How much time will you spend thinking about the next stock you buy? If you're like most Americans, the answer is "not much." According to research from ING, "the average American spends more time researching a new refrigerator than they do stocks."

Now, we all need a good place to keep our beer cold, but that's ludicrous ... and it gets worse.

A recent survey revealed that just 16% of Americans invest according to an asset allocation plan. This means that 84% of us are blindly buying stocks without any regard for what we may or may not already own, or hoping someone else does it right for us!

Why this is bad
In consequence, individual investors get overexposed to certain "hot" sectors. Think back to 2000. Four of the five most widely owned stocks were tied to the Internet bubble -- AT&T, AOL, Lucent, and Verizon. As a result, when the Internet bubble collapsed, investors who owned all of these popular stocks got hit harder than they would have had they owned some of the commodities stocks that survived the 2000-01 downturn fairly well.

This is why it's important to invest according to an asset allocation plan. Not only will it protect your portfolio from short-term volatility in a specific company, country, sector, or asset class, but it will also help you make more money over the long term as a result.

How to think about asset allocation in 2010
We recently asked our members at Motley Fool Global Gains to review their asset allocation and let us know what they need to gain exposure to in 2010. To help them make that determination, we updated our global asset allocation guidelines. While every individual needs an asset allocation plan tailored specifically to his or her situation, here's how our Global Gains guidelines break down for the typical "aggressive" investor.

  • We want 85% of your investable assets in stocks and 15% in bonds.
  • We want 60% invested within the United States and 40% internationally.
  • Within that international exposure, we want 75% invested in emerging markets and 25% in developed markets.

Some will call those guidelines overly aggressive. We disagree. They're based on our market outlook and valuation analysis, and they synthesize the work of top investment minds such as Warren Buffett, Mohammed el-Erian, and Jeremy Siegel. As I've written before, the dollar is doomed, and the top markets over the next decade will be currently emerging markets such as China, India, and Brazil.

Is your asset allocation up to snuff?
Unfortunately, Americans today are dangerously underexposed to the rest of the world's markets, with one survey showing that U.S. investors have just 6% of their savings invested outside of the United States. Even our Global Gains members, a very worldly group, are finding that their portfolios aren't yet sufficiently exposed to Africa and Latin America.

What are you missing? I encourage you to find out.

Put your portfolio to the test
When it comes to calculating your foreign exposure, the key is not to look at where the companies you own are headquartered, but rather where they do business. Consider, for example, these three relatively well-known, related stocks:



Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO)

Atlanta, Ga., USA

PepsiCo (NYSE: PEP)

Purchase, N.Y., USA

Monsanto (NYSE: MON)

St. Louis, Mo., USA

Syngenta (NYSE: SYT)

Basel, Switzerland

McDonald's (NYSE: MCD)

Oak Brook, Ill., USA

YUM! Brands (NYSE: YUM)

Louisville, Ky., USA

Based on this information, Syngenta is the only international stock in the mix. But now take a look at how each company's sales break down:


US (or North America) Sales (% of total)

International Sales (% of total)
















YUM! Brands



When you look at it this way, Coca-Cola, Syngenta, McDonald's, and YUM! all offer prospective investors significant international exposure. In fact, this international exposure is why I prefer Coke to Pepsi, Syngenta to Monsanto, and McDonald's and YUM! to most other stocks in the restaurant space. Given my outlook for the U.S. economy, the foreign parts of these businesses will provide more growth and valuable currency diversification going forward.

Now consider the stocks in your own portfolio. Do any of them offer foreign exposure? Do you own any companies that have made doing business in fast-growing China or Brazil an important part of their strategy? If the answer to all three of these questions is "no," then stocks that do possess these traits are the stocks you need to buy now.

In sum
With an asset allocation plan and additional foreign exposure, your portfolio will be better positioned to profit over the next decade. If you need some help putting those things in place, come join us at Motley Fool Global Gains, where you can find a variety of asset allocation resources, including our updated asset allocation report, as well as dozens of market-beating international stock recommendations.

Click here for more information.

This article was first published on Feb. 5, 2010. It has been updated.

Tim Hanson is co-advisor of Motley Fool Global Gains and also needs more exposure to Africa. He does not own shares of any company mentioned. Syngenta is a Motley Fool Global Gains recommendation. Coke and Pepsi are Motley Fool Income Investor selections. Coke and Monsanto are Inside Value picks. You don't need to read the Fool's disclosure policy now, but you can peruse it at your leisure.