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 48%, and China's SSE Composite index has fallen 52%. Meanwhile, Russia's RTSI index has plummeted 76%. 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 Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC ) safer than Credicorp (NYSE: BAP ) because it's based in California rather than Peru? Is Ford (NYSE: F ) safer than Honda (NYSE: HMC ) 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 one of my favorite foreign plays at the moment as an example …
Thought the SATs were rough? Be thankful you never had to take the gaokao, China's sole criterion for university admission. "It is China's SAT," Slate magazine writes -- "if the SAT lasted two days, covered everything learned since kindergarten, and had the power to determine one's entire professional trajectory."
As I’ve written before, that’s a pretty powerful catalyst for New Oriental Education (NYSE: EDU ) , China’s largest provider of private educational services. In addition to preparation classes for the gaokao and other critical tests, New Oriental offers its students English lessons and a suite of additional educational products.
Since it was founded in 1993, New Oriental has served more than 4.5 million students, including 1.3 million in 2008 alone. That’s certainly impressive, but I believe it’s just the tip of the iceberg. New Oriental has a strong brand, excellent customer satisfaction ratings, and minimal competition in an industry that is growing at a double-digit annual clip.
Shares are getting crushed today after the company lowered its guidance for the fiscal third quarter (New Oriental now expects year-over-year revenue to increase “only” 29% to 35%), but I think investors are overreacting to short-term concerns. The company still has great growth opportunities and a stellar balance sheet with $269 million in cash and no debt. And as New Oriental’s CFO Louis Hsieh reaffirmed this morning, “Chinese families place a high priority on spending for their children's education, behind only food and housing.”
Despite all these positives, shares are trading about 50% off their yearly highs, despite the emphasis on educational spending in the second round of China’s stimulus package.
Ready to go global?
Not sold on New Oriental? 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. Let’s stick with China for a moment. 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: Ctrip (Nasdaq: CTRP ) or Expedia (Nasdaq: EXPE ) ?
I hope you chose the former. 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.
This article was originally published Jan. 8, 2009. It has been updated.
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. New Oriental Education is a Global Gains recommendation. Ctrip is a Motley Fool Hidden Gems pick. The Fool has a disclosure policy.