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International Investment for Retirement Savers: Historical Evidence on Risk and Returns


  • Gary Burtless


An important decision facing retirement savers is how to allocate their savings across different assets. The decision includes the choice of how to divide investments between domestic and foreign holdings. This study uses return data for 1927-2005 to determine whether cross-border investing in the past would have been advantageous to retirement savers in eight large industrialized countries. By assumption investors can buy mutual fund shares in index funds for stocks and bonds in their home country and in any of seven foreign countries. The mutual funds’ foreign holdings are not hedged to protect investors against currency fluctuations. The paper’s goal is to determine whether workers in the eight countries would have obtained higher expected retirement incomes, with smaller risk of catastrophic investment shortfalls, if they invested part of their retirement savings in foreign stocks and bonds. Consistent with past theoretical and empirical findings, the results show that workers could have improved expected financial performance by investing in foreign as well as domestic equities. Remarkably, retirement savers in nearly all countries would have obtained higher average pensions with a 100% foreign allocation than with a 100% domestic allocation, even if they followed extremely naïve strategies in allocating equity investments across different foreign markets. For retirement savers in most countries, though not the United States, naïve overseas investment strategies would also have reduced the risk of catastrophically poor investment performance. In all countries, retirement savers who selected a global portfolio allocation along the efficient frontier could obtain better average pensions with lower risk of very small pensions than savers who restrict their investments to the domestic stock and bond funds.

Suggested Citation

  • Gary Burtless, 2007. "International Investment for Retirement Savers: Historical Evidence on Risk and Returns," Working Papers, Center for Retirement Research at Boston College wp2007-05, Center for Retirement Research, revised Feb 2007.
  • Handle: RePEc:crr:crrwps:wp2007-05

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Karen K. Lewis, 1999. "Trying to Explain Home Bias in Equities and Consumption," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 37(2), pages 571-608, June.
    2. Canner, Niko & Mankiw, N Gregory & Weil, David N, 1997. "An Asset Allocation Puzzle," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 87(1), pages 181-191, March.
    3. Thomas, Charles P. & Warnock, Francis E. & Wongswan, Jon, 2004. "The Performance of International Equity Portfolios," International Finance Discussion Papers 817, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.), revised Oct 2004.
    4. Glen, Jack & Jorion, Philippe, 1993. " Currency Hedging for International Portfolios," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 48(5), pages 1865-1886, December.
    5. Campbell, Rachel A. & Kraussl, Roman, 2007. "Revisiting the home bias puzzle: Downside equity risk," Journal of International Money and Finance, Elsevier, vol. 26(7), pages 1239-1260, November.
    6. William F. Sharpe, 1964. "Capital Asset Prices: A Theory Of Market Equilibrium Under Conditions Of Risk," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 19(3), pages 425-442, September.
    7. Peter A. Abken & Milind M. Shrikhande, 1997. "The role of currency derivatives in internationally diversified portfolios," Economic Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, issue Q 3, pages 34-59.
    8. Gary Burtless, 2000. "Social Security Privatization and Financial Market Risk: Lessons from U.S. Financial History," Discussion Papers of DIW Berlin 211, DIW Berlin, German Institute for Economic Research.
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    Cited by:

    1. Wade D. Pfau, 2008. "Emerging Market Pension Funds and International Diversification," GRIPS Discussion Papers 08-10, National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies.
    2. Fuinhas, José Alberto & Marques, António Cardoso & Nogueira, David Coito, 2014. "Análise VAR dos índices bolsistas SP500, FTSE100, PSI20, HSI e IBOVESPA
      [Integration of the indexes SP500, FTSE100, PSI20, HSI and IBOVESPA: A VAR approach]
      ," MPRA Paper 62092, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised 10 Feb 2015.
    3. W Pfau, 2009. "The Role of International Diversification in Public Pension Systems: The Case of Pakistan," Economic Issues Journal Articles, Economic Issues, vol. 14(2), pages 81-106, September.
    4. Musalem, Alberto R. & Pasquini, Ricardo, 2012. "Private pension systems : cross-country investment performance," Social Protection and Labor Policy and Technical Notes 68937, The World Bank.
    5. Carlos Leon & Juan Mario Laserna, 2008. "Asignación Estratégica de Activos para Fondos de Pensiones Obligatorias en Colombia: Un Enfoque Alternativo," Borradores de Economia 523, Banco de la Republica de Colombia.

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    cross-border investing; foreign stocks; bonds; domestic allocation; equities; investments; foriegn;

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