Here's a short timeline of events that would have netted you more than $2 million:

  • Buy $10,000 worth of ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM) in the middle of 1982 (and reinvest dividends), as a world oil glut pushes oil prices down and causes the market to sour on an energy industry that is obviously going nowhere. 
  • Roll your Exxon gains into Intel (Nasdaq: INTC) at the beginning of 1990 just before it becomes clear that personal computers are the wave of the future.
  • Ditch Intel in March 2001 for equipment maker Caterpillar (NYSE: CAT) when you know that declining interest rates will fuel a massive construction boom.

Had you followed those three steps, your initial $10,000 stake would be worth more than $2.6 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 moment and place.

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 Motley Fool research trip to Latin America. 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"?
This business, of course, is e-commerce. Back when you could have bought into it 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 into cyberspace.

That, of course, has all changed. More than $100 billion worth of business was done online in 2006, with companies such as (Nasdaq: RATE), Apollo Group (Nasdaq: APOL), and United Parcel Service (NYSE: UPS) 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 have the 15th- and 17th-largest economies. But both countries lack two key factors when it comes to the growth and success of online commerce:

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

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

That's changing, however -- which is why Marcos and his investors (note MercadoLibre's price-to-earnings ratio of 232!) are so excited about the future. It's an opportunity to go back in time 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 (imagine buying Bank of America in 1991, when it began consolidating the industry), construction in Mexico, and auto sales in China.

Simply put: Mature industries here in the U.S. offer exciting growth opportunities elsewhere around the world. What's more, international investments 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 4 percentage points ahead of the market to date, and we recently told subscribers our top three investing ideas we got 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. Intel is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation. Bankrate is a Rule Breakers pick. eBay is a Stock Advisor selection. UPS is an Income Investor choice. This is the time and place to tell you that The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.