Here's a short timeline of events that could have landed you on the Forbes list of billionaires somewhere between Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Alsaud ($20.3 billion) and J.K. Rowling ($1.0 billion):

  1. Buy $5,000 worth of Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT) on Jan. 2, 1975, just as the company's low-cost concept was beginning to displace conventional retailers.
  2. Roll your Wal-Mart gains into Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT) 1986 IPO after you're convinced Bill Gates will lead the next technological revolution.
  3. Ditch Microsoft for (Nasdaq: AMZN) in 1997 as it becomes clear commerce is moving online.

Had you followed those three steps, your initial $5,000 stake would be worth more than $4.3 billion today -- and you'd be sitting pretty.

Pretty ... vacant
Of course, you didn't do that; I didn't do that; no one did that. It would have been almost impossible to make those three calls -- and only those three calls -- at the right times and places.

You would need to travel back in time to make this hypothetical a reality, and there's simply no way to do that.

Or is there?
I recently returned from a research trip to Latin America. While in Buenos Aires, we met with Marcos Galperin, the impressive CEO of e-commerce site MercadoLibre (Nasdaq: MELI). In talking about his company's potential, Marcos said something I haven't been able to shake ...

"By bringing this business to this place, we have the opportunity to get into a time capsule."

"This business?"
The business, of course, is e-commerce. Back in 1997, it was a nascent industry. Consumers didn't know the brands, didn't trust that they'd receive their orders, and weren't willing to send their credit card numbers out into cyberspace.

That, of course, has all changed. More than $100 billion worth of business was done online in 2006, and Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY), Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO), and all now rank among the world's top 100 brands, according to BusinessWeek.

"This place?"
The place is Latin America generally -- Brazil and Mexico, more specifically.

Brazil and Mexico are the fifth- and 11th-largest countries by population, respectively, in the world, and the 10th- and 14th-largest economies. But both countries lack two key catalysts when it comes to the growth of online commerce:

  1. Broadband penetration.
  2. A thriving middle class.

In other words, consumers in these countries -- like their economies overall -- are emerging.

That, however, is changing, which is why Marcos and his investors (note MercadoLibre's price-to-earnings ratio of 340!) are so excited about the future. It's an opportunity to go back and bet on the online business model of 1997.

More where that came from
But Latin American e-commerce isn't the only time capsule opportunity that international investing provides. There's banking in India (how about buying Bank of America in 1991, when it began consolidating the industry?), construction in Mexico, and even auto sales in China.

Simply put: Mature industries here offer exciting growth opportunities elsewhere around the world. What's more, international investments can help you diversify your portfolio to reduce volatility and provide a hedge against a weakening U.S. dollar.

That's our view at Global Gains, and it's our job to help subscribers identify and buy the very best foreign stocks for their portfolios. Our picks are 14 percentage points ahead of the market to date, and we recently told our subscribers about our top three ideas from our trip to Latin America.

You can see those three names as well as all of our research and recommendations by joining Global Gains free for 30 days. There is no obligation to subscribe.

Tim Hanson does not own shares of any company mentioned. Wal-Mart and Microsoft are Motley Fool Inside Value recommendations. Amazon, eBay, and Yahoo! are Motley Fool Stock Advisor picks. Bank of America is an Income Investor selection. This is the time and place to tell you that The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.