Here's a short timeline of events that could have netted you more than $12 million:

  1. Buy $10,000 worth of Dell at the beginning of 1991, as it became clear that the personal computer would become a household must-have. 
  2. Roll your Dell gains into NVR (NYSE: NVR) at the beginning of 2002, convinced that low interest rates would fuel a housing boom.
  3. Ditch NVR for refiner Valero (NYSE: VLO) in 2005, as it became clear that high energy prices were here to stay. 

Had you followed those three steps, your initial $10,000 stake would be worth more than $12.3 million 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 situation 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. 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 when you could have bought in via eBay 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, with companies such as Blackboard (Nasdaq: BBBB), TD AMERITRADE (Nasdaq: AMTD), and IAC (Nasdaq: IACI) being major beneficiaries.

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

Brazil and Mexico are the world's fifth- and 11th-largest countries by population, respectively, 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's changing, however -- which is why Marcos and his investors (note MercadoLibre's price-to-earnings ratio of 99!) 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 four 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, and all of our research and recommendations, by joining Global Gains free for 30 days. There is no obligation to subscribe.

This article was first published on Jan. 7, 2008. It has been updated.

Tim Hanson does not own shares of any company mentioned. Dell and eBay are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. Blackboard is a Hidden Gems pick, and Dell is also an Inside Value pick. 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.