As we await the launch of Motley Fool Global Gains , our new international investing service, we are taking a look back at some of our best international stock ideas. This article was originally published on Nov. 18, 2005.
There are almost as many ways to invest internationally as there are foreign countries and companies in which to invest. You can go the mutual-funds route and take your chances with the manager's skill -- not to mention the expenses and taxes that are out of your control. You can go with various exchange-traded funds that match indices, but where's the fun in that? And, of course, you can go the route of individual stock selection.
But if you want to invest in individual stocks, where do you begin? After all, there are literally thousands of potential foreign destinations for your money, and even just restricting yourself to sponsored American Depositary Receipts leaves open a huge number of possibilities. I suggest a sector-by-sector approach. And one sector to consider is telecommunications service.
There are plenty of reasons to like this sector in general. The essence of the business is highly repeatable, and there are a variety of trackable metrics to help separate winners from losers. It's also a sector that has some sensitivity to economic growth without being highly cyclical. As people get wealthier, they make more use of various telecom services -- starting, perhaps, with just a simple prepaid phone, but possibly ending up with a full suite of phone and Internet/broadband services.
Strategic investing also plays a role in looking at the foreign telco sector. Phone service is a business where size pays off, and many foreign telecom companies are among the larger companies in a given country -- particularly in emerging markets. That makes them more attractive to big international investors. They are often "default" purchases for fund managers who want, say, "a little exposure to China" or "a piece of Turkey." When a given market gets hot, then, it's often the telecom companies that lead the way, since they are so familiar and liquid to big investors.
It would be impossible to catalog all of the overseas telco investment possibilities -- well, at least impossible without actually writing a piece of catalog proportions. What we will do here today, then, is offer up some ideas within specific investment types.
Get rich with dividend checks
As has been the case in the United States, the successful operation of a monopoly or near-monopoly phone service can bring the cash flow rolling into a company's coffers. It is certainly possible, then, to find overseas telcos that offer investors a generous yield.
Telecom New Zealand
A recommendation of our own Motley Fool Income Investor newsletter, this company is (as the name might suggest) the primary provider of telecom services in beautiful New Zealand. Conservatively managed, the company would much rather pass along its excess cash flow to shareholders than use it for some of the ill-conceived or downright hare-brained acquisition ideas on which other telecom companies have stumbled in recent years.
That's not to say that there are no possibilities for growth, though. Not only are there still opportunities to grow in New Zealand, but the company has also done all right in Australia. Telecom New Zealand is under siege from the New Zealand government at the moment, increasing the risk for investors, but this Kiwi company looks set to continue pumping out prodigious dividends for some time to come.
Even if you don't want to wang chung tonight, income-oriented investors may want to look at Chunghwa. The No. 1 telecom company in Taiwan, this company pays a prodigious dividend. Although the growth is nothing to shout about, it holds more than one-third of the mobile market and nearly half of the data/Internet market. That's nothing to sneeze at in a modern economy with tech-savvy customers.
Go for the growth
With apologies to Mathew Emmert and the rest of the Income Investor team, successful investing isn't just about cashing dividend checks. Sometimes, investing is also about growth, and there are some international telco ideas that are growing like weeds.
Growth is the order of the day here. America Movil is expected to post year-on-year growth of nearly 40% next year. Better yet, while the company has been posting strong subscriber growth, many of its markets are less than 50% penetrated. While the company faces stiff competition from Telefonica
(NYSE:TEF)and might need to invest more in Brazil, I think the future of this telco is worthy of at least an "ole!"
Like America Movil, Turkcell is an emerging-market wireless play. The growth-value picture is attractive in its own right (growth is expected to be in the 14% range for the next few years; forward P/E is 11), but I happen to really like the long-term view.
Turkey has a relatively young population and a growing economy. I think that despite the current political wrangling over joining the European Union, both sides will eventually see reason and the country will ultimately sign on. Investors should note, though, that there is a lingering ownership dispute that, while not particularly harmful to the company's growth prospects, does produce some confusion.
Growth with dividends
Don't we Americans really want to have it all? Work hard, play harder; great taste and less filling; growth with dividends. Well, step right up, folks, because the international menu of telco companies can help you here as well.
Hey, have you heard that China has a bunch of people and that its economy is undergoing a growth spurt? Sure you have -- it's still a hot topic du jour for plenty of financial magazines and TV programs. China Mobile looks like the real deal to me -- good growth, reasonable valuation, dominant market share, and a nice little dividend. China will have its ups and downs in the years to come, but China Mobile could still be a great play on the seemingly inevitable changes under way in that huge country.
The bottom line
I believe that almost every investor can, and should, make a little room in his or her portfolio for an international company or two. With relatively easy-to-understand financials and business models and liquid stocks, foreign telcos can be an excellent starting point for nascent international investors. Whether you like growth, dividends, or a bit of both, a little bit of research and due diligence can turn up a promising candidate or two, and by no means was this a complete list.
Sure, there are some unique risks in investing abroad, but there are also some unique opportunities. And it's not as if domestic telcos like Verizon
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For related international Foolishness:
- Global Investing 101: Developed Asia
- Government Goes Medieval on Telecom New Zealand
- Investing in Qatar
Fool sector head Joey Khattab updated this article, which was written by Stephen Simpson. Joey does not own any shares of the companies mentioned. The Fool has the only disclosure policy with unlimited texting.