Market Maven
By Stephen Gandel

(MONEY Magazine) – Q. I have read a number of articles recommending foreign stock funds. That would have been excellent advice two years ago. Now that the dollar has gotten considerably weaker, is investing in foreign stock funds still a good move? --Tom Farrelly, Seattle

Having a portion of your portfolio in foreign stocks always makes sense. Studies show overseas investments increase a portfolio's return while lowering risk. Second, it's unclear where the dollar is headed. You're right that many foreign funds have gotten a boost from the falling dollar over the past two years. When the dollar's value drops, shares of European companies, for example, are worth more to U.S. investors even if their euro-denominated stock prices haven't budged. Yes, the dollar has come off its 2004 lows, but that doesn't mean the rally will continue. The United States has a large budget deficit. We also import much more than we make, giving us a trade imbalance. Debtor nations tend to have weak currencies. As a result, financial planner Ron Roge in Bohemia, N.Y. advises investing 25% of your portfolio abroad, up from his normal recommendation of 20%. Most of that money, he says, should go into smaller companies that do most of their business locally. T. Rowe Price International Discovery (PRIDX) invests in small non-U.S. companies and, though volatile, has a good long-term record. And Tom, even if you're a dollar bull, you should still invest abroad. The Tweedy Browne Global Value fund (TBGVX) hedges for currency swings, so increases in the dollar will not hurt returns. The fund charges higher expenses for the added protection, but it's returned 9% a year annualized over the past three years. That's an excellent record, especially considering that it was achieved while taking a lot less risk than comparable international stock funds.

Q. I plan to start investing in mutual funds on a monthly basis, with the intention of keeping these funds for 15 or more years. Am I better off buying a fund's A or B shares? Several financial planners have advised me to buy B shares. My math tells me the A shares will cost me less. Who's right? --Gerald F. Miney, Westland, Mich.

Nice work, Gerald. Putting money away regularly is the smartest investment move you can make. And the second smartest is not accepting at face value any advice you get from people trying to sell you something. The difference between the A and B shares is fees. On A shares, you pay an up-front fee, or load, of say 5% or so. B shares have no up-front load but charge a higher annual fee, which over time tends to eclipse what you would have paid had you bought the A shares. (They also charge a penalty for selling within the first few years.) Regulators have been cracking down on planners and brokers who aggressively push B shares, and some fund companies have stopped offering them. If you plan to hold your mutual funds for more than eight years, and you don't want to pick no-load funds on your own, A shares are almost always the better option.