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Diversify with Global Investing

globeAround twelve years ago the South Dakota Investment Council combined two of their asset classes, domestic and international stocks, into one, global stocks. While this move didn’t make the nightly news, it did signify a growing trend. Many investment managers no longer view the US stock market as a separate asset class from the rest of the world’s stock markets. Today they view it as one component of a global asset class of stocks.

For the same reason you don’t want to own just one company’s stock in your portfolio, it makes no sense for an individual investing for retirement to own just US stocks. It’s as important to diversify among countries as among companies.

The question then becomes how much of a global stock portfolio should be in US stocks and how much in international stocks. For many years the standard thinking of portfolio managers was still to over-allocate to the US. It was, and to some degree still is, common to see 80% of a portfolio’s equity allocation in US stocks.

That over-allocation has never made a lot of sense to me, considering that the US accounts for far less than 80% of the global market capitalization. In the 1980’s, US companies accounted for about 65% of the global capitalization. Accordingly, I weighted my stock portfolios with 65% US and 35% international. By 1999, the US had slipped to 50%. I adjusted my portfolios accordingly.

The latest statistics from Dimensional Fund Advisors show the US still accounts for around 50% of the global capitalization. Investors who want to maintain a true global diversification of their stock portfolios will need to seriously consider reducing their US allocation.

Which international stocks, then, should you add? Developed regions and countries like those of Europe, Australia Pacific, and Japan account for about 40% of the total global capitalization. Emerging market countries, many in Southwest Asia and Latin America, make up the remaining 10%. Weighting your portfolio accordingly gives you a well-diversified stock portfolio that has a high probability of withstanding the inevitable rise and fall of equity markets.

How do you invest globally? There are mutual funds that invest in specific countries, in regions, internationally, or globally. I don’t really like the country funds, as I don’t know which countries I should be underweighting or overweighting. Besides, creating a global index using country funds can be a lot of work and expense.

Using index regional funds is an easier way to invest in international stocks. To allocate according to the global capitalization percentages above, you would include three index mutual funds in your stock portfolio: one broad market US fund, an international fund of developed (non-emerging markets), and an emerging markets fund.

If you want even more simplicity, invest in one good global fund. The difference between an “international” fund and a “global” or “world” fund is that a global fund will include US stocks where an international fund won’t. Vanguard Total World Stock ETF comes to mind as one of the better “one size fits all” global funds that will invest in a mixture of countries, including the US. This one fund holds 7,164 stocks in 47 countries. You really need nothing more in the equity portion of your portfolio.

While it isn’t necessary to allocate your stocks strictly according to global capitalization percentages, research suggest you will probably do better in the long run to do so. Whether you decide to own country, regional, international, or global funds, what’s most important is that you diversify your stock portfolio globally. In today’s world, it’s an important component of diversified investing.

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