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Mutual Funds

The Three Best International Funds

Many investors give foreign stocks short shrift. Here are three ways to fill out your portfolio.

Let's begin with a conclusion: You probably need to invest more heavily in overseas stocks. Economic growth in the U.S. will lag the world average in 2007. European companies are cutting costs, boosting productivity and selling at more-attractive share prices. Japan has emerged from hibernation. Emerging markets remain a potent long-term investment theme. "I firmly believe the opportunities are going to be outside the U.S. in 2007 and beyond," says Robert Froehlich, chief investment strategist for DWS Scudder. "The single biggest problem today for investors is too few foreign stocks."

But it's not just that growth prospects and values are more attractive abroad. You need to diversify your currency exposure. The growth in the government's debt load and the expansion of our trade deficit with other nations leaves the dollar vulnerable as a store of value.

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How much should you devote to international stocks? Keeping 20% of your stock holdings in foreign names is a good minimum.

U.S. investors can easily buy into such powerful foreign companies as Nestle, Diageo and Novartis. But for most investors, international funds are the way to go. Three in particular we consider outstanding:

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Dodge Cox International Stock (DODFX; 800-621-3979). This relatively new (since 2001) offspring of a venerable fund family (see The Dodge Cox Mystique, Nov.) has been rock-steady. Every year its returns put it in the upper 40% among broad-based foreign funds. And it ranks in the top 10% over five years.

Julius Baer International Equity II A (JETAX; 800-387-6977). Julius Baer's first overseas fund hasn't had a below-average year among broad international funds in the past decade. It's now closed to new investors, but this fund, begun in May 2005, is run on almost the same principles and by the same pair of co-managers. Its stock-picking style is eclectic -- neither growth nor value dominates.

Artisan International (ARTIX; 800-344-1770). Mark Yockey's 11-year-old fund is oriented toward growth companies, and those sorts of stocks haven't led the pack in recent years. But Artisan is a perfect match with value-driven Dodge Cox International -- one or the other should usually be setting off Roman candles.