March 2016

Equity  markets have experienced a sharp decline to start 2016, leading many investors to reevaluate their asset allocation.  As US stocks have outperformed developed ex US and Emerging Markets stocks over the last few years, some investors might consider reevaluating the benefits of investing outside the US.  From January 1, 2010, throgh February 29, 2016, the S&P 500 Index had an annualized return of 11.66% while the MSCI World ex USA Index returned 2.26% and MSCI Emerging Markets  Index returned -2.28%.  While there are many reason a US-based investor may prefer a home bias in their equity portfolios, using return differences over the last few years as the sole input into this decision may result in missed opportunities that the global markets offer.  However, it is important to remember that:

1) International stocks help provide valuable diversification benefits.

2) Recent performance is not a reliable indicator of future returns.


Nearly half of the investment opportunities in global equity markets, lie outside the US. Non-US stocks, including developed and emerging markets,account for 48% of world market cap and represent more than 10,000 companies in over 40 countries.


We can examine the potential opportunity cost associated with failing to diversify globally by reflecting on a recent period from 2000-2009. During this period, often called the "lost decade," the S&P 500 Index recorded its worst ever 10-year performance with a total cumulative return of -9.1%.  However, conditions where more favorable for global equity investors  as most equity asset classes outside the US generated positive returns over the course of the decade Looking at performance for each of the 11 decades starting in 1900 and ending  in 2010, the US market outperformed the world market in five decades and underperformed in the other six.  By holding a globally diversified portfolio, investors are positioned to capture returns wherever they occur.


Concentrating a portfolio in any one country can expose investors to large variations in returns.  The difference between the best - and worst - performing countries can be significant.  For example, since 1996, the average return of the best performing developed country was 37.5%  while the average return of the worst performing country was -15.7%.  Over the last 20 calendar years, the US has been the best-performing country twice, and the worst performing once.  Diversification provides the means to achieve a more consistent outcome and most importantly helps reduce and manage catastrophic losses that can be associated with investing in just a small number of stocks or a single country


While the performance of different countries and asset classes will vary over time, there is no reliable evidence that performance can be predicted in advance.  An approach to equity investing that uses the global opportunity set available to investors can provide both diversification benefits as well as potentially higher expected returns.


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