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Play Foreign Real Estate With ETFs

Too Far, Too Fast?

So should this segment even be in your portfolio? Has it come too far, too fast to invest in now? Both DRW and RWX -- and I'll give the benefit of the doubt to AWP once it has some track record -- have relative correlations to the S&P 500 at 0.622 and 0.629, respectively, and both yield more than the S&P 500.

According to WisdomTree's back-test, the index underlying RWX has outperformed the index underlying DRW for one-, three- and five-year periods, but DRW's index has outperformed on a 10-year basis. Both funds have blown away the returns of the S&P 500 for all of the above periods. Because AWP is an actively managed product, there is no back-test.

After several years of returns of more than 30% per year, the international real estate segment is far from without risk. There are concerns about whether the property markets in the funds' largest-weighted countries -- such as the U.K., Hong Kong and Australia mentioned above -- are in their own bubbles. As for my own personal bias about Japan, years of wildly stimulative policy have not wildly stimulated the economy.

On the basis of what can be gleaned about all three funds now, buying AWP really boils down to a leap of faith in the manager. This is probably not a bad idea, because just about every Alpine product I have ever looked at has done very well.

Between RWX and DRW, I have to wonder whether the dividend weighting is the better mousetrap here. I might give the nod to RWX, given its slight outperformance as mentioned above and what I feel is better country diversification. While I am a big fan of dividend weighting, it is not intuitive that it's the best strategy for every single part of the market.

A possible strategy to incorporate one of these funds into a diversified portfolio might be to decide to allocate 2% or 3% to foreign real estate; I tend to be conservative with these types of themes. Within that weighting, allocate three-quarters to one of the funds and the other one-quarter into an individual stock from an under-represented country that you believe has a strong economy. Some examples for me would be Norway, Finland, Canada or Brazil. Obviously this won't be practical for accounts below a certain size, but I think strategically it makes sense for some folks.
At the time of publication, Nusbaum held no positions in the stock mentioned, although positions may change at any time.

Roger Nusbaum is a portfolio manager with Your Source Financial of Phoenix, and the author of Random Roger's Big Picture Blog. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy or sell stocks. Nusbaum appreciates your feedback; click here to send him an email.
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