With more than 4,000 publicly traded stocks in the U.S., why venture into international stocks? Diversification. Investing in international stocks can reduce your risk — and may even bolster your gains.
Yet many U.S. investors invest in companies they know, resulting in what’s known as home-market bias. What’s the right balance? According to a recent study by Nationwide Financial, the optimal allocation to international stocks — when returns are maximized and portfolio volatility minimized — is 40%. U.S. investors allocate about 22% to international stocks on average.
When you’re just learning how to invest in stocks, going global may seem like a hassle. But it needn’t be. Here’s what you need to know about investing in international stocks.
When location equals diversification
You know the idiom: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. This advice is especially important when investing, because diversification — or owning a variety of stocks across different geographies, industries and sizes of companies — is a simple way to boost long-term investment returns while reducing risk.
Even though we live in an increasingly interdependent global economy, stock returns can and do vary widely around the world. Just take a look at how a few different countries are faring year-to-date through May 22:
- U.S. stocks (as reflected by the S&P 500 Index) are up about 2%
- The Italian stock benchmark (Milano Indice di Borsa) is up more than 6%
- China’s Shanghai Composite stock index has fallen almost 3%
Research shows that adding international stocks can help reduce volatility in your portfolio, protecting against risks specific to any particular region. Your returns may also benefit from the exposure to faster-growing segments of the global economy. All together, that means your portfolio’s performance ideally will benefit from a balanced mix of investments from around the globe.
The easiest way to add international exposure is by investing in U.S.-registered mutual funds or exchange-traded funds that track foreign markets. Why U.S.-registered? To avoid potential risks and costs associated with investing in foreign markets (more on that below). What’s more, because mutual funds and ETFs are baskets of securities, their inherent diversification benefits relieve you of the onerous task of picking individual stocks.
These types of index funds offer plenty of options for investing internationally — country-specific, regional or funds tracking different types of markets (developed, emerging or frontier). And they’re readily available. All of NerdWallet’s picks for best brokers for ETF investing offer ways to invest in international funds, though the scope of offerings varies.
Managing the risks of international stocks
Fear of the unknown is one reason many investors stick to home. And that attitude is not completely unjustified, as international stocks could add unforeseen risks to your portfolio — just what you’re trying to avoid through diversification. Here are four risks to be aware of…
Turmoil. Some countries — and their markets — may be liable to violent swings from politics, economic uncertainty, foreign currency rates, corruption or even war. It’s hard enough to stay on top of the news at home, let alone track these issues in distant regions.
Data. More limited access to financial information may be another risk of investing internationally. Other countries have different rules for the breadth, type and timeliness of data that publicly traded companies must report, which can vary significantly from the norm in the U.S.
Liquidity. The U.S. is home to the largest stock exchange in the world, which means there’s generally an ample market of buyers and sellers. That may not be the case elsewhere, with lower trading volumes or more limited trading hours — both of which could make it more difficult to buy or sell when you want.
Legal recourse. The Securities and Exchange Commission protects investors from fraudulent activity — but it focuses primarily on the U.S. market. When buying foreign investments, you may not have the same access to certain legal remedies as you would when buying a U.S.-based stock.
Investing in international markets doesn’t have to be expensive, thanks to the wide variety of U.S.-registered mutual funds and ETFs available. The overall cost depends on how you invest…