This may not be news to you, but I'll lead with it anyway:
China's stock market has been on fire the last few years, and all things China in our markets have enjoyed a similar, rapid rise. Many have come back to earth, but even China Mobile (NYSE: CHL ) , a $350 billion mobile phone service titan, has more than doubled in the past year.
This next bit, however, may come as a surprise:
There are still fantastic long-term growth opportunities among Chinese companies. With the Chinese market close to 50% off its highs, and other Asian markets off 20% or more, now is the time to be digging.
Where you won't find them
While picking up shares of infrastructure and commodity companies in China was a no-brainer the past few years, these companies are no longer cheap. Too many investors have caught on to the global boom in building.
What's more, current valuations imply that many investors expect the growth in buildings and infrastructure to continue unabated. This means you need to tread lightly with Caterpillar (NYSE: CAT ) and other infrastructure plays; these are still cyclical companies with high fixed costs.
Instead, look to luxury
While iconic American names such as McDonald's (NYSE: MCD ) and Coach (NYSE: COH ) don't immediately pop into mind when we think "China," these are solid ideas worth considering. Both brands enjoy widespread consumer appeal in China and should see their sales benefit from growth in the country's middle class.
There's also little doubt in my mind that consumer heavies such as Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG ) and Unilever (NYSE: UL ) will grow their sales as consumer spending increases in China and Southeast Asia. Today, almost three-quarters of P&G's $79.7 billion in sales are in developed markets. We should expect that ratio to decrease as the company increases its presence in emerging markets.
Japanese and Korean consumer goods companies such as Kao and Lotte also have opportunity ahead of them, though my favorite of this group is Unicharm -- a Japanese maker of diapers and other sanitary products that has pursued Chinese growth aggressively. Unicharm boasts a leading share of the disposable diaper market in both Shanghai and Beijing. And while Unicharm's valuation in reasonable, you need access to the Tokyo Stock Exchange in order to pick up shares.
Foolish final thoughts
Although Chinese valuations are high, valuations have come back the last few months, and the opportunity in the country for investors is too big to ignore. Investors looking for a little extra safety should look in some less obvious places to get a hold of Chinese growth.
While the consumer staples I mention above may take some time to fully capitalize on China, they haven't seen the sharp run-up that so many Chinese companies have.
If you're looking for more ways to profit from growth in China and around the world, take a look at our Motley Fool Global Gains international investing service. Our team recently returned from a research trip to China, and you can see all of our picks by joining the service free for 30 days. There's absolutely no obligation to subscribe.
This article was originally published Oct. 29, 2007. It has been updated.
Nathan Parmelee is a Global Gains analyst. Nathan has no ownership stake in any of the companies mentioned. Coach is a Stock Advisor selection and Unilever is an Income Investor selection. The Fool has a disclosure policy.