How To Invest In European, Japanese and Australian Stocks (Developed Markets ex-US)

Investing in Developed Markets (EX-US)

Why a Portfolio Tilt?

By historical standards, US Equities have become relatively expensive.

While these trends may persist and be justified by low interest rates or/and sectoral composition a marginal tilt is currently a consideration for some of our readers.

Here at Bankeronwheels.com, we believe in diversified investing. 

If implementing a tilt can make overall high valuations more bearable for some investors so that they can stick to their strategy in the long run it is a sin worth pursuing. 

We think that in Investing, perfect is the enemy of good.

In this pursuit, we can help you selecting the most diversified and cheapest Funds to increase your returns.

Let’s have a look at what’s available.

Key Takeaways

  • The below overview focuses on Developed Countries ex-US and does exclude Emerging Markets. If this is relatively new, you may want to have a quick look at Equity ETF Benchmarks before digging deeper
  • Developed Countries ex-US comprise mainly (i) Japan (ii) the UK (iii) Continental Europe and (iv) Australia. 
  • As with any active investing, some considerations may not be immediately obvious
  • Global revenues may be more subtle to analyze than Market Capitalizations
  • Sectors may matter more than countries. A Value / Growth rotation could have the biggest influence on your returns
  • Unlike US Investors, Europeans need at least 2 ETFs to gain exposure to these companies
  • A European tilt brings mostly the same sectorial benefits as including Asian countries
  • I also compare benchmarks for Europe ETFs including Stoxx, MSCI and FTSE Russell Indices
  • A second step is to assess certain practical aspects when selecting ETFs including Tax optimization
  • Finally, have a look at fees and compare performance!

STEP 1 - CHOOSE THE RIGHT Benchmark(S)

Choosing an Index involves three aspects:

  • Market Capitalization is the most direct way of measuring country exposure risk
  • Exposure to Economic Activity is the broadest way of assessing the impact of global revenue streams 
  • Benchmarks coverage varies based on companies’ size and inclusion of the UK

1. MARKET CAPITALIZATION

How much exposure will I have to different markets if I buy a Developed Markets ex-US ETF?

World Equities ex-US Illustration - Market Capitalization for MSCI EAFE

Source: MSCI, Bankeronwheels.com, data as of January 2022

What Markets can I select?

Developed Markets ex-US are often called EAFE. 

The MSCI EAFE Index was created to reflect the performance of predominately mid and large-cap stocks across 21 developed market countries in Europe, Australasia, and the Far East.

US Investors often use this Index to get International exposure.

To simplify, EAFE countries can be broadly divided into two regions: 

  • European Markets – represent roughly 65% of the overall market capitalization
  • Asia Pacific Markets – represent just over a third of the market cap and are mostly driven by two countries – Japan and Australia

How much exposure will I have to different markets if I buy a European ETF?

European Equities Illustration - Market Capitalization for EUROSTOXX 600

Source: STOXX, Bankeronwheels.com, data as of January 2022

By investing in European Stocks you cover over 65% of all EAFE countries.

The broadest European Indices (EuroStoxx 600 or FTSE Developed Europe) will provide exposure to Western Europe including the UK, which usually represents the largest allocation (between 22.5 and 25%).

Other countries that have a high allocation include France (15-17.5%) and Germany (12.5-15%).

How much exposure will I have to different markets if I buy a Pacific ETF?

Asian Equities Illustration - Market Capitalization for MSCI Pacific Index

Source: MSCI, Bankeronwheels.com, data as of January 2022

The rest of the EAFE countries are located in Asia. A single ETF tracking all of them is a rare Fund.

Such a fund may track the ‘all-in one’ MSCI Pacific Index. This benchmark mainly includes Japan (65-70% allocation) and Australia (20-22.5%).

You will also gain marginal exposure to equities listed in Hong Kong (7.5-10%) and Singapore (2.5-5%).

2. Economic Exposure

So far we have covered the Market Capitalization of European and Asian Developed Markets’ Stocks.

However, the real economic exposure of the companies will be different in a couple of ways:

  • Source of Revenues – As companies become more global they derive their revenues from international markets. Currency diversification will also increase. Compared to US companies, investing in European Stocks means increasing revenue sources from Emerging Markets, too.  
  • Sectoral Exposure – The sectoral mix can be even more impactful than looking at the countries where stocks are listed or derive their revenue from.

What active bets are you implicitly making by investing in ex-US Developed Markets?

World Developed Markets ex-US (EAFE) - Active Exposure

Consider a few facts before investing in an EAFE Fund (comparisons are made against a World ETF represented by MSCI ACWI):

  • Many European and Asian companies have been at the vanguard of globalization over the last two decades and exhibit considerable diversity in their geographic scope today. It applies across different industries. Unilever, Siemens, LVMH or Toyota are some examples. 
  • By reducing your exposure to the US, you will almost equally increase economic exposure to Europe (14%) and Asia (12%)Exposure is defined by company revenue source country.
  • It may not be intuitive that exposures increase similarly even though Europe accounts for 65% of the overall Market Cap. This is because most of Asia Pacific revenues (over 70% – not shown above) are sourced locally while European companies are more diversified (see below)
  • Your relative exposure to Emerging Markets will reduce, albeit Europe and Asia are still relatively more exposed than the US (24% vs. 16%). 
  • To keep Emerging Market exposure intact, you will need to add EM ETF to compensate for the overallocation to Developed Markets
  • The ratio will be around the same as EM’s share in MSCI ACWI since EMs derive almost all their revenues locally (over 80% – not shown above). 
  • Most importantly, you will make sectorial bets including being relatively underweight (i) IT Stocks including  Apple, Microsoft or Nvidia and (ii) Communication Services including Alphabet, Facebook or Netflix

What active bets are you implicitly making by investing in European Markets?

