Foreign stocks provide access to a wider opportunity set than stocks listed in the United States, making them a key building block for constructing a well-diversified portfolio. A comprehensive fund like Vanguard Total International Stock ETF VXUS provides an excellent base for building an allocation to non-U.S. stocks. It covers the entire investable market outside of the U.S., giving investors access to stocks of all sizes. The fund's ultralow expense ratio and market-cap-weighted approach curb the cost of ownership, providing it with a significant advantage over its more expensive rivals. It earns a Morningstar Analyst Rating of Gold.
The fund tracks the FTSE Global All Cap ex US Index, which includes stocks of all sizes from foreign developed and emerging markets. It weights them by market capitalization, an approach that benefits investors by capturing the market's collective opinion of each stock's value while keeping turnover low. Market-cap-weighting can be tough to beat because the market tends to do a good job valuing stocks over the long term. Occasionally it will increase the fund's exposure to expensive stocks when investors get excited about an area of the market. But this doesn't undermine its long-term efficacy.
This is one of the broadest portfolios in the foreign large-blend Morningstar Category. Its exceptional diversification mitigates the impact of holding the worst-performing names. It owns more than 7,000 stocks and has only 8% of assets in its 10 largest positions. Its regional composition looks modestly different from the typical fund in the category because it has a larger dose of emerging-markets stocks. But their weight in the portfolio isn't large enough to materially increase the fund's risk or compromise its category-relative performance.
Performance has not distinguished this fund from its competitors. Despite its low-fee advantage, the total return of the fund's Admiral share class, Vanguard Total International Stock Index VTIAX, was on par with the category average over the 10 years through November 2019. Its middling total return was driven by the lackluster performance of foreign markets, which performed poorly by historical standards over this decade. This fund's broad portfolio and relatively low fee should help it perform better within the category when foreign markets post stronger returns.
Process This fund earns a High Process Pillar rating because it diversifies risk better than a majority of its category peers while keeping turnover and trading costs in check.
Vanguard's portfolio managers use full replication to track the FTSE Global All Cap ex US Index. This benchmark starts with all stocks listed outside of the U.S. and sorts them by their free-float-adjusted market cap. It targets firms that land in the top 98% of each country's market cap. The index uses buffer rules around the cutoff point to keep turnover low, and it applies some additional liquidity requirements to ensure that its holdings are investable. The index weights its final constituents by their market caps, which helps further mitigate turnover and trading costs. It reconstitutes semiannually in March and September.
Portfolio This fund captures the entire foreign stock market. Its comprehensive portfolio effectively diversifies stock-specific risk, with only 8% of assets in its 10 largest holdings. This also causes it to look similar to the average of its category peers in certain ways. Sector weightings are comparable, with financials and industrials stocks collectively representing one third of the portfolio.
Country and regional allocations aren't far off the category average, either. The fund modestly differs from its peers in this regard, but the gap doesn't pose a significant threat to its category-relative performance. Eurozone stocks represent the largest regional allocation at 21% of the fund, while Japan and the United Kingdom make up an additional 17% and 11%, respectively. The fund does not hedge its currency risk, so its exposure to currencies like the euro, yen, and pound can add to its volatility.
Stocks listed on emerging-markets exchanges account for a little less than 20% of this fund, while a typical competitor has a 6% stake. Allocating to these companies improves the fund's reach and shouldn't materially impact its risk or performance. The fund includes small caps but weights its holdings by market cap. So, it tilts toward large-cap multinationals, with companies like Nestle NSRGY, Toyota TM, and BP BP among its biggest names.
Performance This fund's category-relative performance has not stood out from its peers. The total and risk-adjusted returns of its Admiral share class were similar to the category average for the 10 years through November 2019.
Its low fee and broadly diversified portfolio have not yet translated into a strong category-relative track record. Over the past decade, many of the fund’s better-performing competitors had a growth orientation that aided their performance. These more successful strategies tended to hold stable, profitable stocks that held up well during downturns, which helped them perform better than the market.
Investing in these types of companies can work for short stretches, but costs tend to have a greater impact on performance over longer periods of time. This fund's expense ratio ranks among the lowest in the category and should aid its category-relative performance when foreign markets post stronger returns.
Stocks listed in Japan and the U.K. collectively account for a little less than one third of this fund's assets. So, these two markets can play a role in how the fund performs. Over the past decade, Japanese stocks have aided performance, while those listed in the U.K. have been less of an advantage.
People The portfolio managers on this fund are part of Vanguard's Equity Index Group, which has a global footprint and uses the latest in portfolio management technology to track this fund's target index. The team earns an Above Average People Pillar rating.
Christine Franquin and Michael Perre share responsibility for this fund. They are principals at Vanguard and captain some of the firm's largest index-tracking funds listed in North America. Perre joined Vanguard's crew in 1990, while Franquin came aboard in 2000.
This duo not only oversees the portfolio but also executes trades on a day-to-day basis. Vanguard typically rotates portfolio managers from one fund to another every few years to improve the breadth and depth of their expertise. The managers also have access to Vanguard's trading desks around the world, enabling them to make the most cost-efficient transactions in various global markets.
Vanguard's portfolio managers are compensated with a bonus that factors in the gross pretax performance of the fund relative to its objectives. This includes the manager's record of tracking a benchmark index over the prior 12 months. These characteristics align the interests of the managers and investors.