The year 2006 wasn't too shabby for investors overall. The S&P 500 index, which tracks corporate titans such as IBM, Google, and PepsiCo, was up about 16%, versis just 5% in 2005. But lest you think that the United States hogged all the gains, many corners of the world performed even better.

If you guessed that emerging markets ranked among the top performers, you're absolutely right. Check out these 12-month returns, as compiled by The Wall Street Journal:

  • China: 107%
  • Russia: 51%
  • India: 49%
  • Brazil: 40%

Of course, not every emerging market did spectacularly. Taiwan was up some 15%, but Turkey fell almost 11%. You didn't have to stretch too far out of your comfort zone to find some great global gains, though. Here are some more:

  • Germany: 33%
  • France: 31%
  • U.K.: 27%

Again, though, not every developed nation fared so well. Japan's market, for example, rose just 5%.

What to do about it
Now that you're aware of how much wealth foreign investments might offer, what should you do? Well, clearly, don't just rush out and buy indiscriminately. Instead, look for the international opportunities that you understand best and in which you have the most confidence. That's what many mutual fund managers are doing today -- and many fund investors, as well. According to data from the Investment Company Institute, globally focused mutual funds in 2006 took in some $136 billion, versus only $15 billion for domestic funds.

I used to own shares of a terrific global performer, Infosys (NASDAQ:INFY), and I'm kicking myself for having sold way too early. The stock gained 17% in 2005, and more than 35% in 2006. I would have liked to own shares of China Petroleum and Chemical (NYSE:SNP), too. It gained 25% in 2005 and nearly doubled in 2006. Even not-so-obscure Diageo (NYSE:DEO), maker of such spirits as Johnnie Walker, Guinness, Seagram's, and more, gained roughly 40% in 2006.

When it comes to international investing, even Foolish investors should take extra care in their selections, and consider seeking well-informed guidance. If you'd like a savvy guide to international investing, consider our new Motley Fool Global Gains newsletter. Lead analyst Bill Mann's international travels have given him considerable knowledge about foreign nations and companies, and he's out to help investors find the best investments worldwide. You can discover his latest picks with a free 30-day trial subscription.

Happy travels in 2007, Fool!

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Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian owns shares of PepsiCo. Diageo is an Income Investor recommendation. The Motley Fool has a full disclosure policy.