"If you really want breathtaking returns," a very successful portfolio manager once told me, "you need to get into emerging markets."
He was right, of course. Tomorrow's best stocks from emerging markets -- Wall Street's term for rapidly modernizing regions of the world, such as India and Indonesia -- have the potential to be huge. Forget 10-baggers. I'm talking 100-baggers.
Those stocks, those engines of massive future wealth, are out there right now. They're tiny new companies, recently gone public, that will lead regional development booms and be global giants in a decade, maybe less. They're also old local companies that have savvy management and suddenly find themselves with access to vast international markets and are poised for growth like never before.
These companies are out there. Investors who recognize those companies and hold their stocks over the long haul will make a fortune.
Investors have already recognized some of them, of course, and the companies' share prices reflect that interest. Stocks such as telecom giant China Mobile (NYSE: CHL ) and rising automotive star Tata Motors (NYSE: TTM ) are now well-known to investors worldwide, and both may well be worthwhile long-term holdings for your portfolio.
Those aren't the stocks I'm talking about, though. I'm talking about finding the next China Mobile, while it's still a tiny company, and getting in early.
The problem with investing in emerging markets
The thing is, despite strong returns, most investors have avoided emerging markets. Some may dabble in big names, such as Telkom Indonesia (NYSE: TLK ) , and maybe a smaller company occasionally that offers American depositary receipts through a major U.S. stock exchange, as India's rising pharma star Dr. Reddy's Labs (NYSE: RDY ) does.
It's not hard to understand why investors feel more comfortable with those stocks. To get their ADRs listed on a U.S. exchange, companies must meet some basic financial reporting requirements. You can get plenty of financial information on those companies with a few mouse clicks. The process of figuring out whether to buy an exchange-listed ADR is pretty much the same as the process you'd go through with a U.S. stock. The info's (mostly) all there.
Yet that can be a problem in itself. If the information is easily accessible to investors all over the world, odds are that the stock isn't particularly undervalued. It can happen -- market forces create extreme buying opportunities in lots of stocks from time to time, after all -- but there's no special advantage.
To get that special advantage, you have to go where others fear to tread. But how?
You could bone up on your Indonesian and Chinese, get to know the ins and outs of the Bombay Stock Exchange's financial reporting requirements, and spend a few months every year visiting companies throughout Asia and Latin America.
Or you could hire someone to do that for you.
For most of us, hiring someone means buying an actively managed mutual fund that specializes in emerging markets. But if you've ever tried to find one, you know that many of those funds just plain stink. The complexities and risks involved in emerging markets seem to burn pros almost as often as they burn individual investors.
A champion fund
Amanda Kish, our resident mutual fund whiz and lead advisor of the Fool's Champion Funds newsletter service, recently spent some time looking for an emerging-markets fund that delivered on its promise. She wanted a veteran management team that really knew its stuff, a reasonable expense ratio, and a strong long-term record of performance through up and down markets -- and she found exactly what she wanted.
In the new issue of Champion Funds, available online at 4 p.m. ET today, Amanda lays out the case for this gem of a fund. It's a really nice find, with a top-notch manager and a sensible, skeptical approach that has produced strong returns through a variety of market conditions.
Sure, this great fund does hold sizeable positions in well-known companies such as Latin American megabank Banco Itau (NYSE: ITU ) , Mexican cellular giant America Movil (NYSE: AMX ) , and Brazilian oil producer Petroleo Brasileiro (NYSE: PBR ) -- all of which have ADRs that trade on the NYSE. But its top holdings also include some stocks that you can't buy on the major U.S. exchanges -- and a few companies I'd never heard of at all. Some of those could well be tomorrow's global giants.
What is this fund? I don't want to spoil the surprise -- you'll have to read Amanda's article to see for yourself. (Yes, it's a paid service, but you can get full access free for 30 days with no obligation, so click with confidence.)
And while you're in there, take a moment to check out Champion Funds' model portfolios, which Amanda and her team assembled using the best funds they've found over time. You might find some other intriguing candidates for your own portfolio.