1 International Equity Investment Options for 401(k) Plans Considerations for Plan Sponsors Authored by: Adam D. Brown, T. Rowe Price Defined Contribution Investment Specialist Executive Summary T. Rowe Price Retirement Insights As non-u.s. equity markets have gained more prominence and acceptance in recent years, the 401(k) industry has increased its focus on international investment options. Today, it is not uncommon for plans to offer several choices beyond a single broadly diversified international option, such as emerging markets funds, global funds, and style-specific (value and growth) versions of these. This paper examines the pros and cons of the various types of international options and discusses the importance of offering access in ways that encourage appropriate allocations. Specifically, the paper offers three guiding principles for plan sponsors to consider: 1. Cover the world, but keep plan offerings limited in number. Multiple international investment options can complicate allocation decisions. 2. Offer stand-alone emerging markets options with caution. Many participants do not understand how to use these volatile options appropriately. 3. Consider global investment options carefully. Potential for participant confusion about overlap with U.S. options can be problematic. The worksheet on page 6 serves as a first step in evaluating a plan s international investment offerings.
2 DC industry increases focus on international options Foreign-domiciled stocks comprised nearly 70% of the world s equity capitalization in 2010, up from 53% in This trend along with the fact that the average 401(k) participant allocates only 7% to 15% (depending on the survey) to non-u.s. equities 2 is prompting the 401(k) industry to focus more attention on access to international markets. This expanding asset class can be viewed as an opportunity for participants to further diversify their portfolios and to access high growth potential, particularly in emerging markets. Gross domestic product (GDP) growth in recent years has been particularly strong in the East Asia & Pacific region, which includes China and India among other rapidly developing nations. While rates of economic growth are not always correlated with market returns on a short- or intermediate-term basis, certain rapidly developing areas offer investors a broader set of opportunities. GDP Growth Rates Annualized ( ) East Asia & Pacific (developing only) 9.8% Latin America & Caribbean (developing only) 4.1% Middle East & North Africa (developing only) 3.9% Europe & Central Asia (developing only) 3.6% World 2.2% United States 0.8% Source: The World Bank Providing access to these markets through a plan is simple enough, but doing so in ways that promote appropriate allocations can be challenging. What follows is a discussion of how plan sponsors might approach their international lineup options. Multiple international options may open door to allocation missteps Although most DC plans have traditionally provided only one international option, by the end of 2011 over half (53%) of the plans served by T. Rowe Price were offering multiple international options. And some have added global options, which cover both foreign and U.S.-domiciled companies. Industry-wide statistics show that emerging markets have gained the most ground, with 41% of plans offering these as stand-alone options. 3 Recently, a growing number of plans have been considering growth- and value-specific international options. 4 The trends indicate that plan sponsors are becoming increasingly aware of the potential for greater diversification and growth opportunities abroad. However, the proliferation of narrowly based and often highly volatile options could pose dangers for some unsophisticated 401(k) investors. A lack of participant understanding of how to use the options can lead to allocation concentrations and potential performance chasing. The following three guiding principles can help plan sponsors address some of the potential pitfalls associated with offering more international options. Funds that invest in non-u.s. securities are subject to the unique risks of international investing, including currency fluctuation. Call your plan s toll-free number to request a prospectus, which includes investment objectives, risks, fees, expenses, and other information that you should read and consider carefully before investing. 1 Market capitalization of listed companies, The World Bank. 2 Average exposure to international equities varies depending on the survey s timing and universe. Capital Guardian, citing Hewitt Associates 2009 Trends and Experience in 401(k) Plans, reported that participants allocated 7% to non-u.s. stocks (Rethinking DC Plan Options: Embracing a Less U.S.-Centric Approach). The Investment Company Institute reported that $272 billion of 401(k) account assets, out of a total of $2,466 billion, as of the end of 2010, were invested in foreign equity funds (2011 Investment Company Fact Book, p. 119). An additional amount of foreign exposure may have been included in hybrid funds, which includes target-date and lifestyle funds. 3 Deloitte Annual Benchmarking Survey. 4 T. Rowe Price Retirement Plan Services. 2 T. Rowe Price retirement insights
