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The Daily Screen: The Best Foreign Funds

Some of the best in the category have focused on small-cap fare.

So much for the grass being greener.

As bad as it's been for U.S. stock funds this year, on average, foreign stock funds have been hit even harder. A steep selloff among tech and telecom stocks and a sagging euro have hurt foreign stocks and funds. A year like this one probably sours some investors on the classic argument for diversifying a U.S. stock portfolio with foreign holdings. After all, the average foreign stock fund is down 18%, more than double the

S&P 500's losses. And it trails the S&P 500 over the last five- and 10-year periods, too.

Then again, there is still good reason to keep foreign stocks in the fold. Just a few weeks ago, the

Fund Junkie column showed that over the long term, including foreign stocks in a U.S. portfolio will boost returns while actually reducing volatility. If your foreign exposure is nil or less than 10% and you're intrigued, we've done a little shopping for you. We've screened the 335-fund category for those funds that beat their average peer over the past one- and three-year periods. Some 100 funds made the cut; here's a top-10 list ranked by their one-year returns.

As you can tell from their names, many of the funds that made our top-10 list did so by focusing on small-cap stocks. As in the U.S., small- and mid-cap stocks tended to weather this year's storm better than big caps. While small-caps can offer more diversification because they're often less connected to global markets, they do typically entail more risk than stocks of larger, more established companies.

If you're interested in foreign small-cap exposure, there are several such funds on our list. An intriguing possibility you may not have heard of is the broker-sold

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First Eagle SoGen Overseas. Jean-Marie Eveillard and co-manager Charles de Vaulx have held the reins since the fund's 1993 inception.

The pair favor low-priced small- and mid-cap stocks, and their price-conscious style has led to less volatility than their average peer without hurting returns. The fund's 11.3%, five-year annualized return beats 75% of its peers, and even in this tough year, it's above water with a 3.5% gain.

Because foreign markets can entail greater volatility than the U.S. market, it's often a good idea to look at value-oriented foreign funds. Because they're essentially bargain hunters, they can post solid returns without focusing on pricey stocks, which often lead to hefty helpings of risk.

If you're looking for a price-conscious fund that spreads its assets more widely among small-, mid- and large-caps, check out the


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Oakmark International fund. David Herro and Michael Welsh have run the fund since 1995, and they only buy stocks they think are trading well below their value.

That thoughtful approach has kept the fund ahead of at least 65% of its peers over the past one-, three- and five-year time periods.

For a large-cap fund on our list, check out the broker-sold


Pilgrim International Value or broker-sold


Nations International Value. Both funds are run by a team of managers at

Brandes Investment Partners

. Over time, they've focused on stocks that look cheap but balanced this moderate approach with a willingness to dabble in emerging markets. Both funds have managed to beat their peers over time, with less volatility.

If you're wondering which stocks propelled these leading funds, we've looked into that for you. We screened the leading funds portfolios to develop a list of their cumulative top-10 holdings. Because foreign funds have a world of stocks to choose from, there isn't a ton of consensus here, but it's an intriguing list nonetheless.