By Paul Tracy
I've told you before about the opportunities in international companies. Dozens of countries are growing their economies at faster rates than the United States. The CIA World Factbook ranks the United States near the bottom in world gross domestic product growth -- number 172 of 214 countries/territories. That's not all.
Many of these countries are more fiscally disciplined. Out of 210 nations and territories that report data, the United States' annual deficit of nearly 9% ranks near the worst, at number 192.
Meanwhile, I've told you time and again about many of the income opportunities abroad. At last count, 1,716 profitable foreign companies paid yields of more than 6%... compared to just 131 U.S.-based companies.
It should be little surprise, then, that the best-performing income stock so far this year is a foreign company paying a yield of more than 7% (and you can buy the stock right here on the NYSE).
This company is small. Its market capitalization is only about $400 million and it trades fewer than 200,000 shares a day... about what Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) trades in four minutes.
Despite its small size and being relatively unknown, Tsakos Energy Navigation (NYSE: TNP) has seen its stock rise 73% this year alone.
Tsakos is one of the largest tanker-leasing companies in the world. In total, it owns nearly 50 vessels that ship crude around the globe. So what's driving the stock's rise?
Like most tanker companies, Tsakos had a tough year in 2011 due to near record-low oil tanker shipping rates. Oil tankers have faced oversupply for the past several years as operators ordered a large number of new ships when rates were high from 2003 to 2008. As a result, the global fleet expanded at a rapid pace, capping the rates that operators could charge to lease their ships.
More recently, tanker company stocks have rallied on news that spot rates for tankers and dry bulk carriers are on the rise.
One reason is a surge in demand for oil from China, prompting exporters in the Persian Gulf to book more tankers. In addition, sanctions on Iranian oil exports have prompted many insurers to refuse coverage of any tanker loading cargo in Iran. To offset the loss of supply, Saudi Arabia has stepped up its own exports. Recently, Saudi Aramco (Saudi Arabia's national oil company) hired a total of nine "very large crude carrier" (VLCC) tankers to ship additional oil, its largest tanker booking in years. That helped to tighten the supply and demand for tankers and push up rates.
While the tanker market still looks oversupplied with ships over the next two to three years, there's growing optimism that rates have bottomed... and stocks like Tsakos Energy Navigation are soaring because of it.
Risks to Consider: Now, I'm not recommending the shares. They are particularly volatile, and while they pay a 7%-plus yield, I wouldn't be surprised to see a pullback given the recent run. However, I do think the recent performance of TNP illustrates just how important the international markets are to income investors. There are simply too many opportunities available to not look abroad.
I don't think you should drop everything and put every dollar you have into international high yielders. But as I like to say, limiting yourself to only the U.S. is like going to a restaurant and limiting your options to just one side of the menu. Sure you can find something you like... but wouldn't you rather see all the options?