Investing World Cup: Western Europe Rebuttal

Past is not prologue. I'm very happy to hear that Baidu.com (Nasdaq: BIDU  ) has delivered my able opponent market-thumping returns over the past year. Only problem is, my brokerage won't let me invoke the "I meant to buy it last year" provision. And looking at Baidu, with a trading history of less than a year and selling for a price below the close on the day of its IPO, I suspect that Rick timed his buy price for a more advantageous valuation -- which I suppose is my argument in a nutshell.

The proffered Chinese investment thesis is trying to have it both ways: Explosive growth and supposedly cheap valuations. But basing valuation decisions on a forward growth rate -- which may or may not happen -- is asking for underperformance. Or am I alone in recalling the bold growth predictions in 1999 that were subsequently and efficiently revised in 2000?

My able opponent (dude, I can't believe you called me "easy-baked") presents a list of high-performance Chinese businesses. My eyes must deceive me, since I thought China represented more than high-flying Internet stocks. How about comparing financials?

P/E (TTM)

P/S

HSBC Holdings (NYSE: HBC  )

12.1

3.1

Royal Bank of Scotland (London: RBS)

12.6

2.0

Bank of China

26.4

7.5



All are of comparable size, but one of these things is not like the other. And, of course, pulling a single valuation metric and basing a thesis upon it is somewhat silly.

But there are other issues. Let's talk corruption. Transparency International ranks the following nations among the Top 10 of its Corruption Perceptions Index -- a higher score is better: Austria, Norway, Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Iceland. Where did China land? How about 78th? And you shouldn't fear just the small and unknown companies. We're talking big fish like Bank of China. If there's a risk that you can't trust the numbers or whiffs of embezzlement among the insiders, move along, Fool.

You want growth? You don't need to buy Chinese Internet stocks. Europe's got plenty of growth in a wider assortment of industries, at reasonable valuations, and in an environment you can trust. I mentioned GPS provider TomTom in my previous writings. If its pace scares you, there's poker enabler PartyGaming (LSE: PRTY  ) with a 30% net margin, triple-digit growth, and a reasonable level of trading to free cash flow. Or you could look at biomaterials and surgical-implant provider Synthes, which has an impressive growth record and (sadly) a huge market opportunity in the world's aging population.

Huge market? Yes. Endless possibilities? Yes. And I concede that the higher growth goes to China. It can't help but do so. But you can get the benefits of Chinese investment through large companies moving into China. You can put more faith in the reported numbers. And you can find growth at a reasonable price in safer and established environments. The time for China to be a major destination for your investment dollars is coming. But not yet, dear Fool. Not yet.

Western Europe is facing China in this Investing World Cup match. Go back to the intro page to navigate your way to another part of this contest, and then vote for the region that you think should advance to the next round of the tournament.

For more international stock ideas, check out The Motley Fool International Report: Around the World in 80 Minutes.

Fool contributor Jim Gillies owns no shares of any companies mentioned. He is a member of theMotley Fool Hidden Gemsnewsletter team.

This article represents the opinion of one Fool and should in no way be taken as the opinion of either The Motley Fool, Inc., or the company in question, or as representative of anyone or anything other than that specific Fool's thoughts. So before buying, do your homework and review The Motley Fool's superbly sportsmanlikedisclosure policy.


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