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How managers scan the international horizon for stock bargains

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Almost half of the market. That's how much investment is being passed up by people who only purchase stocks of American companies on US stock exchanges. But ever so slowly, investment managers and advisers are turning more of their customers on to opportunities in Europe, the Pacific Basin, and Australia. In recent years, managers of mutual funds have been the most persistent proponents of international investing.

''The US stock market now comprises 56 percent of world market capitalization ,'' notes John A. Hockin, portfolio manager of the Keystone International Fund. ''So people who are only investing here are ignoring 46 percent of the world's capital. Some of these (foreign) markets have highly sophisticated, well-managed companies. By only investing in the US, people are ignoring companies and countries around the world.''

''Two years ago, we were a $30 or $40 million fund,'' notes John Ford, portfolio manager at Rowe Price Fleming, the international fund offered by T. Rowe Price of Baltimore. ''Now we're a $100 million fund. That's still pretty small, but our growth has been quite strong.'' While Mr. Ford admits investors ''tend to look at home first,'' they are becoming ''more sophisticated recently.''

''In the past couple of years, there has been more and more interest in international markets,'' said Charles Fiumefreddo, executive vice-president of Dean Witter Reynolds Inc. He is also head of the InterCapital division at this Sears, Roebuck unit. Late last month, Dean Witter announced the formation of a new mutual fund that will buy stocks of companies in the United States and abroad. Actual investing by the fund won't start until Oct. 31, when money from the first customers is counted.

Based on early response, however, there should be plenty of money. ''We've gotten an overwhelmingly enthusiastic response from our sales force and their clients,'' Mr. Fiumefreddo says.

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