Adieu: Trade jitters drive investors out of foreign stocks

Investor sits at private stock trading boards at a private stock market gallery in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Thursday, July 26, 2018. Asian shares are mostly lower after President Donald Trump agreed with the EU to hold off on new tariffs. The easing of tensions with Europe could bode ill for a compromise with Beijing over trade. Japan's Nikkei 225 edged 0.1 percent lower and Hong Kong's Hang Seng shed 0.6 percent on Thursday despite a buoyant day on Wall Street. (AP Photo/Yam G-Jun)
An investor rests near a stock market ticker at a brokerage in Beijing, China, Wednesday, July 25, 2018. Asian stock markets were mostly higher Wednesday after Wall Street gained on strong corporate earnings. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
An investor stands in front of private stock trading boards at a private stock market gallery in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Thursday, July 26, 2018. Asian shares are mostly lower after President Donald Trump agreed with the EU to hold off on new tariffs. The easing of tensions with Europe could bode ill for a compromise with Beijing over trade. Japan's Nikkei 225 edged 0.1 percent lower and Hong Kong's Hang Seng shed 0.6 percent on Thursday despite a buoyant day on Wall Street. (AP Photo/Yam G-Jun)

NEW YORK — Ciao, foreign stocks.

Spooked by the threat of a global trade war, U.S. investors withdrew nearly $10 billion from international stock funds last month, according to Morningstar. The last time that much money left the group was in 2008, when the global economy was in the throes of the Great Recession.

It's a sharp turnaround from prior years, when investors were eager to snap up foreign stocks and diversify their holdings away from U.S.-heavy portfolios. Stocks abroad looked like more sensible purchases, the thinking went, because their prices were cheaper than U.S. stocks, relative to the profits they were producing.

In addition, stimulus from central banks was helping to lift economic growth around the world.

But many foreign markets have tailed off this year on worries that tough talk from Washington will lead to more barriers to global trade. The concerns stretch from the two nearest U.S. trading partners, Mexico and Canada, out to Europe and Asia.

Investors are particularly concerned about companies from emerging economies, such as China, Brazil and Turkey.

Roughly $8 billion of last month's withdrawals were due to investors pulling out of emerging-market stock funds alone.

Making things more volatile is the uncertainty of how much pain a trade war will actually cause.

Investors have been flipping back and forth between thinking the sides will settle their differences or engage in a punishing, escalating match of tariffs that undercuts profits and growth. In the latest ebb, U.S. and European leaders on Wednesday agreed to hold off on new tariffs, which raised some cautious optimism.

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