A retail investor is bemused when he hears Dow Jones, NASDAQ or Nikkei. Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) is an index that tracks 30-large, publicly-owned companies trading on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) and the NASDAQ. The DJIA, commonly referred to as Dow Jones, gets its name from Charles Dow, who created it in 1896, and his business partner, Edward Jones. Originally, NASDAQ was an acronym for the National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotations. It is now the second-largest stock exchange in the world by market capitalization, behind only NYSE. NASDAQ Composite is the stock market index of the common stocks and securities listed on the NASDAQ stock market. It is one of the three most-followed indices in US stock markets, the others being the Dow Jones Average and Standard &Poor (S&P) 500. Closer home in Asia, the SSE Composite Index is also known as SSE Index is a stock market index of all stocks that trade at the Shanghai Stock Exchange. Nikkei is short for Japan’s Nikkei 225 Stock Average, the leading and most-respected index of Japanese stocks. It is a price-weighted index composed of Japan’s top 225 blue-chip companies traded on the Tokyo Stock Exchange. The Nikkei is equivalent to the DJIA index in the United States. A latent ambition of any retail investor is to invest in markets abroad so that he can reap their benefits. However, it is not everybody’s cup of tea to track these markets or understand their investment nuances. An easier and simpler option available to investors is to take the mutual fund (MF)route, which professional fund managers maintain, but come with their own pros and cons. Nevertheless, on the part of the investors, this does not imply complacency and overreliance on the wisdom of the financial advisor or fund manager. An investor will do well to correctly formulate his financial goals before venturing towards foreign markets and thereafter continually track his investments.
An international MF helps the investor to invest in companies abroad and some people also refer to them as overseas or foreign funds. They help an investor to benefit from the growth stories of other developed or developing economies. These funds come with chances of higher returns; thus, they also carry the associated higher risk. Ipso facto, investors use them as an alternative investment with a long-term horizon and invest only 10 to 15% of their net worth in these funds. Over the medium and long-terms, an investor can also benefit from the depreciating value of rupee by putting some money in an international fund that further invests it in dollar-denominated assets. It also helps the investors to diversify their portfolios by spreading their risks while simultaneously taking advantage of the growth or earning potential of other markets. These funds can also help an investor to hedge against currency fluctuations if his financial goal is to teach his child or go for a vacation abroad. Investing in international funds is now more lucrative. Simply because the government treats all investments in international funds as debt investments and accordingly taxes them at 20% with indexation for LTCG and as per the investor’s income tax slab for STCG.
The various types of funds that help you to invest in foreign markets are – international, global, regional, country, commodity, and global sector. Typically, international MFs invest in foreign markets except for the investor’s country of residence. On the other hand, global funds invest in foreign markets as well as the investor’s country of residence. We can further classify the international MFs into the emerging market or developed market funds. The emerging-market funds invest in emerging markets like India, China, Russia, Brazil etc and reap the benefits from the respective country’s growth story. On the other hand, developed market funds primarily invest in developed and mature economies and thus offer stability. The emerging-market funds are riskier than the developed market funds because of their inherently unstable economies, currency risks and in certain cases the prevalent internal political turmoil. Another point that comes to mind is that most of these funds have a small asset size of less than 100 crore and funds with low AUM may suffer from the pressure of large redemptions due to any of these risk factors.
An investor will invest in a geographic region or specific country through regional or country funds respectively. The commodity and global sector funds help the investor to either invest in specific commodities like gold, precious metals, crude oil or specific themes like infrastructure, real estate, or pharmaceutical abroad. Some international funds follow the direct route of investment in foreign stocks, while some take the more diversified approach to invest in indices such as the S&P 500 or NASDAQ. The modus operandi of investment is that of a feeder and master, where the domestic fund acts as the feeder to its international master mutual fund.
A word of advice for the investors is to follow the basic investment rules that they follow while investing in domestic mutual funds. They must invest as per their quantified financial objective based on their risk profile and net worth. They need to track their investments and not leave it on autopilot with the financial advisor or fund manager. They should be pragmatic in their approach and not let their emotions rule their investment sense. The investor will do well to remember that time is his friend and impulse his enemy. The investor must seek sound financial advice and avoid self-investment that may prove perilous, much the same way as self-medication proves deadly.
A cumulative performance chart below, generated from our research software, shows that international funds category (S&P 500) has outperformed domestic funds category (S&P 500 BSE) through all time horizons. The table below also gives out the simple averages of various stock market categories.