Investors back out of foreign stocks

Investors withdrew nearly $10 billion from international stock funds last month

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.