Chances are, if you've even glanced at a newspaper or television in the past several years, you've seen a story talking about the sensational growth in China. But that's the thing; China's success is old news. It's like the first time you saw your mom wearing Uggs, and you knew the trend was dead (though less-fashionable shoppers have helped Deckers (Nasdaq: DECK ) continue to be a monster stock).
To stay fresh in today's markets, you need to be wearing the stuff no one's heard of yet. So, where should you be shopping this season?
Turn your globe upside down
Let me introduce you to Latin America. This region is rich in the natural resources for which the world -- and particularly China -- has an insatiable appetite. Mexico and Venezuela were both among the top 10 oil exporters in 2006. Timber, agricultural products, and metals like gold, zinc, copper, and iron are all abundant in Latin America.
These commodities are benefiting greatly from historically high demand, and companies such as Companhia Vale do Rio Doce (NYSE: RIO ) and Cresud (Nasdaq: CRESY ) are in strong positions to benefit -- as are the nearly 550 million people who call Latin America home.
Not as raw as you might think
Although the long-term trends are favorable, the volatility of commodity prices and their effect on Latin American markets could make you a bit squeamish about investing. No worries. Unlike any teenager I've ever met, the economies of Latin America have been quickly and quietly maturing in recent years.
For example, Brazil has a current account surplus and has become, thanks to the broad utilization of sugar ethanol, energy independent. In addition, the Brazilian real has received a vote of confidence (in the form of investment) from none other than Warren Buffett.
Old is new
Now, this doesn't mean you need to make a play on commodities or currencies to diversify your portfolio and succeed in Latin America. As incomes rise in these countries, consumers are beginning to purchase the everyday and luxury products Americans consume almost as unconsciously as oxygen.
In a partnership with Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO ) , Andina Bottling (NYSE: AKO-A ) provides the consumers of Argentina, Brazil, and Chile with refreshing beverages. While Coke has seen slowing sales growth here in the United States, international demand is growing at a healthy pace. Even the utilities sector, a mature industry domestically, has fast growers in Enersis (NYSE: ENI ) and Brasil Telecom (NYSE: BTM ) .
Go south, young man
While rising commodity prices have heretofore been a great way to cash in on Latin America, consumer plays look to be at the center of the next cycle of economic growth -- and Latin American consumer stocks are priced much better than their Chinese peers.
Our own Motley Fool Global Gains advisors Bill Mann and Nate Parmelee are dragging fellow Fool Tim Hanson along with them next week as they head south of the border to get the down and dirty on a few promising investment opportunities. They'll be setting up shop in Argentina, Brazil, and Chile and writing back to relay what they've found.
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