You gotta hand it to U.S. stocks -- they sure put in a strong showing.

Stocks of companies like Activision Blizzard (NASDAQ:ATVI), Odyssey Marine Exploration (NASDAQ:OMEX), Celgene (NASDAQ:CELG) and USANA Health Sciences (NASDAQ:USNA) have all delivered returns of more than 500% over the past 10 years -- even while factoring in the recent market tumble.

But after posting the past century's highest gains, it's unlikely their streaks will continue. Or, as John Maynard Keynes poetically said, "Trees don't grow to the sky." Even as we emerge from this bear market, U.S. stocks are starting to look like the trees, while stocks in China and Brazil -- even India -- appear to be mere saplings.

Higher growth ... and higher returns
If there was a bright side to this volatile market, it's that it unraveled the misconception that every country's economy is coupled with that of the United States.

That's simply not so.

Sure, countries like Canada and Mexico -- and, with them, companies like Grupo Casa Saba (NYSE:SAB) and Coca-Cola FEMSA (NYSE:KOF) that are closely tied to the American economy -- will suffer or prosper alongside us. Not to mention debt-mired Eastern Europe, which will continue struggle for many years.

But you simply can't write off the emerging economies in countries like Brazil and China.

Stock market powerhouses
Looking out to 2010 -- when only the most optimistic U.S. forecasters predict noteworthy domestic growth -- China is slated to grow by 7.7%. And that's on top of more than 8% growth in 2009!

This is not only good news for China, but also for Brazil. The Economist reports that China "recently overtook the United States as Brazil's biggest export market." So as China experiences rising demand for its goods, Brazil will experience rising demand for its own commodities.

If you want direct exposure to foreign economies, there are two basic ways to play this trend:

  1. You could buy a mutual fund or an exchange-traded fund that holds a diverse basket of foreign stocks. The iShares MSCI Emerging Markets Index ETF, which holds more than 400 stocks, is a good choice.
  2. Or you could cherry-pick best-of-breed foreign stocks, researched by analysts who have met with the executives, scoured the tricky financials, and have their own hard-earned money behind many of their picks.

You certainly won't go wrong with the first option -- it's a great way to profit from the overall emergence of these economies.

But the second option is the way to go if you're a do-it-yourselfer interested in finding stocks with the potential for much higher gains. And guys like Tim Hanson and Nate Parmelee, co-advisors of Motley Fool Global Gains, are two of the brightest minds seeking out the world's next stock success story. They've already made a name for themselves with stocks like China Fire & Security Group, which gave them a 106% gain in a little over a year.

Best of all, they recently returned from a trip to rural China seeking out similar stocks. Some have labeled them insane to venture outside of China's top cities like Beijing and Shanghai, but they believe that "the farther we get outside tier 1 cities ... the more likely we are to discover our next great investment idea."

Uncovering the world's gems
Granted, there's no such thing as a risk-free stock, but you're much better off with recommendations uncovered by a team that has actually taken the time to meet with the company at its headquarters, talk with the executives one on one, and then still recommend the stocks.

One of the companies the Global Gains advisors visited was China Mobile -- a Chinese mobile-phone provider that not only boasts the nation's best coverage, but also has a huge cash stockpile it can use to expand into small villages.

Another company at the top of their list, which they also visited, has a stock that's up 550% since they first recommended it in November 2008. But they believe gains like this are far from over. The company has a clean balance sheet, is growing rapidly, and has a lot of potential. Better yet, it may have the potential to add product lines while looking at a successful model like Monsanto.

You can see this company's ticker -- as well as all the other companies they uncovered on their trip -- completely free with a guest pass to Motley Fool Global Gains. Just click here for more information and, when you're in, look for the "One Winner We Still Like."

Already a member of Global Gains? Log in at the top of this page.

This article was originally published Sept. 4, 2009. It has been updated.

Adam J. Wiederman owns shares of China Mobile. Monsanto is a Motley Fool Inside Value selection. Apple and Activision Blizzard are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. Motley Fool Options has recommended a synthetic long position on Activision Blizzard. The Fool owns shares of Activision Blizzard and China Mobile. Motley Fool's disclosure policy has a lot of potential.