Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, Chevrolets, and the most successful stock market annually. Of the things on this list, there's one that America can't lay claim to.

Do you know which one?

Even if you can't recall the '70s jingle ...
You could probably surmise that the good ol' US of A hasn't always been as economically successful as other countries.

What you may not know is that during the past decade, there have consistently been countries each year whose stock market performance has outshined ours.

Take a look at this chart, which shows each year's best-performing developed market:

Year

Developed Foreign Country

Foreign Country's Return

U.S. Return

U.S. Underperformance

2006

Spain

44.3%

13.2%

31.1 points

2005

Canada

28.1%

4.7%

23.4 points

2004

Austria

67.4%

8.8%

58.6 points

2003

Greece

63.2%

26.8%

36.4 points

2002

New Zealand

20.0%

(24.0%)

44.0 points

2001

New Zealand

5.6%

(13.2%)

18.8 points

2000

Switzerland

4.9%

(13.6%)

18.5 points

1999

Finland

150.7%

20.9%

129.8 points

1998

Finland

119.1%

28.8%

90.3 points

1997

Portugal

43.9%

31.7%

12.2 points

Developed countries from Stocks, Bonds, Bills, and Inflation 2007 by Ibbotson and Associates. Performance data from MSCI Indexes.

Look at 1998 and 1999. Even though the American stock market had two flourishing years, the Finnish stock market thumped it -- thanks in large part to Finland-based Nokia (NYSE:NOK), which returned nearly 1,000% during this two-year spread!

Furthermore, while America languished in a bear market from 2000 to 2002, investors could have made money by seeing the opportunities in Switzerland and New Zealand.

Overseas is the place for me ...
If you're thinking of jumping into these former winners, think again. As study after study has shown, the only thing that chasing performance will get you is poor returns. The way to make outsized returns is to find next year's investing opportunities before your investing peers do.  

Foreign markets are the playing field of Motley Fool Global Gains advisor Bill Mann and his team of analysts. And while they've done quite well recommending Asia-based companies such as New Oriental Education (NYSE:EDU) and GigaMedia (NASDAQ:GIGM), with gains of 132% and 156%, respectively, valuations are starting to look stretched. PetroChina's (NYSE:PTR) earnings multiple, for example, has expanded from 11 to 20 this year, while China Telecom's (NYSE:CHA) has increased from 13 to 20.

In fact, the entire Chinese market was up more than 120% through the end of October.

Looking south
That, however, is not true of a few Latin American countries that also stand to benefit from global economic development. Take a look:

Country

YTD Performance (Largest ADR by Market Cap)

Potential Catalyst

Argentina

9.9% (YPF (NYSE:YPF))

Increased free trade; inflation control

Brazil

45.4% (PetroBras)

Tax reform; government stability

Chile

28.3% (Enersis (NYSE:ENI))

Growth in the financial sector

Sweet success
Investors have not yet embraced these South American countries as much as they have China, but they have the potential to achieve great things.

That's why Bill Mann and his team of analysts are set to embark on a journey to these countries. They're going to be scouring corporate South America for the best investment opportunities, and you can get all of their updates live from the field by providing your email address n the box below.

Fool analyst Adam J. Wiederman owns shares of GigaMedia, which is a Global Gains recommendation. New Oriental Education is also a Global Gains pick. PetroBras is an Income Investor recommendation. The Fool's single disclosure policy wishes he had been invited on the Brazil trip, because he has heard that many beautiful women live there.