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International Stocks Provide 'Variety of Risk' for Portfolios

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Carl Macko tends to have a broader international outlook than the average advisor and many factors play into that outlook. Originally from Canada, Macko was previously an investment and mutual fund advisor with Bank of Montreal Mutual Funds in Toronto, where he was licensed to provide investment recommendations on 34 security, income, growth and aggressive growth mutual funds.

“International investing is a standard for a properly constructed investment portfolio,” Macko said. “It’s a standard area. I think I’m more interested in that area, and maybe I hold a little higher weighting [in international holdings], because of where I grew up and traveled—quite a bit outside of Canada and the U.S.”

Now president and founding principal of Synergy Capital Management, LLC in Atlanta, Macko has put both his travel and experience to good use in constructing his clients’ portfolios. Pointing out that the U.S. only makes up about half of the global market, Macko said, “I tend to weight [portfolios] a little heavier: 55% internationally in equity, and the rest in the U.S.”

“A portion of that goes into emerging markets, Brazil, Russia, China, and India,” Macko said and, within the next year or two, he plans to add “a portion of that into the new area of international investing that’s gaining popularity: the frontier countries in Africa and the Middle East, Indonesia, places like that are becoming what emerging markets were 20 years ago.”

While Macko has used ETFs previously, mostly what he relies on primarily are “actively managed funds from smaller boutique fund firms.” Rather than relying on the Fidelities and Vanguards of the investment world, Macko said he relies on smaller firms whose “expense fees may be a hair higher but they tend to have done fairly well over 5- and 10-year periods.”

Currently Macko uses “entirely mutual funds,” but he has plans to “expand the practice into clients holding more risk, individual stocks and ADRs—[investments] from companies all around the world; bond funds as well.” Of course, he already uses international bonds on the fixed-income side of his clients’ portfolios, and a REIT that’s “50-50 U.S. and international as well; a lot of advisors will just use domestic.”

Macko also does a lot of research into just what his clients’ holdings should be. In addition to keeping his finger on the global pulse, he watches the “bigger institutional fund managers” to see what they’re doing: he ticked off separately managed accounts, Goldman Sachs, CIBC World Markets (the investment banking subsidiary of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce) or pension funds.

“I try and—maybe not replicate 100%, but come close to what they’re doing,” he said. For a “more Canadian perspective,” he also checks out the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan. “It’s a big portfolio; I’ll take a look at that,” he said, adding that it’s more conservatively managed.

“I use what they call tactical asset management,” Macko said. He assigns certain weightings to a portfolio, with seven or perhaps 8 asset classes, “but depending on what things look like, what’s [going on] in the world economy, I might adjust those. For instance, [take the] emerging market. A lot of advisors might do only 5.5%, but I’ll do 7.5%.”

Emerging markets, are not only becoming a higher weighting in the global marketplace but will continue to do so in the future, as their “huge populations” grow and more companies will be based in those countries, according to Macko. He sees the possibility of those markets’ weightings increasing to the point over the next 10–20 years that they could possibly outweigh the U.S.

The fact that international markets don’t perfectly correlate with each other, even if they do correlate to some degree, is valuable. What happens on the DAX won’t mirror the Shanghai Composite, nor will they move in synch with the S&P 500. By holding international investments, said Macko, “you hold a variety of risk”—lessening the chance that a down market will bring down the whole portfolio.