European Markets - Active Exposure

  • European companies have the largest exposure to Emerging Economies amongst Developed Countries.
  • The relative reduction in EM exposure is thus lower (-8%) than for the entire EAFE (-11%)
  • By investing only in Europe (no Japan, Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore exposure) your sectorial exposure won’t vary significantly compared to having those countries included.

3. PICKING A BENCHMARK

What ETF Types can I select?

You have the choice of investing in different Markets:

  • ETFs tracking MSCI EAFE Index – Easiest option. These Funds are only available for US Investors and  Europeans that qualify as Professional Clients as it relates to MiFID Rules. Once you qualify you can get access to those ETFs with your broker. All other European Investors can invest in a couple of equivalent funds, as follows. 
  • ETFs tracking European Stocks – There provide coverage to most of the Developed ex-US Markets. Benchmarks’ coverage is detailed below. 
  • ETFs tracking MSCI Pacific Index – Lyxor provides an ETF tracking the MSCI Pacific Index. However, it is a synthetic ETF and quite expensive (0.45%). Other MSCI Pacific funds exclude Japan. The largest is iShares MSCI Pacific ex-Japan (0.2%) that covers Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore and New Zealand and can be combined with iShares MSCI Japan IMI ETF (0.15%) that also includes small caps.

What types of companies do European ETFs cover?

European Equities - Benchmark Coverage

What are key considerations in choosing a benchmark?

  • A larger Free Float coverage provides you more exposure to smaller and medium companies and ultimately better diversification
  • Most benchmarks include the UK except the EuroStoxx 50 that only includes Eurozone countries and is fairly concentrated in Large Caps 

STEP 2 - FILTERING ETFS BY Characteristics

Once you have selected a benchmark you can drill down into fund characteristics.

You can save considerable amounts of money by optimizing taxes and reducing various ETF risks.

What Characteristics should I check?

Make sure you understand how to pick the right ETF.

Follow the Guide – We have designed a guide that covers all the main aspects of Equity ETF Selection including (i) Currencies (ii) Distributing/Accumulating Share Classes or (iii) assessing critical Fund Size. 

What About taxes?

Here is the potentially tricky part.

For a small portfolio, this may not make a big difference but if you have a sizeable allocation, tax leakage may be a problem.

Why?

  • EAFE Countries tend to have higher dividend yields (3%) than US companies (1.5%)
  • Every time a dividend is paid outside of the country where the company is based you may be taxed. Often without you noticing it. Have a look at how it works.
  • European ETFs may not be fully Level 1 tax-efficientOne of our readers, Juan, pointed to the KPMG guide (page 12) that lists WHT rates in different countries. Some rates may be applied by Irish ETFs or Luxembourg SICAVs on e.g. French Dividends (26.5% rate per KPMG).
  • However, ETF Providers have not provided clarity on what rates are currently being applied.
  • While we have no influence over the rates being applied, knowing it could be helpful in determining the choice of accumulating vs. distributing share classes to optimize taxes in certain situations.

STEP 3 - COMPARE ETF PERFORMANCE

Now that you have filtered for a number of candidates, performance is a good final step to select the best ETF.

But remember, the above steps are more important. Tracking Difference doesn’t always guarantee future outperformance.

Which ETFs should I choose?

Based on your choice of benchmark and characteristics, you can narrow down the selection using TER and 3 and 5-year performances.

  • If choosing the most diversified ETFs Lyxor Core Stoxx Europe 600 exhibits the best performance for an Accumulating Fund closely followed by Xtrackers Stoxx Europe 600 
  • Vanguard FTSE Developed Europe is the best performing Fund if you are looking for a Distributing share class
The consistent outperformance vs. benchmarks points to ETFs being overall tax-efficient.

Thank you for reading.

Happy Investing and keep’em* rolling !

(* Wheels & Dividends)

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About Raph Antoine 83 Articles
Raph Antoine is a Portfolio Manager and Institutional Advisor that witnessed first-hand the 2008 Global Financial Crisis and the 2011 European Debt Crisis working for some of the most prestigious names in the financial industry. Raph has experience across multiple asset classes including Fixed Income and Equity products as well as Special Situations and Restructurings in multiple jurisdictions. Raph holds an MSc in Financial Engineering and is a CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) Charterholder. He usually rides one of his two bikes. Rarely, a Canyon Ultimate CF SLX 8.0 (that is currently in family's attic) and most of the time a Gravel Pinnacle Arkose (his favourite) that he used to Cycle the World.
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Maciej
Maciej
2 days ago

Where interesting reading:) What about solution of mixing (rathert expensive and synthetic) MSCI World ex Europe ETF and Stoxx Europe 600?