The Last, Best Hope for Tech Investors?

Tech investors searching for the next Intel (Nasdaq: INTC  ) among domestic firms could soon find returns a lot harder to come by.

That's the takeaway from the remarks made by Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) president George Scalise recently:

Other countries and regions have put in place generous incentives to attract investment, including cash grants, tax holidays, and liberal R&D tax credits. ... The U.S. still enjoys a lead in technology, but leadership is not a birthright -- it must be earned through action.

Yet Uncle Sam may as well be on the couch with a bag of Cheetos, the SIA concludes.

Here's why. A tax credit meant to help American firms fund job-creating innovation is set to expire on Dec. 31. Advanced research in fields such as nanoelectronics could suffer as a result, according to the SIA.

Where's Uncle Sam when we need him?
To be fair, the SIA is a trade group that has a political axe to grind. But independent studies have long made clear that, when it comes to funding innovation, one-time "third-worlders" are now built to compete.

And they're getting more competitive by the day, reports the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). That group's research shows that emerging economies such as Singapore accounted for 21.5% of the world's R&D expenditure in 2005, up from 17% four years earlier.

China is leading the expansion. OECD analysts say that, in 2005, the Sino Superpower contributed 55% of R&D gains in non-member nations. (The OECD is comprised of many of the world's established economies, such as the U.S., the member countries of the European Union, and Japan.)

And more growth could be on the way. Beijing has a long-term goal of dedicating 2.5% of gross domestic product to research and development. Spending has risen rapidly as a result. For example, from 2000 to 2005, China's R&D outlay grew by 18.5% a year, up from 16.4% annually in the five years prior.

More developed countries like ours -- home of the aforementioned Intel, as well as tech titans Cisco Systems (Nasdaq: CSCO  ) , Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) , and many more -- grew by an average of 2.2% a year over the same period. No signs of accelerated spending are forthcoming.

What's a tech investor to do?

The answer ...
Go global. Here are three tips to help you start your trip:

  1. Read a newspaper. Frankly, there's no better way to know what's going on in the world than to read a global newspaper. The Wall Street Journal has an excellent international section. Cherry-picking from its Asia coverage recently helped me to discover that Apple is in talks with NTT DoCoMo (NYSE: DCM  ) over the rights to sell the iPhone in Japan. That sounds like an investment opportunity worth investigating.
  2. Travel. Get on a plane, like the Motley Fool Global Gains team did recently. And if you can't? Get on an Internet discussion board and chat it up with locals, expats, and interested observers who have experience in the country you're interested in.
  3. Get ideas from top global funds. Experienced international investors will openly share their best ideas with you if you know where to look. My favorite tool? Morningstar. You can use its screening tool to peek at the portfolios of top funds. A look at Janus Global Technology (JAGTX), for example, reveals big stakes in India's Satyam Computer Services (NYSE: SAY  ) , Taiwan Semiconductor (NYSE: TSM  ) , and China's JA Solar (Nasdaq: JASO  ) .

And, of course, there's our own Global Gains service, whose picks are outperforming the American market by nearly 15 percentage points on average.

Be a foreign Fool
I love my country. I love American tech stocks. My preference is to see the finger-pointing star-spangled patriot get off the couch and give a push to U.S. innovation. But as investors, we have to accept the fact that the next set of high-tech discoveries may occur abroad.

That's why our portfolios need foreign exposure. So if you're looking for the best ideas, try the three tips above and consider checking out our Global Gains service as well. You can read all of their research and recommendations free for 30 days. Click here for more information.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers owned shares of Taiwan Semiconductor at the time of publication. Intel is an Inside Value pick. Satyam Computer is a Stock Advisor selection. The Motley Fool's disclosure policy jet-sets with the best.


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