Sarah Jane’s alarm goes off at 7am. She checks messages on her Samsung Galaxy phone. After getting dressed, she packs her lunch, including some raw organic veggie bars that she bought at Trader Joe’s. After work, she’ll be going to her yoga class. She packs her Adidas running shoes.
She climbs behind the wheel of her Toyota Prius while reaching for a new pair of glasses that she bought at Sunglass Hut. As she passes the Holiday Inn, Sarah notices that she needs to get gas. She stops at the 7/11 and then runs across the street to withdraw money at TD Bank’s ATM. Before she resumes the drive to work, Sarah remembers that she and her husband invited some friends over for the weekend. There’s still plenty of room in her Frigidaire fridge to fit a few six packs of beer. She grabs some Budweiser, Miller and Heineken.
I mentioned 12 companies above. They’re household names. But none are American owned. Our world is global. Every day, we use and purchase global brands. We pump money into those firms. That’s one of the reasons our investments should reflect that.
About half of the world’s stock market exposure is made up of international stocks. But a 2013 Vanguard study said that Americans held just 27 percent of their stock market assets in international stocks. Investors from other countries have similar home-country bias. Canadians overweigh Canadian stocks. Brits, Germans and Australians overweigh their home country stocks.
But now isn’t the time to ignore global brands. Media reports say stocks are at an all-time high. But such media reports don’t think beyond their border. International stocks are cheap. U.S. stocks are pricey. That doesn’t mean American stocks don’t have plenty of room to run. They might. That’s why you should always own them. But if you have less than 30 percent of your equity exposure in international stocks, add more today. Compared to U.S. stocks, international stocks are cheap.
In fact, Vanguard’s International Stock Market Index (see the blue line below) still hasn’t recovered from its level on October 31, 2007. That was almost ten years ago. In contrast, U.S. stocks (as shown by the orange line) have almost doubled.
Unfortunately, our biggest investment enemy is the one we face in the mirror. Memories are short. We trick ourselves into thinking that the past will show the future. But U.S. stocks don’t always win.
Many investors forget when international stocks last gave U.S. stocks a beating. It wasn’t that long ago. From December 31, 2001 to December 31, 2010, Vanguard’s International Stock Market Index gained a total of 107.89 percent. By comparison, U.S. stocks (measured by Vanguard’s Total Stock Market Index) gained just 41.64 percent.
On December 19th, I wrote, Why International Stocks Have Plenty Of Room To Run. After a long slumber, they might be waking up. Since I wrote that story, international stocks have pushed ahead of U.S. stocks. Vanguard’s U.S. Stock Market Index (VTSMX) is up 5.7 percent. Vanguard’s International Stock Market Index (VGTSX) is up 6.64 percent. Vanguard’s Emerging Market Index (VEIEX) has soared 9.39 percent.
International stocks might be making their move. Robert J. Shiller’s research says their time might be due. Mr. Shiller is a Nobel Prize winning economist. He says traditional price-to-earnings (PE) ratios don’t accurately reflect whether stocks are cheap or expensive. He prefers to use a cyclically adjusted price-to-earnings (CAPE) ratio. That means a single year’s strong (or weak) performance doesn’t skew the valuation.
When stocks trade well above their average CAPE levels, it usually means they’ll face a tough decade ahead. U.S. stocks trade at a historical average CAPE ratio of about 16 times earnings. According to Norbert Keimling, Head of Star Capital Research, U.S. stocks traded at 25.4 times earnings at the end of 2016. That might indicate a future decade headwind.
Most international markets, however, trade below their historical CAPE level. When they do, according to Robert Shiller, they usually enjoy tailwinds. That’s why they should be part of every smart investor’s portfolio.
Nobody knows when international stocks will, once again, leave U.S. stocks behind. But one thing is certain. It’s going to happen. If you haven’t booked your ticket, jump on board today.
After all, global brands are everywhere. You’re already buying their products. You might as well own their stocks.
Andrew Hallam is a Digital Nomad. He’s the author of the bestseller, Millionaire Teacher and The Global Expatriate's Guide to Investing: From Millionaire Teacher to Millionaire Expat.