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Foreign Stocks Lose Flair

The world is rapidly turning flat for U.S. investors seeking outsized returns from foreign stocks.

Since Sept. 30, Latin American stocks, as measured by the iShares S&P Latin America 40 (ILF) exchange traded fund, are down close to 11%, while the iShares MSCI Pacific ex-Japan (EPP) ETF has dropped more than 7%.

Not to be completely outdone, the iShares S&P Europe 350 (IEV) has sunk close to 5%. And, after rallying for much of the summer on the heels of successful political reform, the iShares MSCI Japan (EWJ) has stumbled over 4.5%.

By comparison, the U.S.-based SPDR (SPY), which tracks the S&P 500, is only down 3% in October. And that's in spite of market conditions choppy enough to make even the steeliest trader seasick.

All this talk of poor performance is, of course, relatively speaking. Foreign stocks are still thoroughly thrashing U.S. stocks, which are down just over 2% so far this year. Latin American stocks, for example, are up 33% and both the Japanese and Asia ex-Japan ETFs are still up over 6% for the year.

But since foreign problems often wash onto American shores with great fanfare and at an even greater cost to investors -- remember the Russian currency and Latin debt crises? -- the recent pullback in non-U.S. shares may be signaling domestic investors that its time to bring their greenbacks back home.

"The exuberance of American investors for foreign stocks is coming to an end," says Charles Biderman, president of fund-flow tracker TrimTabs.

Biderman started seeing the bulk of U.S. dollars flow into international funds last December when Americans grew jittery over a weakening dollar and a shaky U.S. economy. He says many investors took their cues from famed value investor Warren Buffett after he made negative comments on the U.S. economy and placed big bets against the U.S. dollar.

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