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Investing World Cup: India and Southeast Asia

India and Southeast Asia are pretty easy targets. Just try naming a top-ranked football club from the region. I know of no top-notch Indian player, either. Wait. That's not entirely true. I saw Bend It Like Beckham, in which Parminder Nagra plays star forward Jesminder Kaur Bhamra. That's at least something, right? Right?!?

But this isn't football
Yeah, OK, maybe not. Fortunately, I don't have to face down the North Americans on the football field. (Although I'm pretty sure we could take the hapless Canadians.) Instead, we're dueling on the economic field. And there, India and Southeast Asia is a powerhouse.

Consider the economic data. Just last month, the government of India released figures that showed gross domestic product up a breathtaking 9.9% in the first quarter. And what about Vietnam? It boasts the second-fastest-growing economy after China.

Now, contrast those statistics with North America's junior varsity. Canada's first-quarter GDP was up 2.9%. Mexico is a little more difficult to ascertain, but some researchers say the country will see real GDP growth decline to 2% in 2006 and then will fall into recession in 2007.

Where the growth is ...
The tremendous economic output visible on the Indian subcontinent has developed into a massive services industry that's generated big returns for investors. Take Infosys (Nasdaq: INFY  ) , for example. IBM (NYSE: IBM  ) and Accenture (NYSE: ACN  ) may be among the global giants when it comes to outsourcing, but Infosys and peer Wipro (NYSE: WIT  ) have positively crushed their American counterparts when it comes to delivering returns to investors.

Expect the drubbing to continue. South Asia in general has been a massive success story since 2000, with GDP gains for the region averaging 7.7%. Analysts expect growth to slow to 6.8% this year and then 6.5% in 2007, but that's still likely to be at least double the output from Canada and Mexico.

... Experts are investing
That may be why investors are pouring huge sums of cash into Southeast Asian firms. Indeed, the World Bank recently reported that $1.2 billion in new investment flowed into the region during 2005. Some of that moola may be coming from mutual funds you or I can own. Take Matthews India Fund (FUND: MINDX  ) , for example. Though new -- the fund was opened in Oct. 2005 -- it is co-managed by Mark Headley, who led Matthews Pacific Tiger (FUND: MAPTX  ) to index-crushing returns for Motley Fool Champion Funds subscribers. (And this fund has been so great that our advisors had to get a double dip; Motley Fool Rule Breakers subscribers got a taste in the March issue.)

But maybe you'd prefer a more mainstream choice. If so, how about Fidelity Southeast Asia (FUND: FSEAX  ) ? Its five-year average return of 18.83% bests the peer average and nearly doubles the return of MSCI EAFE index, which is comparable to the S&P 500 for international stock funds. Even more impressive is that the fund charges no loads and sports a 1.09% expense ratio -- within spitting distance of championship caliber.

There's not much to speak of when it comes to football in India and Southeast Asia. But there's at least twice as much economic growth as you'll find in Canada and Mexico. And that ought to be more than enough to keep any investor's portfolio kicking for years.

India and Southeast Asia are facing North America (non-U.S.) in this Investing World Cup match. Go back to the intro page to navigate your way to another part of this contest, and then vote for the region that you think should advance to the next round of the tournament.

Take your portfolio on a market-beating trip around the globe by picking up The Motley Fool's inaugural international stock report, Around the World in 80 Minutes. Or subscribe to any of ourinvesting newslettersand get the report free. All you have to lose is the prospect of richer returns.

Fool contributorTim Beyershas worked with many Indian firms over the years. He's been impressed every time. Tim didn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this story at the time of publication. You can find out what is in his portfolio by checking Tim's Foolprofile.

This article represents the opinion of one Fool and should in no way be taken as the opinion of either The Motley Fool, Inc., or the company in question, or as representative of anyone or anything other than that specific Fool's thoughts. So before buying, do your homework and review The Motley Fool's superbly sportsmanlikedisclosure policy.

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