To try international small caps, consider an active manager with a steady long-term record. Top choices include Harding Loevner International Small Company ( HLMSX), Goldman Sachs International Small Cap ( GISAX), Lord Abbett International Opportunities ( LAIEX), and Wasatch International Opportunities ( WAIOX).

Harding Loevner has excelled by emphasizing high-quality companies with strong balance sheets. The fund has returned 23.0% annually, over the past five years, outdoing 98% of funds in Morningstar's foreign small- / mid-blend category. Portfolio manager Jafar Rizvi likes to find stocks that can grow for the next five years. A holding is Halla Visteon Climate Control, a Korean maker of heating and air conditioning systems for cars. A supplier for Hyundai and other Korean operators, the company has begun gaining sales abroad. "They are expanding to the German manufacturers and into the emerging markets like India and Russia," says Rizvi.

During the past five years, Wasatch International Opportunities returned 23.9% annually, outdoing 87% of small- / mid-growth peers. The fund favors companies with little debt and high returns on equity. Many stocks are purchased when they are microcaps with market capitalizations of around $250 million. About 70% of holdings have no analyst coverage. Portfolio manager Laura Geritz likes to find businesses that can report above-average growth because they dominate small niches. A holding is Spur, which operates restaurants in South Africa. "In the future, they will grow by expanding around Africa," says Geritz.

Lord Abbett International Opportunities holds a mix of growth and value names. The aim is to find companies with solid balance sheets and clear potential for growth. During the past five years, the fund has returned 19.9% annually, outdoing 61% of small/mid blend competitors. Following the financial crisis, the portfolio managers sought companies that were investing in their businesses and seemed likely to emerge from the downturn with bigger market shares. A recent holding was Ashtead Group ( ASHTF), a UK company that rents construction equipment to industrial and commercial clients.

This article was written by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.
Stan Luxenberg is a freelance writer specializing in mutual funds and investing. He was executive editor of Individual Investor magazine.

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