For most U.S. investors, putting money into overseas opportunities follows a relatively simple recipe.
It's like a jambalaya. Start with your rice, which is a broad international mutual fund. Include some shrimp, crawfish and andouille sausage, which are sector-specific, country-specific mutual funds and exchange-traded funds known as
. Finally, add a bit of cayenne, which would be a smattering of foreign stocks that list in this country either on the
Nasdaq Composite Index
New York Stock Exchange
American depositary receipts
For many investors, this dish is spicy enough, thank you very much. With all the risks associated with overseas investing, from currency fluctuations to the volatility of emerging markets, such a portfolio still offers more heat than one that invests solely in domestic companies and mutual funds.
However, for the investor with a little more fortitude, the type who seeks out
hot sauces with names like "Blair's Sudden Death" and likes a comparable piquancy in the portfolio, there are new opportunities emerging: investing directly in non-U.S. companies in their home markets. And they can make a portfolio taste better -- or give the investor financial indigestion.
In the past, investing in overseas companies that don't list in this country has been difficult, expensive and somewhat foolhardy. It was difficult because even in the last few years, as online trading has exploded, buying a non-U.S.-listed stock had to be done personally through a broker. It was expensive because there were often extra fees involved in buying on foreign markets. And it was perhaps foolhardy, because information about overseas companies was often difficult to obtain, and sometimes unreliable.
Buying foreign companies is still risky. All investing is risky. But it is certainly easier and cheaper.
In recent months, two online brokerages,
Globeshare.com, in addition to U.S. companies and ADRs, have begun offering investors the chance to buy non-U.S. stocks that don't list in this country, otherwise known as ordinaries.
The two sites offer the same service, but with different rates and systems. Globeshare has joint agreements with brokerages in the foreign markets, and conducts the trades through their partners in 31 countries. It offers real-time trading in 16 overseas markets. Globeshare charges a flat fee of $25, and then adds on the charges and fees from the home markets, which can range from $18 to $100 per trade depending on the country, says Anastasio Carayannis, Globeshare's chairman.
INTLTRADER, on the other hand, charges a flat fee of $29.99, with no additional fees. It executes trades through its parent brokerage,
International Assets Holding
. INTLTRADER offers access to 32 countries, and while its Web site mentions fewer companies then the 10,000 that Globeshare says it handles, investors can buy "anything on those 32 exchanges," says Brent Bessire, chief operating office for INTLTRADER. Bessire says the service is "comparable to buying U.S. stocks online." Investing in ordinaries is still more expensive then domestic stocks. Intltrader charges $14.99 for U.S. trading, including ADRs; Globeshare, $29.95.
Buying ordinaries offers a host of possibilities for U.S. investors. It makes available companies that don't list here, like France's
and or Japan's
. In addition, investors can buy the home shares of companies that list here, which might be attractive if the home share is trading at a discount to the ADR.
Of course, while both Globeshare and INTLTRADER automatically calculate the exchange rate and trades are executed in dollars, they have not eliminated the risk associated with currency exchange rates. Investors may see their gains disappear simply because the local currency has declined compared to the dollar. However, that can work the other way, and investors can received a double whammy should both their stocks and the currency appreciate.
These are strategies for only the most sophisticated and savvy investors. "I'm all for more information and more choices," says Rich Venegas, a San Diego-based financial planner. However, "The majority of individual investors are probably better off to leave
investing in ordinaries to the experts," he adds.
In other words, if you want some hot sauce, know what you are getting into.
David Kurapka's Global Portfolio column appears Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays on TSC. In keeping with TSC's editorial policy, he does not own shares in any companies or mutual funds mentioned in this column. He also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. He welcomes your feedback at