I know it's not (supposed to be) a comedy, but there were a few scenes in The Day the Earth Stood Still that really cracked me up.
Watching Keanu Reeves' alien character solve complex biological equations was certainly amusing. And the scene where Keanu conducted a lengthy, deliberate, and completely unnecessary conversation in Chinese was absolutely priceless. But for my money, the funniest moment of the movie occurred shortly after Keanu's giant space egg landed in Central Park.
After displaying images of people praying, looting, rioting, and fleeing major population centers, the television pauses on the financial channel, where we see several major stock indexes are trading down between 50% and 70%.
50%? That's it?
Aliens have landed. The end of the world is nigh. And stocks are only down 50%?
In many major markets across the globe, stocks are already down 50%! And that can only mean one thing …
The end is near
Brazil's Bovespa index is down about 45% from its 52-week high. India is off 55%, and China's SSE Composite index has fallen 66%. Meanwhile, Russia's RTSI index has plummeted 75%. In other words, these markets are acting as if the end of the world (or in Russia's case, an even worse scenario) is imminent.
The logical takeaway here depends on what type of person you are. If you believe Earth's days are numbered, then I suggest you stock up on canned goods and cross as many items off your bucket list as you can. However, if you think that the chances of the earth's demise are about as likely as Keanu snagging the "best actor" Oscar, then your course of action is clear: It's time to start buying international stocks.
But aren't international stocks risky?
Sure. But if you only remember one lesson from the market meltdown of 2008, let it be this one: All stocks are risky.
Is Bank of America (NYSE: BAC ) safer than HDFC Bank (NYSE: HDB ) because it's based in Charlotte rather than Mumbai? Is General Motors (NYSE: GM ) safer than Toyota (NYSE: TM ) because it's based in Detroit? Do I really need to answer that question?
A company isn't inherently riskier or more difficult to understand just because it's based outside the United States. Take my favorite foreign play at the moment as an example …
International stocks come in all shapes and sizes, or in the case of Diageo (NYSE: DEO ) , flavors and proofs. This London-based beverage maker dominates the top shelf of the spirits industry, with eight of the world's top 20 premium spirits brands, including Guinness, Baileys, Smirnoff, and Johnnie Walker.
I've written before that thanks to this unrivaled brand power, Diageo was able to negotiate exclusive distribution rights in the United States, meaning only one agent per state can distribute its products. This strategy ensures that the brand won't be diluted, and it helps pad the company's hefty 30% North American operating margin. Diageo's international presence is no slouch, either. The company has operations in more than 180 countries, and sales are growing at a double-digit clip in Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East. Plus, steady demand for Diageo's spirits has helped the company pour free cash flow back to shareholders. Since 2000, the company has paid out roughly $11 billion in common dividends and repurchased a staggering $14 billion worth of shares.
Despite all these positives, shares are trading about 35% off their yearly highs. At a dividend yield of 5.4%, it's well worth a look here.
Ready to go global?
Not sold on Diageo? Don't worry -- there are plenty of great companies all across the globe set to benefit from some serious tailwinds.
Many foreign economies are poised to grow at rates that the U.S. will likely never see again. Take China, for instance. The World Bank recently cut its 2009 GDP growth estimate for the country -- to 7.5%. That would be the slowest pace of expansion for China since 1990.
Meanwhile, experts predict that the U.S. economy will shrink by about 1% next year. In fact, U.S. GDP hasn't grown by 7.5% since 1989! Based on that information, which stock would you rather own: Verizon (NYSE: VZ ) or China Mobile (NYSE: CHL ) ?
I hope you chose the latter. And I hope that if you're intrigued by the idea of international investing and would like to learn more, you'll consider taking a free 30-day trial of our Motley Fool Global Gains investment newsletter. You'll get our advisors' best bets for new money now, as well as the team's key takeaways from its recent research trip to Asia. Just click here for more information.
Rich Greifner would rather see the world come to an end than sit through another screening of The Day the Earth Stood Still. Seriously, that movie was awful. Rich does not own shares of any company mentioned in this article. Bank of America and Diageo are Motley Fool Income Investor recommendations. HDFC Bank is a Global Gains recommendation. The Fool has a disclosure policy.