Hot Stocks for 2008

Last year, I looked at what some stock experts had predicted to be the year's profitable trends. It turned out that many of the popular "hot stocks" flamed out, while numerous no-names came through with above-average gains.

Many pundits are now reviewing their 2007 pick performance, as well as putting their necks on the line with stock predictions for 2008. While last year showed that the hot and chic are often overvalued thanks to speculation, a review of the hot stock lists for 2007 teaches a different lesson.

Safety in size
The theme for many of the hot stock lists in 2007 was largesse, with most media publications favoring large caps. Seeing economic clouds on the horizon, SmartMoney ruled out any stock below $10 billion from its 12 picks for 2007, figuring large caps would weather what it expected to be a choppy economy. This kept the magazine out of more risky small caps, though it did peg two volatile Internet stocks, Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO  ) and (Nasdaq: AMZN  ) .

Kiplinger's Personal Finance editor Jeffrey Kosnett opted mostly for large-cap bellwethers such as 3M and AT&T (NYSE: T  ) , which returned 11% and 19%, respectively. With only days remaining in the year, it looks like his top picks will be Textron and Annaly Capital Management -- up 48% and 31% so far.

So, just as Paris is eschewing models with little meat on their bones, big was back in fashion for stocks in 2007. The average market cap for the SmartMoney picks was a whopping $62 billion. The results so far show that the decision to go big was a good call, as the average pick on each list handily outpaced the S&P. Not all the stocks were big winners, though -- for instance, Kiplinger's pick Cisco Systems (Nasdaq: CSCO  ) has managed only a 2% return.

What was hot yesterday ...
So does that mean large caps are chic again -- that they're the sector of choice for 2008? Not exactly.

What stands out clearly from many of the 2007 stock pick lists is the absence of one area that was en fuego this year -- international stocks. While many lists contained large caps that had strong international presence, SmartMoney was one of the few that directly recommended international giants China Mobile (NYSE: CHL  ) and Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling Company. Stock in these international darlings has soared 98% and 60%, respectively, this year.

So while U.S.-based large caps had great performance, stock in emerging markets companies generated even more growth. Consider that the PowerShares QQQ (Nasdaq: QQQQ  ) ETF, which benefited from a heavy position in Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) , has returned 15.7%, while the iShares MSCI Emerging Markets Index has almost doubled this, with a 29.2% return. The year 2007 was not a story of what was hot, but where was hot.

The Foolish bottom line
As many tend to chase the hot trends from last year, the 2008 hot stock lists show -- you guessed it -- a larger smattering of international stocks. But chasing yesterday's crown jewels can land you in the poorhouse. And some international stocks have soared beyond the level of attractive investments.

There are still plenty of untapped markets and undervalued international stocks, however. Just do a little extra legwork to find them -- be extra cautious about valuations and country risks (politics, currency, etc.).

Our Motley Fool Global Gains service has been doing the heavy lifting by scouring the globe looking for great international stock opportunities. If you need a few ideas and want to see what companies got the team really excited on a recent trip to South America, just click here to see our research and recommendations free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Dave Mock frequently blasts to the past with his favorite '80s band, Neon Nation. He owns shares of 3M. and Yahoo! are Stock Advisor recommendations. 3M is an Inside Value recommendation. Annaly Capital Management is an Income Investor recommendation. The Motley Fool's disclosure policy keeps its 1970s playlist first in the queue.

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