Believe it or not, it's almost halftime in 2012. So far this year has been anything but boring, starting off with an astonishing market run-up in the opening months that quickly gave way to a fear-induced sell-off after a spate of negative economic news both at home and abroad. While the remainder of the year will undoubtedly prove equally challenging, investors can't afford to sit on the sidelines. This three-part series will examine where investors should direct their money in the second half of the year. Let's kick things off by looking at some of the best international opportunities.
Investment No. 1: Vanguard Total International Stock ETF
While the situation in Europe is pretty scary and likely to get even more scary before it gets better, investors shouldn't completely ditch their euro exposure. By trying to sit out the crisis completely, odds are good that investors will end up making moves at all the wrong times and hurting their portfolio more than if they had just sat tight. But at the same time, investors shouldn't ignore the significant risks in this region. The key here is to stay diversified while keeping a light touch in the eurozone.
The Vanguard Total International Stock ETF offers an ideal way to attack the problem of foreign investing in these challenging times. The fund tracks the performance of the stock markets in 44 foreign developed and emerging nations around the world. With its wide focus, investors aren't overly exposed to the European region. In fact, while the Vanguard MSCI EAFE ETF has a 41% allocation to developed Europe, the Total International Stock ETF has just a 28% bet. Keep in mind that emerging markets are risky, too, and they have slowed along with Europe in recent quarters, but the combination of broad, worldwide diversification and a lighter eurozone allocation makes this fund an ideal choice for today's market.
Investment No. 2: PowerShares International Dividend Achievers
Another strategy for avoiding the worst of the brewing global storm without stepping out of the market is to focus on higher-quality foreign stocks that have the best chances of weathering the chaos. This exchange-traded fund is an excellent tool for doing just that. The fund tracks the performance of the International Dividend Achievers Index, which includes foreign stocks that have consistently increased their dividend payments over the last five years.
Canada and the U.K. make up the biggest country allocations here, although emerging markets including Spain, Russia, and Israel also have representation. Developed Europe accounts for less than 20% of assets. This is a more compact portfolio, with just 65 holdings, so don't expect index- like performance from this fund. At last glance, the fund carried a yield of 3.5%, a nice benefit in this era of low yields. You won't get away without a significant degree of volatility here -- for instance, the fund lost nearly half its value in 2008 -- but long-term results have been excellent. The fund currently ranks in the top 15% of all foreign large-cap value funds in the past five-year period. This ETF is a top pick for weeding out the best of the best of foreign companies.
Investment No. 3: Loomis Sayles Global Bond (LSGLX)
Getting exposure to foreign economies doesn't necessarily have to be done with equities -- the world bond market is another way to profit from overseas markets. Loomis Sayles Global Bond invests primarily in investment-grade corporate and government bonds from around the world. Right now, government bonds account for just over half of fund assets, with corporate bonds making up another 28%. While bonds from developed nations like Germany and the U.K. feature prominently here, the portfolio also has a smaller slug of issues from emerging countries such as Turkey, Uruguay, and South Africa.
While the fund's broad mandate and geographical flexibility give it a leg up on reducing volatility, don't mistake this investment for your run-of-the-mill bond fund. Particularly in times of financial distress, this fund can lose money, as it did in 2008 when it fell 8.8%. Risk is certainly higher here than in a U.S.-centric bond fund like the iShares Barclays Aggregate Bond ETF . So investors who can't stomach short-term losses in the bond portion of their portfolio should stay away. However, those folks who can put up with a bumpier ride should do well here, as shown by the fund's 6.7% annualized return in the past 15 years, a better showing than 81% of its peers.