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International fund leadership shifts away from mainstream


If you're looking for a surprise, check out the top-performing international funds in 2000. Mainstream foreign, world and regional offerings are pretty much absent.

Leading with strong double-digit gains for the year to date is a mix of highly concentrated offerings, single-country funds and smaller-cap-oriented offerings.

However, quite a few of them are too offbeat or too bold for all but the most extreme investors.

Consider that American Heritage and Van Kampen Global Franchise, both concentrated funds, rank among this year's international leaders.

American Heritage has long held huge positions in Senetek and ADM Tronics, which have been incredibly volatile. Van Kampen Global Franchise has nearly half its portfolio in its top 10 holdings and devotes 80 percent to 90 percent of its assets to consumer staples and service issues.

Overseas single-country funds succeeding in 2000 have real drawbacks.

Canada's market is packed with energy stocks, which have posted nice gains this year, and BCE, Nortel Networks and few of its other major issues have soared. But the market is too shallow and narrow.

The Israeli and Russian exchanges are also small and focused. The two nations, especially Russia, are subject to considerable political risk, and Russia's market is a bit of zoo when it comes to regulation. Therefore, while AMIDEX35, Lexington Troika Dialog Russia and Third Millennium Russia have posted strong gains in 2000, they're too intrepid for most investors.

China's market has been strong. And it offers reasonable industry diversification. But it is remarkably volatile, and it is subject to even more political risk than Russia. So, Liberty Newport Greater China, Matthews Dragon Century China and the other China funds that have flourished this year make sense only for fearless investors with incredible patience.

The small-company offerings among the international leaders include many that provide ample geographic and industry diversification. And a few of them, including Westcore International Frontier and Merrill Lynch Global SmallCap, have demonstrated real promise.

Three of this year's winners are attractive core options for more flexible investors. Longleaf Partners International, Tweedy Browne Global Value and Mutual European follow all-cap deep-value strategies - which lower their risks as well as their median market caps - and they're run by esteemed managers.

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