With the globalization of business and investing, companies around the world can tap investors outside their domestic markets for financing. One way of doing so is by issuing international bonds.

Investors are eager to buy these bonds to diversify their portfolios with international exposure, allowing them to smooth out their potential risk from economic ups and downs at home.

What Is an International Bond?

An international bond is a bond issued by an entity that is not domiciled in the same country as the investor. For example, a U.S. investor may buy a bond issued by a German company in Euros. For the Germany company this is a domestic bond, and for the U.S. investor, it is an international bond. These bonds are usually corporate bonds and are commonly found in U.S. mutual funds.

As with all bonds, international bonds pay interest at regular intervals and pay the bondholder the principal amount at maturity.

Why Invest in International Bonds?

Investors benefit from portfolio diversification by adding international bonds to their portfolios. International bonds provide exposure to other countries and their economic conditions. A U.S. investor whose portfolio includes bonds issued in Asian countries will benefit when Asian economies are doing well, even if the U.S. economy is suffering.

A portfolio that includes international bonds from a range of countries and regions will be relatively insulated against economic downturns in any particular part of the globe.

Types of International Bonds

Domestic Bonds
A company or government entity in a given country can issue, underwrite, and trade these bonds to foreign investors. The bonds use the currency and follow the regulations of the issuer’s country. For example, a bond issued by a German company in Euros and subject to EU regulations is a domestic bond. When a U.S. investor buys the bond, it is an international bond for that investor.

Eurobonds
A company or government entity issues a Eurobond in the currency of one country — not the issuer’s domestic currency — and trades it in another country that is not the issuer’s country. As per the name, the issuers of these bonds are usually European companies, though the bonds can trade in non-European countries. For example, a bond issued by a German company in Japan denominated in U.S. dollars is a Eurobond, or more specifically a Eurodollar bond, indicating the type of currency.

Foreign Bonds
People sometimes use the terms international bonds and foreign bonds interchangeably, but these are different. Foreign bonds are issued in a domestic market in domestic currency by a foreign issuer, following domestic regulations. For example, a bond issued by a German company in the U.S. and valued in U.S. dollars is a foreign bond. There are a range of silly names for foreign bonds to indicate the country and currency in which they are issued, for example a Samurai bond is issued in Japanese yen, a Yankee bond is issued in U.S. dollars, and a Bulldog bond is issued in British pounds sterling.

Risk in International Bonds

While international bonds help investors diversify their portfolios, they can complicate things simultaneously. The bonds may be subject to different regulations and taxation requirements than the investor is used to.

And as they are denominated and pay interest in a foreign currency, their value fluctuates with the economic conditions in the issuer’s country, and with the exchange rates between the investor’s and issuer’s countries. That means that these bonds are subject to currency risk, or exchange-rate risk.

Currency risk is the potential for change in the relative price of two currencies in relation to each other. These fluctuations can introduce instability in profits and losses, requiring various strategies to hedge risk.

How to Invest in International Bonds

There are two ways to invest in international bonds: You can buy the bonds directly or you can invest in a mutual fund or exchange-traded fund (ETF) that focuses on international bonds.

The latter option can be a good idea for all but sophisticated investors, as it can be complicated to directly buy bonds issued in another country. Mutual funds and ETFs also have the benefit of lots of diversification, as there are many bonds bundled into each fund.

One thing to keep in mind when investing is that currency exchange is unpredictable, so you shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking you can guess how things will go. Don’t buy into a foreign bond fund to beat the market; only do it to gain more diversification. It’s wise to keep your allocation in those funds to a quarter at most.

Fees are another thing to think about. If you buy a mutual fund or ETF, you’ll need to pay a management fee, or expense ratio. Look for a fund with an expense ratio below — ideally well below — 0.50%. You may be able to invest in bond funds and ETFs without fees using a commission-free investing app like M1 Finance, Fidelity, TD Ameritrade, Robinhood, or Vanguard.

Key Takeaways About International Bonds

International bonds are a good way for investors to diversify their portfolios with foreign assets and gain exposure to international markets.
International bonds come with high currency risk, which means that changes in the relative values of the currency in which the bond is issued and the investor’s currency could make for some unpleasant surprises.
The simplest way to invest in international bonds is via bond funds for ETFs that focus on international bonds. These funds allow investors to diversify their portfolios greatly and usually have low or no fees.

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The information and data are as of the July 13, 2021 (publish date) unless otherwise noted and subject to change. This blog is sponsored by Magnifi.

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