It's Not Time to Settle for 3%

"Cash is king."

That old investing saw usually gets trotted out to remind us to focus on very profitable, cash-rich companies. But lately, with market volatility keeping investors on edge, "cash is king" seems to be taking on a new meaning -- as in, "Move to cash and wait to see what happens next in the market."

Running from value
Step back from the situation, though, and you'll find a notable turn of events. When yields on savings accounts were near 6%, investors were jazzed about equities and didn't appear to care much about volatility.

Now that interest rates on savings accounts are closer to 4% -- and quite likely heading lower -- the security of cash is prized over the volatility of equities.

That's an interesting reversal when you consider that many stocks are 20% or more off their highs. The 52-week-low list has gotten so long that it's barely useful for identifying beaten-down companies.

Of course, you can find some some logic in the flight to cash. Investors chasing the once-sizzling First Solar (Nasdaq: FSLR  ) or other high-growth companies -- where the story and potential have pushed stock prices well ahead of where the business is today -- are likely to improve results by moving to cash. But improved results shouldn't be mistaken for optimizing results while balancing risk.

A better place to search for yield
The flight from stocks has left in its dust plenty of strong businesses that offer the potential for capital gains at bargain prices.

Even better, some of those strong businesses offer yields that are equal to or well above what you'll find in many savings accounts. Companies such as General Electric (NYSE: GE  ) , for instance, have the valuable assets and pricing power that offer the protection from inflation that cash and bonds cannot. (GE has a 3.6% dividend yield.) 

Take it up a notch
The best returns are likely to come from taking this strategy a step further and seeking out international businesses with the same qualities but with less exposure to the U.S. economy and the dollar. Diversifying outside the United States is a benefit in itself, but with the possibility of interest rates heading lower, the dollar could continue to slide, too -- another reason why investing internationally is so attractive.

For ideas to jump-start your research, I'm providing the names of five international businesses that clear these hurdles and carry sizable yields.

Company

Yield

Geographic Focus

Bank of Ireland (NYSE:IRE)

6.4%

Ireland

Diageo (NYSE:DEO)

3.2%

Global

FEMSA (NYSE:FMX)

2.9%

Mexico

Precision Drilling (NYSE:PDS)

7.7%

Canada

Taiwan Semiconductor (NYSE:TSM)

4.9%

Global

Data from Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's.

I've sold these companies a bit short. They're not just big dividend payers; they're also powerful forces in their respective industries. Few companies can match the distribution network and stable of brands Diageo has in its spirits business or the dominant market share FEMSA and Precision Drilling enjoy in their home markets. Those strengths make these businesses much more than safe havens for cash. And yes, GE's competitive position on the global stage isn't too shabby, either.

Foolish final thoughts
If you're looking to employ this strategy, be sure to focus on companies with strong balance sheets and earnings well in excess of the dividends being paid. That way, even if there is a recession, the business will survive -- and their survival will greatly reduce the risk of your permanently losing money.

For more thoroughly vetted international investing ideas, I invite you to take a free 30-day trial to Motley Fool Global Gains. Every month, we search the globe for the best investment ideas -- and we've been beating the S&P 500 doing it. With your trial, you'll also get to sample our weekly updates on previous recommendations and our exclusive subscriber message boards. Click here for more information.

Nathan Parmelee, a senior analyst for Global Gains, has no financial stake in any of the companies mentioned. Precision Drilling is a Motley Fool Global Gains selection. Diageo is a Motley Fool Income Investor selection. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


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