Something pretty amazing happened two summers ago. Hulbert Financial Digest – the leading performance tracker of newsletter services – ranked more than 200 investment-advisory offerings on their five-year returns. The top three performers just happened to be Motley Fool newsletters.

The performance of each stock-picking service more than doubled the overall market’s annual return of 7.2% during the same period.

If it’s not broken, don’t fix it

Was it a coincidence? Nailing all three top slots has to be more than just a statistical fluke. If we narrow our focus to what the three services have in common, it makes it easier to focus on the winning formula.

One thing that all three services have in common is that they tend to encourage a “buy and hold” mindset. It doesn’t matter whether we’re recommending value stocks (Motley Fool Inside Value), classic growth stocks (Motley Fool Stock Advisor), or emerging growth opportunities (Motley Fool Rule Breakers) — if the original “buy” thesis is still intact, why sell?

Things can go wrong, of course. Turnaround situations fail to turn around. Disruptors get disrupted. In those instances, the newsletter services don’t have a problem pulling the trigger on a turnaround gone awry.

However, it’s not a crime to let your winners run. In fact, that’s often the best way to beat the market. Why sell a stock merely because it has exceeded your return expectations?

Baidu (Nasdaq: BIDU) is one of the many stocks that I brought to David Gardner’s attention as a recommendation for Motley Fool Rule Breakers as a member of that service’s analyst team. It was late 2006, just months after the leading Chinese search engine had gone public. Given the upside potential of the world’s most populous nation and the nature of the Chinese government that would favor homegrown darlings over Western search titans, it was a smart recommendation. China was still early in the online migration. There were risks, of course, but it made sense at a time when investors were skittish about buying into China’s emerging economy.

It panned out. Baidu stock was trading 2,357% higher as of late November since the newsletter service’s original recommendation. The merits of a 24-bagger over the course of nine years are obvious, but it also gives you ability to fail on 23 other stocks and still come out ahead.

That’s the great thing about buying winners and holding on to them. We could have backed out of the pick after the initial pop. It’s human nature not to be greedy. However, padding on to gains is where good investments become great ones.

All three newsletters continue to crank out fresh recommendations every month, but this isn’t a call to subscribe to any of the services. There are plenty of great newsletters out there, tipping you off early to potentially portfolio-changing investments. You will run across stock ideas on Internet message boards and at cocktail parties, but newsletters offer more in-depth research than the mere elevator pitch that you may be getting between martini sips.

Before you subscribe to a promising service make sure that you have an objective third party – like Hulbert Financial Digest – verify claims of market performance. You also want to read the fine print. You want to make sure that the companies being recommended aren’t compensating the newsletters for the vote of confidence. Reading the fine print will also inform you if it’s easy to cancel if you ever feel that the service is not right for you.

If you take as much care selecting your newsletter as you do your stocks, then “buy and hold” will work for you in more ways than one.

A secret billion-dollar stock opportunity

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Rick Munarriz, writer for Fool.com,has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Baidu. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy.

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