We here at The Motley Fool don't really buy into the "market does this, market does that" hullabaloo. But anyone would be daft not to recognize that companies in any market tend to do well when the market does well, and companies in a particular country tend to do well when that country's economy is bubbling.
And man, have the markets bubbled. Returns around the globe have been unbelievable, with markets in Europe, South America, and Asia all scorching to multiyear or even all-time highs. And it's not as if things went up in a straight line.
Between May and June 2006, the Indian stock market suddenly shed nearly 30% of its value, with companies like Sify Technologies (Nasdaq: SIFY ) leading the retreat. If you ever needed a contrary indicator, this was it: People in India were jumping off bridges. What came next?
The Indian stock market recovered all of its gains by October. Then it shot up another 40% over the course of the next year.
Despite a recent correction, India's BSE Sensex index is up fivefold in the past five years. Certainly, Brazil, Russia, and China have had great runs as well. But even though these markets dominate the attention of the wagging-tongue set, they are not even close to representing all foreign markets.
Here at the Fool, I run an investing service that specializes in foreign equities. We call it Global Gains, and we launched it a year-and-a-half ago. I've been focusing on foreign stocks my entire investing career.
I tend to look where other investors don't, and I venture where they fear to tread. After all, some of the worst-performing stock markets in 2006 were in oil-producing countries. Who would have made that bet in 2005, when oil prices surged past $70 per barrel?
"International equities" is a huge playground, from Australia's BHP Billiton (NYSE: BHP ) , Canada's Barrick Gold (NYSE: ABX ) , Finland's Nokia (NYSE: NOK ) , Japan's Honda Motor (NYSE: HMC ) , and, um ... China's China Mobile (NYSE: CHL ) .
There are markets that are still cheap, though. My January 2007 stock selection for Global Gains came from the market I think investors have undersold for years and years: Taiwan.
The little dragon still throws flames
Because it lacks diplomatic relations with much of the world, and because it's been embroiled in conflict with mainland China for nearly six decades, investors seem to think that Taiwan is a has-been, a market that will be subsumed by its bigger Chinese neighbor.
But people don't seem to understand that the world's high-tech industry is almost totally dependent on Taiwan, and on companies such as AU Optronics (NYSE: AUO ) . Taiwanese companies also have invested more money in China than companies from any other nation in the world.
Think they're going to get eaten up by China? Heck, no! China runs on Taiwanese capital, and Taiwanese companies are uniquely culturally adept in dodging the difficulties of the Chinese market. Formerly a manufacturing center, Taiwan is now a country that uses its capital and intellectual property, so it's not spending capital to build high-cost plants in Taiwan.
Yet investors are falling over themselves to invest in China, and no one is looking at Taiwan. Strange.
Well, almost no one. We at Global Gains are. If you'd like some help finding overseas stock opportunities, join us.
This article was originally published Jan. 12, 2007. It has been updated.