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Investors and fund managers alike have reacted to Europe's financial crisis by saying au revoir to shares of European stocks. In the face of such uncertainty, folks are figuring it might be more prudent to wait this crisis out and turn their global attentions elsewhere. I concur that the European continent will likely face a period of subpar growth in the near future and that investors should be cautious about committing meaningful new capital to the area right now.
But not all foreign managers are giving Europe the cold shoulder. To get an idea of who's not afraid of big, bad Europe, I searched for broadly focused foreign funds with a greater than 64% allocation to greater Europe, 64% being the regional allocation to European stocks in the MSCI EAFE Index and the average foreign large blend fund. Below are three of the best funds with a higher than average allocation to the European continent that came through in my search.
Dodge & Cox International Stock (DODFX)
This team-managed gem of a fund currently stashes 60% of its assets in Europe, according to Morningstar data. Country-wise, the U.K. soaks up 14.9% of assets, France clocks in with 9.8%, and Switzerland with 8.8%. Financial names make up the biggest sector allocation here, at 21.7%. HSBC Holdings (NYSE: HBC ) and Switzerland's Credit Suisse Group (NYSE: CS ) are favorites here. Both of these names fit management's criteria for strong franchises with competitive dynamics, as well as having meaningful exposure to emerging markets, an area which the team expects will drive global growth in the future.
Emerging markets also get a decent amount of portfolio space here, so the fund is a one-stop shop for investors seeking broad foreign coverage. Over the most recent five years, the fund has beaten 92% of its peers, thanks to management's timely stock picking. Despite its heavy allocation to Europe, the fund remains 2.5 percentage points ahead of the MSCI EAFE Index. This fund is still one of the best options around for all-encompassing international investing.
Templeton Foreign A (TEMFX)
Templeton Foreign clocks in with almost 70% of assets allocated to Europe, with the U.K., France, and Germany together accounting for 40% of fund assets. Right now, management is having a love affair with the information technology sector. This area, including media and telecomm, accounts for just over one-third of assets, three times the weighting of the benchmark MSCI EAFE Index.
The U.K.'s Vodafone Group (Nasdaq: VOD ) , Spain's Telefonica (NYSE: TEF ) , and Germany's SAP (NYSE: SAP ) are a few of the tech companies management sees opportunities in. Management feels that tech spending is likely to pick up after being cut so harshly during the recession, and companies like SAP, which have high free cash flow and a healthy balance sheet, will benefit as a result. Likewise, the team feels that difficulties in the telecom sector in recent years, including a decline in fixed-line communication services and heightened price sensitivity in the wireless sector, have actually created attractive opportunities for telecom firms with low valuations, high free cash flow, and promising growth in emerging markets.
Templeton Foreign has surpassed nearly a third of its competitors over the past decade and a half, with a 6.3% annualized gain. If you can buy this fund without paying the front-end load, it should be a good performer for any foreign portfolio.
Tweedy Browne Global Value (TBGVX)
Rounding out our list is Tweedy Browne Global Value with a 72.9% allocation to the European region. Top country allocations here include Germany at 15.1%, Switzerland at 15%, and the Netherlands at 10.5%. This gem of a fund has posted a 9.7% annualized return over the most recent 15 years, ranking in the top 1% of all foreign large value funds, thanks to the team's Buffett-like focus on buying good businesses at low prices and holding them for the long run, as evidenced by the fund's glacial 7% annual turnover.
Global Value is playing things a bit defensively, stocking more than one-third of fund assets in consumer goods. The team likes larger, globally diversified, high-quality names with high returns on capital, strong balance sheets to endure economic difficulty, and exposure to fast-growing emerging markets. Two names that fit the bill in this portfolio are Unilever (NYSE: UL ) , in which the team has recently been adding to its position, and beverage manufacturer Diageo (NYSE: DEO ) . This is a great fund for more conservative investors who prefer a low level of risk with their foreign exposure.
Ultimately, while I think Europe is in for a long, slow haul back to financial health, folks looking for some direction in the foreign markets would do well to own any of these three funds. These funds may look drastically different when their next updated portfolios become publicly available, but even if they do, I would be pretty confident in following their managers wherever they lead.
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