US investors looking overseas. Dollar's slippage is seen as good for foreign stocks
Investors interested in overseas stocks have been pouring about $1 million a day into Scudder International Fund. ``That's great,'' Nicholas Bratt, the portfolio manager, says.
Kemper International, another mutual fund that invests its money outside the United States, has enjoyed a 10 percent gain in its assets in the past few weeks, to about $45 million. The recent decline in the dollar, says fund manager Gavin R. Dobson, has ``scared a lot of people into our fund.''
David Testa, president of T. Rowe Price International Fund, has also seen the assets he manages grow some 10 percent, reaching $215 million in the past three weeks. Share sales, he notes, tend to come in waves, ``picking up when the dollar backs off.''
The decline of the dollar in value on the foreign-exchange markets can give an investor in foreign shares the potential for a double gain. If share prices go up abroad -- as they generally have in the first quarter (see table) -- the owner of foreign shares benefits, of course. If the dollar goes down, the shareowner gets an extra gain equivalent to that percentage drop.
There is more to the increased popularity of international investment, however, than the desire to make a short-term gain from an anticipated drop in the overvalued dollar. Just as some investors have hedged against inflation by buying gold, real estate, or collectibles, some are now taking the precaution of placing a portion of their investment porfolio outside the United States.
``It is an increasing component of people's thinking,'' Mr. Dobson says.
That's shown by the growth of the ``international mutual funds'' -- those funds buying securities entirely outside the US. (``Global funds'' buy securities both in the US and elsewhere.) The total assets of the 17 international funds followed by Lipper Analytical Services grew from $608 million at the end of 1983 to $1.09 billion at the end of 1984, partly because of higher prices, partly because of new money.
Besides individual investors, some institutional investors such as pension or trust funds are putting a portion of their portfolios abroad.
``It has become respectable,'' Dobson notes. ``International is no longer a hard selling job. It was like selling Mars or Venus just five years ago.''
Investors these days put money not only into stocks in London or Frankfurt, but in Singapore or Seoul, places once considered exotic.
Adds Mr. Testa of T. Rowe Price International: ``There has been a very steady growth in interest.'' One reason for this, he says, could be coverage of the international funds by the financial press.
Another beneficiary of the international trend is Intervest Corporation, an investment management firm with offices in Boston, Montreal, and Geneva. President Hans Black says interest in international business and finance picked up after the 1973-74 oil crisis. That crisis may have told investors that the US economy is very much tied into the world economy nowadays.
Whatever the case, with more than $100 million in assets -- about half from institutions and half from high-income individuals -- Intervest has been doing ``satisfactorily,'' Mr. Black says with typical Swiss reticence. He adds that the trend toward international investment ``is far away from mature.''
Managers of international money hope to take advantage of the differing trends in stock markets around the world. Often prices in one stock market are going down while those in another are moving up. If the investor can catch these trends, he can make gains, for instance, while the US stock markets are in the doldrums.
Individual investors can buy foreign stocks directly through a broker. But this can be awkward. ``Who is going to hold your shares?'' asks Mr. Bratt of Scudder International.
It may be difficult to get information on foreign companies: either because these companies make public less material, or because the reports are printed in a foreign language and with different accounting terms, or because the company is not followed regularly by the American financial press.
Investors can also buy American Depositary Receipts (ADRs) for a growing number of foreign stocks. These are negotiable certificates created by US banks in place of foreign securities. They are traded domestically in the same way as domestic stocks, with many ADRs listed on stock exchanges.
Because of the difficulties of selecting a diverse international portfolio, individual investors often decide to entrust their money to a mutual fund investing in numerous stocks and many markets abroad.
Of course, the managers of international investments have differing opinions, just as do those managing money invested in the US.
For example, Black has put little of his clients' money into Switzerland and nothing in West Germany, seeing serious ``structural problems'' in these countries. Dobson has put a large chunk of his fund's money into the Netherlands, Germany, and Switzerland -- more than would be justified if he were spreading his investments about the world according to the weighted market value of the stocks in each nation compared with market value of all stocks in major world markets. He regards the steady, non-inflationary growth in these three countries, bound closely together by trade, as ``bullish in the long term.''
Here are some foreign stocks the investment managers like:
Mr. Black: Hong Kong & Shanghai Bank (depressed by fear over Hong Kong's future, and though up from its bottom, still a ``clearance'' sale); Sony (``no one has liked it for three years'' and ``a good way to hold yen''); Fuji Photo (a ``low'' price/earnings ratio by Japanese standards); Waterford Glass (``selling less than half of book value'' in London); and Development Bank of Singapore (``tremendous potential'').
Mr. Dobson: Tokyo Broadcasting and some other companies doing mostly domestic business in Japan; Nestl'e, Deutsche Bank, and National Nederlanden.
Mr. Bratt: Hitachi and Matsushita Electric Industries in Japan with ADRs in New York; Hutchison in Hong Kong.
Mr. Testa: Kao Soap Ltd. and Taisho Marine & Fire (Japan); Deutsche Bank; L. M. Ericsson (Sweden); and General Electric PLC. (Britain). A Thursday column Chart: Prices mostly up on world stock markets Percentage change, first quarter 1985 New York Stock Exchange 10.8% United Kingdom 18.3 Frankfurt 15.4 Amsterdam 30.0 Paris 25.5 Tokyo 19.8 Johannesburg -17.4 Sydney 11.7 Singapore -16.1 Hong Kong 20.9 Source: Hoare Govett Inc.