This matchup offers another marked study in contrasts. On the one hand, you have some of the wealthiest and most modern countries in the world, and on the other, you have some of the poorest and most run-down. And while the developed Asia region provides many of the high-tech electronics and appliances we use in our day-to-day lives, the Mideast and Africa region provides the global market with raw materials such as oil and minerals.

The question for investors, though, might be one of potential. How much more can the likes of South Korea or Japan really do? And what could a country like Nigeria, United Arab Emirates, or South Africa accomplish with a run of good government and sound economic policies? Here, too, is an interesting study in contrasts of investing style. Buying into the Mideast/Africa region is a risky bet on the hope of a brighter future. Buying into developed Asia is more akin to diversifying into other economies that are similar to the United States, but perhaps different enough to offer a good hedge against the ups and down of our markets.

Economic details*
(Largest per region in total GDP)

Country GDP/Capita GDP Growth Inflation
Saudi Arabia $11,930 4.2% 0.5%
South Africa $5,600 4% 5.5%
Iran $2,930 4.3% 16%
Japan $38,890 1.3% 0.2%
South Korea $18,450 4% 2.4%
Australia $32,020 2.9% 2.6%
Data from Economist Intelligence Unit.
*Projections for 2006.

Notable companies:

  • Saudi Arabia: Aramco (state-owned)
  • South Africa: Telkom SA (NYSE:TKG), Sasol (NYSE:SSL), Gold Fields (NYSE:GFI)
  • Iran: No Iranian companies open for investing to Americans
  • Japan: Sony (NYSE:SNE), Canon (NYSE:CAJ), Toyota (NYSE:TM)
  • South Korea: SK Telecom (NYSE:SKM), Kookmin Bank (NYSE:KB), KoreaElectric Power (NYSE:KEP)
  • Australia: RioTinto (NYSE:RTP), BHP Billiton (NYSE:BHP), Telstra (NYSE:TLS)

In this match, Bill Mann will be taking a look at the Mideast, while Nathan Parmelee focuses on developed Asia.

For more international stock ideas, check out The Motley Fool International Report: Around the World in 80 Minutes.

Fool contributor Stephen Simpson but has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).