How to Evaluate Country Risk for International Investing

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International investing is a great way to diversify any stock portfolio, but investing in Italy or Nigeria isn't the same as investing in the United States. Country risk refers to a country's economic and political risks that may affect its businesses and result in investment losses. These evolving risk factors are critical for international investors to monitor over time. Here's how to quickly and easily measure and analyze country risk.

Key Takeaways

  • When measuring the risk of investing in a foreign country, potential investors should look into the many factors that comprise economic and political risks for that country.
  • A quantitive or qualitative analysis of risk should also be done. Quantitative analysis uses ratios and statistics to determine risks, such as the debt-to-GDP ratio. A qualitative risk would include looking at things such as market rumors and political shifts.
  • Check the country's sovereign ratings, keep up on news about the country by using a news aggregator, monitor your investments, and keep them diversified to mitigate risk.

Measuring Risk

Measuring a country's risk can be a tricky endeavor. From tax laws to political upheaval, investors have to take hundreds, if not thousands, of different factors into consideration. For instance, tangible moves like an interest rate hike can dramatically hurt or help a country's businesses and the stock market, but even a mere comment from a prominent politician hinting at future plans can have just as large of an impact.

A country's risk can generally be divided into two groups: economic risks and political risks. Economic risks are associated with a country's financial condition and ability to repay its debts. For instance, a country with a high debt-to-GDP ratio may not be able to raise money as easy to support itself, which puts its domestic economy at risk. Political risks are associated with a country's politicians and the impact of their decisions on investments. For instance, desperate politicians supporting nationalizations could pose a threat to investors in certain strategic industries.

In some cases, economic and political risks can be intertwined. Argentina's economy under former Peronist regimes is a great example. In that case, populist politicians implemented policies that undermined the economy, such as energy subsidies and spending from foreign reserves.

Analyzing Risk

There are many different ways to analyze a country's risk. From beta coefficients to sovereign ratings, investors have several different tools at their disposal. International investors should use a combination of these techniques to determine a country's risk, as well as the risk associated with any individual international investment or security.

Methods used to assess country risk are either quantitative or qualitative. Quantitative analysis uses ratios and statistics to determine risks, such as the debt-to-GDP ratio or the beta coefficient of the MSCI index for a given country. International investors can find this information in reports from rating agencies, financial data providers (such as Bloomberg, Refinitiv, Thomson Reuters, Dow Jones, and Morningstar), magazines like the Economist, and through various other respected financial and economic online platforms.

Qualitative analysis uses subjective analysis to determine risks, such as breaking political news/opinion or realistic market rumors. International investors can find this information in financial publications like the Economist and the Wall Street Journal, as well as by searching on international news aggregators like Google News.

The most common way that investors assess country risk is through sovereign ratings. By taking these quantitative and qualitative factors into account, these agencies issue credit ratings for each country and give investors an easy way to analyze country risk. The three most-watched rating agencies are Standard & Poor's, Moody's Investor Services, and Fitch Ratings.

Checklist & Other Tips

International investors can determine country risk using this simple three-step process:

  1. Check sovereign ratings: Look up the country's sovereign ratings issued by the S&P, Moody's, and Fitch to get a baseline look at the country's level of risk and monitor for any negative watch updates.
  2. Read the latest: Search on Google News or other international news aggregators for any economic news surrounding a country as a form of qualitative research, or check public data sources like the International Monetary Funds or World Bank.
  3. Check the asset's risk: Determine the specific investment's risk by looking at quantitative factors, such as the beta coefficient; a higher beta coefficient equates to greater risk.

However, just because a country is risky doesn't mean investors should ignore it. Sometimes increased risk equates to higher potential returns. For instance, a country undergoing an economic reform may be riskier now, but its long-term future may be brighter as a result. International investors can still incorporate risk into a diversified portfolio to enhance potential returns. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when considering riskier investments:

  • Stay diversified: A diversified portfolio can help mitigate the effects of any one security falling sharply. Try and limit any single security from accounting for more than 5% of a portfolio's value.
  • Hedge your bets: Some strategies, such as writing covered calls or buying index put options, can help hedge against a market downturn. Advanced investors may want to consider these options.
  • Monitor the situation: Always keep an eye on your investments. Things can change rapidly in international markets - particularly risky ones - so make sure you see any dark clouds before the storm hits.

The Bottom Line

International investors should be cognizant of the many different risk factors influencing their investment, including country-specific economic and political risks. By checking sovereign ratings and doing some due diligence, they can ensure their portfolio isn't overly exposed.

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The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. "Debt-to-GDP Ratio: How High Is Too High? It Depends."

  2. EMTA. "Sovereign Credit Ratings."

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