Any international investor over the past few years knows that most of the hot action has been focused on emerging markets. Developing countries rocketed ahead of their more economically advanced peers last year, topping out with a nearly 75% gain. But now, with the situation in Greece roiling foreign markets, some of the brighter minds in the business are turning their attention elsewhere.
Visiting the old country
As a recent Wall Street Journal article highlighted, many portfolio managers are responding to the Greek crisis by looking for new opportunities in a sometimes overlooked arena -- developed Europe.
For example, Cindy Sweeting, director of portfolio management for Templeton Global Equity, likes what she sees in multinational companies such as Germany's Siemens
Likewise, David Herro, manager of the Oakmark International Fund (OAKIX), is turning to healthy European banks that don't have direct exposure to Greece, like Switzerland's Credit Suisse Group
While many foreign investors tend to bypass stodgy old Europe for more flashy and fast-growing Asian-based companies, ignoring Europe would be a mistake. In the Vanguard Total World Stock ETF, for instance, Europe accounts for slightly more than a quarter of global market capitalization. By comparison, the U.S. makes up about 45% of the global total. If you leave Europe out of your foreign allocation, you're missing out on a huge portion of the available investing opportunities around the globe.
Furthermore, many European stocks are particularly cheap right now. According to Morningstar data, the MSCI Europe Index currently sports a price-to-earnings ratio of 11.0, compared to 14.8 for the MSCI World Index and 17.0 for the MSCI Pacific Index. This points to European stocks selling at a discount, especially compared to many other regions of the globe.
A change in leadership
To be clear, my long-term view of emerging markets is still pretty bullish. I still think economies like China and India will provide some of the greatest growth opportunities of the next decades. However, several recent red flags may signal that these countries could be taking a breather. China's real estate market has shown signs of overheating, while its government has begun efforts to rein in lending. Investors expecting emerging markets to repeat their stellar 2009 performance again this year are bound to be disappointed.
The market rally that began in March 2009 has focused on riskier and lower-quality stocks, sectors, and regions of the globe. But odds are good that those sectors won't lead in the upcoming business cycle. I believe higher-quality, financially stable firms are poised to take center stage, both in the U.S. and abroad.
Since developed Europe is home to scores of well-seasoned, high-quality blue-chip firms, the pickings should be ripe. However, investors need to be selective here. The debt crisis in Greece is threatening to spill over into other Eurozone nations struggling with high debt loads, including Portugal, Spain, and Ireland. You might want to avoid these trouble spots and stick to countries like the U.K., Germany, France, and the Scandinavian region.
Reaping the rewards
Since stable big-name foreign players are likely to do well in the near future, investors may want to pay more attention to one particular area -- healthy dividend payers. Almost no one predicts a robust recovery period, which means that growth will be elusive at best in the coming year or so. Foreign dividend-paying stocks can give your portfolio an extra boost that it will probably need looking forward. Consider looking at names like U.K.-based Vodafone Group
If you're not up for the individual stock-picking game, you can always go for an inexpensive exchange-traded fund that can give you direct exposure to some of Europe's most dividend-rich companies. If this is more your speed, you might want to take a look at the Wisdom Tree Europe Total Dividend ETF (DEB), which invests in high-yielding European stocks. Of course, don't forget that if you own a diversified foreign fund or two, you've probably already got some pretty decent exposure to large-cap European names, so you're probably already pretty well-positioned to benefit from this trend.
No matter what happens in world markets this year and the next, investors need to take a diversified approach, getting exposure to all corners of the market, including a hefty dose of European names. This sector may not be as exciting as the red-hot emerging market growth stories, but it is just as essential for long-term growth in the global marketplace.
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Amanda Kish is the Fool's resident fund advisor for the Rule Your Retirement investment newsletter. At the time of publication, she did not own any of the funds or companies mentioned herein. Novartis is a Motley Fool Global Gains pick. Total is a Motley Fool Income Investor recommendation. The Fool owns shares of GlaxoSmithKline. The Fool has a disclosure policy.