"I was probably overreacting."
That's how he tells it now. But in 1998, as the paneled truck rolled through the crowds to the airport, Bill Mann cowered beneath a dirty blanket. He was already plotting his next investment.
Man, I love that story!
And best of all, it's true. That "next investment" was Telekom Indonesia. When Bill started buying, the stock was around $3. He cashed out at $23 -- a seven-bagger. I could never have pulled that off.
For one thing, I bleed red, white, and blue. I've often said that if I never leave these shores (again), I'll die happy (you'll see the crazy irony in this just ahead). But, as an investor, there are some startling facts I can't ignore.
For example, did you realize that none of the top five makers of steel, electronics, or consumer appliances is based in the United States? Or that the U.S. market hasn't been the world's best since 1993?
Or that none of last year's top 15 best-performing funds is a U.S. fund, while investors in Hungary (up 268%), India (up 309%), Austria (up 375%), plus 19 other nations all outperformed the U.S. from September 2002 through the end of 2006?
OK, I get it ...
It's time American investors like you and I start looking overseas. And I don't mean buying Pfizer (NYSE: PFE ) , Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO ) , or any other consumer conglomerate doing business "over there," although that's a start. I don't even mean global tech outfits like Motorola (NYSE: MOT ) or IBM (NYSE: IBM ) .
Not even the usual global suspects like Nokia (NYSE: NOK ) will do anymore. No, I'm talking about foreign companies that operate on foreign soil and are positioned to benefit directly from the astonishing rise of China and India, among dozens of other emerging growth economies.
After all, if we want to diversify our portfolios with international stocks, we need to find companies like Telekom Indonesia, whose fortunes are not tied to the U.S. consumer. If we actually want to profit from the double-digit growth expected of emerging economies, we need to own companies tied directly to the fortunes of those economies.
Frankly, that makes me nervous
Remember, I don't travel well. Moreover, while I'm somewhat comfortable as an investor making an educated call on widely-covered tech firms such as Intel (Nasdaq: INTC ) and Sun Microsystems (Nasdaq: SUNW ) without traveling to Silicon Valley, it's not the same when investing overseas. I just feel out of it.
It doesn't help that financial reporting and oversight are less stringent overseas than here at home, or that fraud is rampant. Then again, in addition to massive growth, this is a big part of why the profit potential is so spectacular.
And that's where my old pal Bill Mann comes in. In addition to telling great stories about paneled trucks and angry mobs, Bill worked in Russia and Asia for years. He even ran a business overseas. Frankly, Bill knows more about global markets than anybody else I know.
Did I promise irony or what?
You'll never catch me riding under a blanket to the airport in a paneled truck. But I see the value in it. I mean, it stands to reason that if you want to invest overseas, it helps to be there -- or at least have a source you can trust on the ground.
Now for the irony. This coming Saturday, I'm hitting the road with Bill Mann in search of new investments and ideas for his Motley Fool Global Gains international investing service. We'll also visit the management of 14 or so companies. In short, we will be flying around the world, stopping in India, China, Taiwan, and maybe even Mongolia.
Bill has agreed to take a few moments every other day or so to keep you up to date from the road. We'll report back to you in as close to real time as we can manage ... but only if you're interested.
Let Bill know if you'd like to "tag along" on our little adventure, hear what we find, or just see whether I survive, by shooting him an email ASAP at [email protected].
This article was first published as "Man, I Love This Story!" on Jan. 12, 2007. It has been updated.