Buying U.S. stocks could be a superior way to gain international exposure
Smart investors balance their portfolios between domestic and international financial investments. However, what might not be obvious when selecting stocks is that often investments in domestic companies come with significant international exposure.
“Most investors I speak with unwittingly have way too much international exposure,” says Sam Kendrick, portfolio manager and vice president at Whittier Trust Company.
Due to globalization over the last 50 years, U.S. companies have been investing more and more overseas, and the amount of international exposure in the S&P 500 has gone up over time. “Around 40% of domestic large cap company revenues come from outside of the U.S. so you’re actually getting a really nice amount of international exposure when you buy the S&P 500,” he says.
Here, Kendrick explains why you get a superior form of—and enough—international investments when buying U.S. stocks.
It’s Less Risky
When you invest in a domestic company that has invested abroad, there’s more oversight at a micro level. “You get U.S. accounting standards, U.S. auditors reviewing the financial statements and the SEC monitoring the buying and selling of the stock,” says Kendrick. “If I just buy Chinese stock in a Chinese company and they said they made $100 million dollars last year, I’m less sure that’s true. Whereas in the U.S., you can be more confident here than elsewhere that they made that money.”
On a larger level, by investing domestically, your investment is being domiciled in a large, stable, democratic country with stocks that trades in dollars, which is the reserve currency of the world. “There is less risk because in times of crisis, investors across the world seek dollar denominated exposure. Because our economy is large and resilient, investors want to own companies with the majority of their revenue generated here rather than from countries that are less stable,” Kendrick says.
It's More Diversified and Less Cyclical
The U.S. stock market is extremely well diversified in a few different ways. For starters, the S&P 500 gets 60% of its revenues from the U.S., 14% from Europe, 7.4% from China and 3% from Japan, according to Factset
“Then from a sector perspective, there are very robust allocations within the S&P 500 to healthcare, technology, communications and industrials. All of these sectors have large, high-quality companies with differentiated products,” says Kendrick. More commoditized sectors, such as energy, materials, financials and real estate, have a relatively low exposure in the S&P 500 compared to foreign markets.
On top of that diversification, Kendrick notes that the S&P 500 is less cyclical than foreign indexes, meaning it encompasses more companies that are less dependent on the economic cycle to grow. According to JP Morgan, 34% of the S&P 500’s exposure is to cyclical sectors, whereas emerging markets’ exposure is 49%, Europe’s is 53% and Japan’s is 57%.
“All else being equal, it’s better to invest in companies that have less volatility in their revenue and earnings growth,” Kendrick says.
It Has the Cheapest Cost of Capital
Kendrick often speaks with investors who are hesitant to allocate more money to domestic stocks because they are more expensive than foreign stocks. However, the other side of the coin is that the expensive price tag reflects a cheaper cost of capital for U.S. companies.
“Higher valuations mean that U.S. companies can raise money more cheaply. This means large U.S. companies can raise capital and buy foreign assets rather than selling their assets to foreign firms,” says Kendrick. “When it comes to small companies, entrepreneurs, venture capital firms and private equity firms focus on the U.S. because of the higher valuations businesses receive here versus abroad. In turn, having many of the most successful startups based in the U.S. increases our country’s growth rate.”
He cites Tesla as an example of cheap capital driving U.S. growth. “Despite not being profitable for 17 years, U.S. markets provided the funds it needed to grow. Now it has reached scale and is raising debt and equity in U.S. markets to expand overseas with large factories in Germany and China,” Kendrick says. “It’s hard to imagine the same growth story taking place in another country.”
When thinking about your portfolio and buying domestic vs. international stocks, consider the above three reasons to buy U.S. over international. Also, consider this: giving up some outperformance in a bull market is ok if the downside protection is better. “Everyone focuses on how U.S. markets have outperformed since the global financial crisis, but the truth is, even if U.S. and international were expected to perform the same, we would still buy U.S. because it’s less risky,” Kendrick says.