In the past, the United States was a worldwide engine of prosperity and economic stability. And many of these global benefits came from offshoring activities. Things like Chinese manufacturing, Taiwanese electronics, Indian software development, and Costa Rican business services provided the initial fuel and capital for the current global boom.

All those first-generation activities had one thing in common: They were all based on goods and services destined for use in the United States. The old joke about the global economy was, "When the United States sneezes, the rest of the world catches cold." And sure enough, if the U.S. faced a recession, it knocked much of the rest of the world for a complete loop.

Much of offshoring's success boils down to simple economics. The companies who've moved production overseas have been able to attract high-quality employees for a fraction of the price of hiring Americans. While these wages seem low by American standards, they tend to be good for that specific country.

The next boom
As a result of paying relatively decent wages for the cost of living, a new phenomenon is arising in many formerly impoverished countries: a middle class. While that may not sound like a big deal to the average American, it is a huge deal for the rest of the world.

Taken as a whole, a solid middle class absolutely dwarfs the spending power of anyone else. While the ultra-rich may have a whole bunch of money, there are only so many of them around. To have a strong local economy, instead of simply an export-driven one, a country needs a solid middle class.

Make money globally
Because of this phenomenon, companies are lining up to serve -- and profit from -- that emerging global middle class. Unfortunately, prospering overseas takes a bit more work than simply opening a foreign office and setting up shop. Some unique concerns multinational companies face are:

  • Currency fluctuations.
  • Workplace culture clashes.
  • Unfamiliar consumer tastes.
  • Political risks to the business and its products.
  • International accounting differences.

In spite of the tremendous potential of our global economy, those international issues mean it's still more difficult to prosper overseas than it is at home. As such, the odds greatly favor those companies that are already successful on a global scale. After all, they've already mastered the intricacies of operating around the world, which gives them a tremendous leg up on the competition.

So, who's already winning? Perhaps you've heard of a few of these companies:


Home Country

Market Cap (in Billions)

HSBC Holdings (NYSE:HBC)

United Kingdom





Novartis AG (NYSE:NVS)



Eni SpA (NYSE:E)



Mitsubishi UFJ Financial



Banco Santander Central
Hispano SA



Arcelor Mittal (NYSE:MT)



Every last one of them is

  • A multibillion-dollar business.
  • Headquartered outside the United States.
  • Already a global powerhouse in its industry.
  • Poised to go wherever consumer demand takes it.

Thanks to what these companies have already gone through to get where they are, each is in a great spot to profit from the tremendous growth that is just now starting in domestic markets worldwide.

Buy the world
With so many global powerhouses located outside of the United States, you're leaving money on the table if you only focus your investments at home.

That's why my colleague Bill Mann launched Motley Fool Global Gains. Every month, he scours the globe for the best of the best, wherever it may be headquartered. With so many newly affluent consumers and strong companies located elsewhere, can you really afford to ignore the rest of the world? Take the next 30 days to look around Global Gains for free.

This article was originally published on Dec. 5, 2006. It has been updated.

At the time of publication, Fool contributor Chuck Saletta did not own shares of any of the companies mentioned in this article. Total is an Income Investor recommendation. The Fool has a disclosure policy.