International funds have received a lot of attention in recent years, and this should come as no surprise. For starters, it has become increasingly common for investors to build multi-fund international portfolios rather than rely on individual foreign offerings for all their overseas exposure. Further, international funds have posted exceptional gains in recent years (except in 2008 and 2011). This may sound good if a significant part of your portfolio is devoted to international funds, but be sure the popularity and performance of overseas offerings hasn’t made you complacent.
In fact, it’s just as important to periodically reexamine the parts of your portfolio that have done well and reevaluate the portions that have lagged.
If you do take on international funds, remember to keep both your near-term expectations and your overseas exposure in check. You can also consider conservative foreign funds.
The first step is to set reasonable expectations for the short- to mid-term prospects of international funds. The superior relative gains posted by various types of overseas offerings in recent years may not be sustainable in the long run, as illustrated by weak international performance in 2008 and 2011.
When superior performance of overseas offerings does happen, check to see whether their overall foreign exposure exceeds the upper end of their international allocation range. A great portfolio performer can take on a larger percentage than you intended. Keeping an eye on your international allocation can help lower the overall risk of a portfolio.
The illustration paints a rather clear picture of this. In 1970, this portfolio began with an equal allocation to international stocks, U.S. stocks, and U.S. bonds. However, due to the strong performance of international stocks during the 1980s and 1990s, allocation to this asset class jumped to 52%. While many might overlook this shift in international exposure, keep in mind that international stocks have historically been riskier than their U.S. counterparts. As a result, the portfolio may take on an additional level of risk.
If you need to rebalance your overseas portfolio to reduce overall risk, or seek more foreign exposure, consider conservative foreign investment vehicles. Aggressive international investments have a higher probability of incurring damage during a prolonged downturn. Investing in conservative foreign funds can help balance this risk.