3 Top International ETFs for 2018

The U.S. stock market has done extremely well over the past nine years, keeping many investors focused on the success of well-known domestic companies. Yet overseas markets have also shown signs of strength, and some analysts are convinced that the opportunities in international stocks are stronger than what you'll find in the U.S. right now.

International stocks can be challenging to invest in directly. Fortunately, you can find many exchange-traded funds that offer diversified portfolios of stocks across the globe. Among the most promising for 2018 are iShares Edge MSCI Minimum Volatility Global (NYSEMKT: ACWV), Vanguard International High Dividend Yield (NYSEMKT: VYMI), and Goldman Sachs ActiveBeta International Equity (NYSEMKT: GSIE). Below, we'll look more closely at these international ETFs to see if they're right for you.

Looking for stability

One reason many investors choose not to buy foreign stocks is that they perceive the risk level of international companies to be higher than for their U.S. counterparts. It's true that a host of different risks, including political, foreign currency, and regulatory issues, can affect foreign stocks in an unfamiliar way. That can make for a rough ride for investors who aren't experienced with overseas markets.

The idea behind the iShares Edge MSCI Minimum Volatility Global ETF is to give investors exposure to a set of global stocks that have reduced risk compared to the overall market. Although these strategies have sometimes underperformed broader-based market measures during bull markets, they've tended to decline less than the overall market during downturns. By reducing the size of ups and downs, the iShares ETF aims to provide a gentler ride for investors. Moreover, as a true global ETF, the iShares fund has just over half of its assets in U.S. stocks, with 5% to 13% allocations to Japan, China, and Switzerland. If you're looking to add to global exposure without giving up on U.S. stocks entirely, this iShares ETF is an easy way to do so.

Vanguard, dividends, and international stocks

Vanguard has built a reputation for its U.S. dividend ETFs, and it decided to take that expertise and apply it internationally. Vanguard International High Dividend Yield borrows from the playbook of its domestic counterpart, choosing global stocks with above-average yields to maximize income in a prudent manner. Unlike the iShares ETF above, this fund is solely invested outside the U.S., with Europe making up more than half of the portfolio, and Asia-Pacific and emerging markets each getting about 20% allocations.

Income investors will appreciate the Vanguard fund's payouts, which amount to more than 3% of current net asset value over the past 12 months. Somewhat out of character for Vanguard is the ETF's expense ratio, which at 0.32% is actually the most expensive of the three funds on this list. Nevertheless, with a solid emphasis on income-producing shares, investors can appreciate the combination of dividends and international growth prospects the Vanguard ETF provides.

An index fund that actively looks for outperformance

Finally, Goldman Sachs came out a couple of years ago with a series of ETFs that aimed to integrate some of the benefits of active investing into a passive ETF investment. The result was the ActiveBeta series, which looks for stocks that have good value, strong momentum, high quality, and low volatility. The international fund has more than half of its assets in European stocks, and Japan makes up another quarter or so of the portfolio. Developed markets are the clear focus, with solid allocations to Canada and Australia, but none to emerging powerhouses like China, India, or Brazil.

Financial stocks have the greatest weight in the Goldman ETF, with consumer discretionary, industrials, healthcare, and consumer staples all having at least 10% allocations within the fund. With a yield of 2.3% and an expense ratio of just 0.25%, the Goldman ETF does a good job of getting investors a taste of international exposure in a way that the fund company hopes will outperform the broader international market.

Look beyond the U.S.

Having all of your money in U.S. stocks can be dangerous. By getting some international exposure using funds like these ETFs, you can diversify your portfolio and reap the rewards if overseas markets outperform their U.S. counterparts in 2018.

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