3 Cover the world, but keep plan offerings limited in number Many plans have added emerging markets options to complement international options that invest in predominantly large-cap stocks domiciled in traditional developed countries, such as Japan, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany. However, this may not be the preferred way to round out a core lineup s international offering. The problem is multi-fold: 1. Some participants may be tempted to allocate too much to emerging markets options when these markets are performing well and too little when they are not doing so well. 2. Some participants may be confused and decide to allocate their assets equally among the options available, giving them more international exposure than they need. Or, they may refrain from international investing altogether. (continued, page 4) What is an appropriate international allocation? Given that only 7% to 15% of 401(k) balances (depending on the survey) are allocated to non-u.s. equities, it is fair to say that many participants are not taking full advantage of international investment opportunities. This home bias is understandable, however, since most participants are not familiar with foreign companies and markets, and many consider these investments to be too volatile. It is true that international equities especially those in emerging markets have been more volatile than U.S. equities. Even so, the addition of international equities to a portfolio has been shown to reduce a portfolio s overall volatility when correlations 5 with U.S. equities are below 0.90 and preferably 0.80 or lower. High correlations limit the effect on a portfolio s volatility As the chart shows, international diversification s ability to dampen volatility tends to fade with correlations approaching 0.90 and higher. Such high levels tend to be associated with times of market turmoil. For instance, correlations with U.S. equities for the EAFE as well as emerging markets reached 20-year highs, 0.90 and 0.82, respectively, in October 2008 when the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers shocked the markets. Those correlations remained high as the financial crisis unfolded, ending 2011 at 0.90 and 0.86, respectively. More than a strategy to dampen portfolio volatility Regardless of the level of correlation, access to international markets particularly in rapidly growing regions may be helpful for investors seeking a broader opportunity set. To illustrate this point: A U.S. equities mutual fund might invest in one of the big three U.S. auto manufacturers, whereas an international fund would be able to choose from a much longer list of automakers domiciled in countries such as Japan, Asia, and Europe. 25%-35% International Allocations Appear Reasonable 6 Equity Only Portfolio Volatility (Standard Deviation %) 19% 18% 17% 16% Corr: 0.6 Corr: 0.7 Corr: 0.8 Corr: 0.9 Minimum Volatility 15% % % Non-U.S. Equity (as % of Total Equity) Source: T. Rowe Price 5 Statistical measures of correlation range from to The closer the number is to +1.00, the greater the relationship of movements in the two markets. The further from +1.00, the less the markets move together and the higher the potential for diversification benefits. 6 Based on annualized volatility assumptions of 16.20% for U.S. stocks and 18.12% for non-u.s. developed and emerging markets. The 25% allocation is hypothetical in nature, does not reflect actual investment results, and is not a guarantee of future results. The results are based on assumptions. There can be no assurance that the results will be achieved or sustained. This chart presents only a range of possible outcomes. Actual results will vary, and may be better or worse than those provided in this example. 3
4 3. Still others may be unaware that their U.S. equity options actually have exposure to international markets. Nearly 46% of sales generated by the S&P 500 companies in 2010 came from outside the U.S. 7 To mitigate these concerns, plan sponsors may want to provide just one international investment option in the core lineup. This option should cover a full spectrum of investing opportunities all regions, all market capitalizations (small-, mid-, and large-cap), and all investment styles (value and growth). In addition, plan sponsors may want to evaluate the plan s target-date and other asset-allocation investment options to assure that these also include the full spectrum of international opportunities. NOTE: The principal value of target-date investment options is not guaranteed at any time, including at or after the target date, which is the approximate date when investors plan to retire. These investment options typically invest in a broad range of underlying mutual funds that include stocks, bonds, and short-term investments and are subject to the risks of different areas of the market. In addition, the objectives of target-date investment options typically change over time to become more conservative. Benchmark to the ACWI ex U.S. for broadest international diversification One way to help assure broad diversification within an international investment option is to offer those that are benchmarked to the MSCI All Country World Index (ACWI) ex U.S. 8 Unlike the commonly known MSCI EAFE (Europe, Australasia, and Far East) 9, the ACWI ex U.S. includes emerging markets as well as developed markets. 10 MSCI ACWI ex U.S. Combines Developed With Emerging Markets Non-U.S. Equity Market Capitalization ~76% ~24% MSCI EAFE Represents securities of developed non-u.s. equity markets Countries: 22 developed MSCI Emerging Markets Index Represents securities of emerging market equity countries Countries: 21 emerging Data source: MSCI, January MSCI All-Country World Ex-U.S. Index Represents securities of developed non-u.s. equity markets and emerging equity markets Countries: 43 (22 developed and 21 emerging) 7 PR Newswire, Foreign Sales by U.S. Companies Tick-down in 2010: 46.3% of All Sales Were Derived Outside of the States, July 19, Data derived from 255 companies within the S&P 500 that have full reporting information. 8 The MSCI ACWI ex U.S. Index is a free float-adjusted market capitalization weighted index that is designed to measure the equity market performance of developed and emerging markets. The ACWI ex U.S. consists of 45 country indices comprising 24 developed and 21 emerging market country indices. 9 The MSCI EAFE Index (Europe, Australasia, Far East) is a free float-adjusted market capitalization index that is designed to measure the equity market performance of developed markets, excluding the US & Canada. The MSCI EAFE Index consists of the following 22 developed market country indices: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.* 10 The MSCI Emerging Markets Index is a free float-adjusted market capitalization index that is designed to measure equity market performance of emerging markets. The MSCI Emerging Markets Index consists of the following 21 emerging market country indices: Brazil, Chile, China, Colombia, Czech Republic, Egypt, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Russia, South Africa, Taiwan, Thailand, and Turkey.* *As of May 30, T. Rowe Price retirement insights
