. And he runs Altimetry, the company behind Hidden Alpha and several other services, including High Alpha, the Altimeter, ETF Analyzer, and Microcap Confidential.
To top it off, Litman’s DePaul University biography states that he “advises institutional investors” regarding equities, corporate credit, and macroeconomic strategy.
So, needless to say, he knows what he’s doing.
But that doesn’t mean you’ll make money following his stock picks.
No one has a crystal ball. And as mentioned earlier, not all of his recommendations have worked out. In fact, Litman publicly recommended a company called Illumina (ILMN) in February 2022, and that recommendation didn’t work out very well at all.
Here’s what he said about this stock:
“In short: Illumina is a company you want to buy today and hold for the long term. My recommendation is:
“Buy Illumina (ticker symbol ILMN), my #1 recommendation in the SynBio space today, up to $510 per share.”– Joel Litman (source: https://secure.altimetry.com/?cid=MKT615522&eid=MKT616962&assetId=AST229776&page=2)
And here’s what happened:
Of course, Litman has also recommended numerous winning stocks.
And as I explain in the following article about Joel Litman’s stock picks, he publicly recommended a company called CVS Health Corp (CVS) in a September 2021 stock teaser, which, unlike the previous pick, has since gone up.
In any case, my point is that as with any stock picking “guru,” not everything stock Joel Litman recommends is going to be a winner.
So even though I do believe Litman is a legitimate expert, it would be unwise to follow his recommendations without knowing that there are risks involved.
Anyway, with all that said, let me show you what I think are the main pros and cons of the service, and then I’ll share my final thoughts before wrapping this review up.
Pros and Cons of Hidden Alpha
What I like:
- In-depth research. Joel Litman shares a lot of in-depth research in the Hidden Alpha newsletter issues and reports. He really goes the extra mile when it comes to analyzing each company and shares some great insights into the broader macro environment.
- Investing approach. The service digs deep into quality companies that Litman believes are being potentially overlooked or mispriced by the market. So it’s well-suited to long-term value investors who are interested in finding a “bargain.”
- Transparency. Hidden Alpha is one of the few newsletter services that show you both the “open” and “closed” recommendations. This shows, in my opinion, that the service is dedicated to being more transparent with subscribers as to its track record.
What I don’t like:
- Sales tactics. Some of the sales pitches I’ve seen promoting this service are a bit “gimmicky.” There are also a couple of upsells sprung on you immediately after joining, which is very common in the newsletter space.
- Auto-billing. Altimetry automatically bills you at a higher price ($199) after the first 12 months, even if you joined for $49 (like I did). You can turn this off, but to me, this is still a drawback because it tends to catch some people by surprise.
- Refund policy. Hidden Alpha comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee, but not all of Altimetry’s services have a cash refund policy in place. So if you end up joining one of the company’s higher-priced services, don’t be surprised if you can only obtain a “credit” to use on another service rather than getting your money back.
Hidden Alpha is one of the better newsletters out there.
Joel Litman’s methodical, value-focused approach to investing is something that virtually any investor can benefit from, but this service is especially suited to long-term value investors looking for potentially “mispriced” stock ideas.
Not to mention, those who like digging into all the nitty-gritty details.
As mentioned, there’s no guarantee the Hidden Alpha recommendations will make you money, but the model portfolio shows that Hidden Alpha has a decent track record.
So, all in all, I’m a fan.
And taking everything I’ve said into account, I’d say it’s worth a try.
What if you’re still not sure?
In that case, there are some similar newsletters out there.
I don’t exactly recommend those services, but they are both similar value-investing-style newsletters and are owned by the same company that owns Altimetry – MarketWise. So they are probably the two most similar newsletters I’ve joined overall.
As for my top pick, that would have to be the Insider Newsletter.
This is a semi-weekly newsletter run by (actual) hedge fund managers that shares “deep value” stock ideas with subscribers. And the best part is you can try it out for $1.
So if you want to know more about that, see the review I shared above.
Anyway, that’s my review.
I hope it helped. And if you’d like to share your thoughts on any of this, feel free to drop a comment below. Thanks for reading!