Diversify and invest abroad with ADRs

American Depositary Receipts offer safe ownership in companies outside Canada and the US because the stock certificates are registered in the name of a US trust company or bank.


You can invest abroad more safely using American Depositary Receipts.

American Depositary Receipts, or ADRs, give you benefits. One is diversification. In fact, you might call ADRs American Diversification Receipts. They give you industries that Canada lacks or has in short supply. This can help you earn more while reducing your risk. ADRs let you diversify by currency, since they generate most of their sales and profits abroad.

We think ADRs have a place in most portfolios. (ADRs and US stocks should make up at least a quarter of your stock portfolio, depending upon your circumstances.)

The ADRs we follow include companies from Belgium, China, Denmark, Finland, France, Holland, Israel, India, Japan, Mexico, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan and the United Kingdom.

Some of the above are so-called ‘emerging markets’. Such markets hold the potential for faster economic growth. Some have younger populations than the industrial world. This adds to the demand for goods and services now. And in the future, they should add to the demand for financial assets.

Investing in emerging markets raises your risk. But many have low correlations with US stocks and with each other. This can help offset the higher risk (see below), particularly if you buy a mutual fund diversified by country. Even so, correlations tend to rise when financial markets fall, which reduces this advantage of diversification.

Comparison shopping usually pays

ADRs let you buy into industries you can’t buy here. For instance, Japan’s Canon Corp. has no Canadian peers. It manufactures photocopiers, printers, cameras and flat-panel display screens globally. Similarly, many of the other ADRs operate in industries with few or no Canadian counterparts.

Even when you buy ADRs in the same industries as North American companies, you can comparison shop to see where you’ll get the better deal, at home or abroad. Compare consumer goods stock Unilever to US stock Procter & Gamble, drug company Sanofi to US stock Pfizer and so on.

Keep in mind that ADRs protect you from weaker reporting rules in some overseas markets—because they must file their US financial statements in English using US accounting rules.

Our ADRs deliberately exclude natural resources, financial stocks and some utilities. After all, the Canadian market offers lots of resource companies, financial institutions and high-yield utilities (that face no withholding tax but instead benefit from the Canadian dividend tax credit). That’s why our ADRs include more of the manufacturing and consumer companies that are harder to find in Canada.

One important thing is to consider all your portfolios (including your spouse’s) as one and strike a suitable overall balance. Use ADRs to add to the manufacturing and consumer sections of your portfolio and to get the benefits that ADRs can provide.

Low correlations cut risk

One way American Depositary Receipts, or ADRs, let you reduce risk is through low correlations (or dissimilar stock price movements) to each other and to US stocks.

Canada is at the high end of the correlation range. Our stocks tend to closely follow American stocks. With 1.0 equal to perfect correlation, one study found a correlation of 0.82 between Canadian and US stocks.

Stocks on overseas exchanges—particularly those in emerging markets—have lower correlations with US stocks. This can let you build a portfolio that protects you from wide market swings and lets you sleep better at night.

Stocks in South Korea, for instance, had a correlation of just 0.2 with US stocks. In other words, the ups and downs of these nations’ stocks have relatively little to do with the direction of US stocks and a lot more to do with domestic matters. But correlations rise when global stock markets fall. That is, diversification offers less just when you need it most.

As well, each emerging market typically has low correlations with other emerging markets—further reducing the risk of all your ADRs falling at the same time.

Emerging markets individually pose higher risk. Then again, they also offer higher potential growth. That is, a basket diversified by country reduces your risk.

This is an edited version of an article that was originally published for subscribers in the November 8, 2019, issue of The Investment Reporter. You can profit from the award-winning advice subscribers receive regularly in The Investment Reporter.

The Investment Reporter, MPL Communications Inc.
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