April 2017 | Posted By Henry Bragg

At Your Service Art-fullsizeWhen we talk about evidence-based investing, we often mention the importance of going global.

Global diversification ensures that you aren’t placing all of your financial faith in the fate of any one country’s concentrated risks. It also helps you combat your natural tendency to bulk up on investments closer to home, where you imagine you’ll be safer or better off over the long haul.

That’s known in behavioral finance as “familiarity” or “home-town” bias, and it’s premised on false assumptions. We’re as patriotic as the next Americans. But the evidence still informs us that human commerce knows few borders, so neither should our investments.

That’s the long view on global diversification. But have you ever wondered about some of the details?

Say, for example, you were to invest half of your portfolio in a U.S. equity index fund, and the other half in an international index fund, “ex-U.S.” In terms of number of stocks as well as market cap (the total dollar value of a public company’s outstanding shares), how diversified are you, really? Are you still at a 50/50 split?

Dimensional Fund Advisors recently published “Going Global: A Look at Public Company Listings,” to explore some of these underlying questions. Some of its findings:

  • Worldwide, there are more publicly traded stocks than their used to be, increasing from about 23,000 to 33,000 between 1995 and year-end 2016.
  • In the U.S., there are fewer publicly traded stocks than their used to be. Using the Wilshire 5000 Total Market Index as a benchmark, U.S. stocks declined from about 5,000 to 3,600 companies between 2005 and year-end 2016. (That’s right, the “Wilshire 5000” actually only tracks about 3,600 stocks these days.)
  • As measured by market cap, the U.S. still dominates global markets – by far, at 54% of the world’s market cap. That’s also an increase from 40% in 1995. The next biggest contender? Japan at 8%. (See our accompanying “Illustration of the Month.”) 
  • Many index funds only expose their shareholders to a fraction of these total available stocks. From Dimensional’s report: “For example, one well-known global benchmark, the MSCI All Country World Index Investable Market Index (MSCI ACWI IMI) contains between 8,000 and 9,000 stocks. … For comparison, the Dimensional investable universe, at around 13,000 stocks, is broader.”

What can you draw from these insights besides trivia to share at your next social gathering? Zooming back to our favorite vantage point – the Long View – there are still plenty of opportunities in plenty of places to maintain your efficient, effective, globally diversified investment strategy.