World Explorer

Portfolio manager Marcus L. Smith has a method to selecting stocks from around the globe

Dow crosses 14,000.” “Nasdaq hits six-year high.” Lately it would be hard to say that the headlines from Wall Street could look much better, so why would you look abroad for investments? Well, the numbers tell the story. Over time, stock markets outside of the U.S. have done quite well and, in some instances, have outdistanced results here. Witness that, as a rough barometer, for the last five years investors in large blend domestic equity funds have pocketed an average annualized return of 12%, while investors in international large blend funds have enjoyed returns of 18%.

Whatever your outlook on the U.S. market, Marcus L. Smith, a portfolio manager with MFS Investment Management, says overseas stocks are a good counterbalance to the ups and downs of the domestic market. In fact, even with domestic large blend funds up 8.7% this year, comparable international funds were up 13.3%. There’s also a compelling reason to look abroad now. Indications are that the U.S. market may continue trailing major overseas exchanges. That’s a concern that the weakness of the dollar in currency markets will only reinforce.

Smith, a 13-year veteran with the Boston-based investment firm, cut his teeth as an analyst both stateside and in London for eight years. He currently works in the firm’s Singapore office, where he manages $17.2 billion in institutional assets and was appointed co-manager of the $1.5 billion USAA International Fund (USIFX), which carries a four-star rating from Morningstar.

In your view, what are the most compelling reasons for individual investors to look abroad?
That’s simple. The rest of the world has been on a roll vis-à-vis markets here. Global holdings have outpaced domestic ones for each of the past seven years. The winning streak could continue for quite a while. For one, the economies of giant Asian markets–India and China–are booming. Finally, GDP per capita is $4,000 in China and $1,000 in India, figures we know will grow considerably as households in both countries begin to lift consumption in line with increasing incomes.

The second reason to look abroad is valuation, shares trade at a discount as measured by price-to-earnings multiples. The fact is that investors can buy more growth at a bit cheaper price, particularly in Europe at this time.

What are your favorite picks currently?
Our portfolio’s largest holding is Nestlé SA (OTC: NSRGY), the well known Swiss food company. We like it for a couple of reasons: Its business generates a large cash flow that gives it a host of options to pursue. Recently, the company has been using the money to buy back stock, something that’s quite good for shareholders. Nestlé’s revenues are growing in the 6% to 8% range thanks to new innovative products. A good example is Gerber, the baby food line Nestlé bought in the U.S. Gerber’s a great addition because demand is growing and the company is introducing organic and salt-free products to seize upon new trends in the marketplace. Meanwhile, management at Nestlé has been busy restructuring to shrink its overall cost base. We

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