One of the biggest problems facing investors these days — perhaps even more so in recent years — is something market pundits have dubbed “hometown bias.” Essentially, it’s our propensity to favor U.S. stocks over international stocks. The problem is, as we’ve become more of a global and interconnected economy, the U.S. has seen its leadership position slip.
After all, you’re just as likely to drive a German car, grab a cold one from your Korean fridge and watch some TV on your Japanese flat panel. And that’s reflected in the growing world of international stocks.
When looking at the world’s stock market capitalization, back in 2003, the U.S. was the leader and made up around 45% of the total. By 2016, that amount had dwindled to just 36%.
Luckily, the indexing superstars at Vanguard have you covered with their exchange-traded funds. The Malvern, Pennsylvania-based investment powerhouse offers plenty of international funds to help you overcome your hometown bias. Even better, is that the manager recently lowered its expenses on its whole suite of Vanguard ETFs.
And here’s the best part: You only need three of these Vanguard ETFs to basically own the entire world of international stocks and bonds.
Vanguard ETFs to Buy: Vanguard Total International Stock ETF (VXUS)
Expense Ratio: 0.11%, or $11 per $10,000 invested
Defeating hometown bias with Vanguard ETFs is easy with the Vanguard Total International Stock ETF (NASDAQ:VXUS). This ETF owns more than 6,000 different international stocks. No — that huge number wasn’t a typo.
VXUS tracks the FTSE Global All Cap ex US Index. This measure covers 98% of the world’s non-U.S. markets, including markets in the European, Pacific, emerging markets and North American regions across the full market-cap spectrum, large-, mid- and small-cap stocks.
Basically, if it’s an international stock, it’s in VXUS. Top holdings including Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. (OTCMKTS:SSNLF), Royal Dutch Shell plc (ADR) (NYSE:RDS.A, NYSE:RDS.B) and Toyota Motor Corp (ADR) (NYSE:TM). The ETF is roughly split 80/20 between developed and emerging market holdings. This vast array of holdings makes VXUS an excellent choice to add a dash of international stocks to your portfolio.
As for returns, VXUS has been on the weak side of the Vanguard ETFs suite — only gaining an average of 5.86% over the last five years. But, with global trends still in place and the variability of market returns withstanding, VXUS still makes perfect sense as a portfolio holding.
Vanguard ETFs to Buy: Vanguard Global ex-U.S. Real Estate ETF (VNQI)
We all know the classic real estate mantra of “location, location, location.” Increasingly, that location is outside of the United States.
The U.S. only makes up about 30% of the world’s total global real estate market. That leaves plenty of opportunities for investors outside of the U.S.
Leave it to low-cost leading Vanguard ETFs to craft one of the cheapest options for investors in the sector. The Vanguard Global ex-US Real Estate ETF (NASDAQ:VNQI) tracks the S&P Global ex-U.S. Property Index. This index provides exposure to international real estate stocks in both developed and emerging markets.
That’s nearly 680 real estate investment trusts and real estate operating companies from approximately 35 countries. The $3.2 billion fund is heavily weighted in the Asia-Pacific reigon, with Japan clocking in at nearly 23% of VNQI’s holdings. That’s understandable, as Japan was one of the first nations to adopt the REIT structure after the United States. Hong Kong, Australia, China and the U.K. round out the top five.
That focus on Asia hasn’t hurt the fund on the returns front. Over the last five years, VNQI has produced an 8.37% annual total return, while paying a nice 3.48% dividend.
Vanguard ETFs to Buy: Vanguard Total International Bond ETF (BNDX)
Expense Ratio: 0.12%
If investors are painfully underweight international stocks, then their holding in international bonds are non-existent.
Again, the shame here is that the majority of fixed income opportunities — both sovereign and corporate bonds — lie outside the U.S. With interest rates still in the basement, investors are leaving the opportunity to pick-up some extra yield on the table.
The Vanguard Total International Bond ETF (NASDAQ:BNDX) makes adding a dash of international bonds a snap.
The $6.2 billion BNDX tracks more than 4,000 investment grade bonds. This includes government, government agency, corporate and securitized non-U.S. investment grade fixed-income investments all issued in currencies other than the U.S. dollar. The added benefit is that the fund is hedged against the U.S. dollar. That helps to protect against uncertainty in exchange rates. Investors are able to focus on strict performance rather than the effects of currency.
That strategy and currency hedge seem to be working. BNDX is a new ETF. But in its only year of operation, it has managed to return 4.63%. That’s not too shabby for a bond fund.
As of this writing, Aaron Levitt did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.