5 Offer stand-alone emerging markets options with caution When the world s economy and equity markets are doing well, it is difficult for participants to resist an emerging markets investment option. But, when markets turn down, plan sponsors may regret offering such funds on a stand-alone basis. This is because the average participant can easily fall into the trap of buying this option after it has run up in price and selling when it has dropped. Other participants may look at the volatility and decide they don t want any part of such markets. Consequently, they may miss out on an important long-term growth opportunity, unless they are gaining exposure through a more diversified international core offering or through an all-in-one option such as a target-date investment. This is not to say that exposure to the high-potential emerging markets should be avoided. If a plan s participant base is sophisticated and has access to adequate educational materials about emerging markets, such an option may be justified. When providing a stand-alone emerging markets option, plan sponsors should make it clear to participants that the plan s broadly diversified international option may also provide emerging markets exposure. The eight largest international funds in the Morningstar universe hold from 6.75% to 20.60% emerging markets exposure. 11 Participants who are unaware of this exposure may accidently duplicate their emerging markets allocation by investing in both options. Consider global investment options carefully Unfortunately, many participants do not understand the difference between global and international investment options. They may choose a global investment option thinking that it invests only in foreign companies. In fact, many global funds have 45% to 50% of their holdings in U.S. companies, depending on how closely they track the MSCI All Country World Index (ACWI). 12 If participants choose a global investment option, they may unintentionally create an overlap in their portfolio with holdings in their U.S. investment options. MSCI All Country World Index Emerging Europe: 1.2% Latin America: 3.0% Canada: 4.5% Developed Asia Ex-Japan: 4.9% Emerging Asia Ex-Japan: 7.6% Japan 8.0% Developed Europe 23.7% Middle East and Africa: 1.2% U.S. 46.0% Conclusion Plan sponsors should take a close look at how their participants are allocating assets to international investments. If they are concentrating too little or too much, it may be time to take action and change the way the lineup provides international exposure. Generally speaking, one broadly diversified core option along with a set of age-based or risk-based all-in-one choices should suffice and help eliminate concerns about inappropriate allocations. 11 Morningstar, as of 12/31/ MSCI ACWI IMI (All Country World Index Investable Markets Index) covers over 9,000 securities across large-, mid-, and small-cap size segments and across style and sector segments in 45 developed and emerging markets. 5
6 Accessing a plan s international investments Number of options Benchmark(s) Average participant assets as percent of portfolio (or other profile measurement) U.S. Equity International Emerging Markets Global International portion of target-date or risk-based option NA Optimum characteristics: U.S. equity options Cover style box without excessive number of options. International options Provide exposure to all regions, all market capitalizations, and all investment styles. Emerging markets option Provide only if participants are sophisticated investors. Global options Best to avoid due to participant confusion regarding overlap with U.S. options. Target-date or risk-based options Benchmark international allocations to ACWI ex U.S. 6 T. Rowe Price retirement insights
7 T. Rowe Price at a glance Established in 1937 by Thomas Rowe Price, Jr., T. Rowe Price is headquartered in Baltimore, Maryland, with offices located in the Americas, Asia, Australia, and Europe. The firm offers a full range of investment strategies across multiple asset classes, capitalizations, sectors, and styles. Investment vehicles include separately managed portfolios, mutual funds, commingled vehicles, and subadvised portfolios. It has nearly 5,000 associates worldwide, including 379 investment professionals. T. Rowe Price is a publicly traded firm (TROW) and is one of the few independent investment management firms included in the S&P 500 Index. Important Information This article has been prepared by T. Rowe Price Retirement Plan Services, Inc., for informational purposes only. T. Rowe Price (including T. Rowe Price Retirement Plan Services, Inc., its affiliates, and its associates) does not provide legal or tax advice. Any tax-related discussion contained in this article, including any attachments, is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, for the purpose of (i) avoiding any tax penalties or (ii) promoting, marketing, or recommending to any other party any transaction or matter addressed herein. Please consult your independent legal counsel and/or professional tax advisor regarding any legal or tax issues raised in this article. RETIRE WITH CONFIDENCE T. Rowe Price Retirement Plan Services, Inc., is a recognized industry leader dedicated to helping your employees prepare for a more financially secure retirement. With extensive research and development efforts, we anticipate emerging trends and provide innovative solutions that transform participant behavior. With world-class service and award-winning technology and education, we seek to provide participants with the best possible plan experience. In short, our priority is the success of your participants. T. Rowe Price Investment Services, Inc., distributor, T. Rowe Price mutual funds