Investors looking for international or emerging markets tend to stick to international funds or ADRs from the so-called BRIC nations of Brazil, Russia, India and China. But not all BRICs are created equal. China and Russia have impressive growth rates, but you have to be more selective in these markets. China is probably too reliant on stimulus money to boost its economy, and there's evidence of a growing Chinese bubble. Russia requires you to put your faith in a corrupt oligarchy. Sooner or later, China and Russia are more likely to suffer from these excesses than their BRIC colleagues, Brazil and India.
You can trade in international or emerging market stocks through the use of ADRs (American Depositary Receipts). ADRs prices are in U.S. dollars, pay dividends in U.S. dollars and can be traded like the shares of U.S.-based companies.
My personal BRIC favorite is Brazil, the world's 8th largest economy. As the U.S. sinks deeper into public-sector debt and federal bureaucracy, Brazil has had huge success in reducing public debt and the level of bureaucratic control. Brazil restructured its finances years ago and is now in far better shape in terms of debt than the U.S, Japan and most of Europe. Brazil also has huge oil reserves and a fast-growing domestic market - which means it's less dependent on exports to declining markets in the U.S. and Europe.
India is Asia's 3rd largest economy and has maintained strong economic growth through the global financial meltdown, managing to post an impressive growth of 6.7% in 2008-2009. The IMF projects 2009-2010 growth at 6.75-7.5%. This is a fall from the 10% growth rates India enjoyed before the global financial meltdown, but India remains one of the fastest-growing economies in Asia. Just compare this with estimates of 2010 U.S. GDP growth of only 1.5%. The best way to capitalize on growth in India is by investing in Indian banks. Although its economy doesn't grow as fast as China's, the banking system operates independently of the government, so the loans are higher quality, and there's no forced lending.
India ADR picks: Tata Motors (NYSE:TTM): India's biggest car manufacturer, maker of the Tata Nano, the cheapest car in the world. HDFC Bank (NYSE:HDB): One of India's better-managed banks, this stock's enjoyed a tenfold gain since 2002. Wipro (NYSE:WIT): leading tech services group with strong earnings surprise history, recently opened in Brazil.
I continue to be positive on China in spite of increasing talk of a jittery China bubble. Many portfolios are now underweight on China. China's mid-to-long-term outlook is bright, and it will enjoy higher growth than India. However, expect more volatility; you need to be very selective and/or perhaps more speculative with your picks.
China ADR picks: PetroChina (NYSE:PTR): China's largest listed oil company, is expected to continue to grow, benefiting from higher crude prices and rising energy demand. Tencent Holding (OTCPK:TCEHY): biggest Internet company most people outside China have never heard of, hundreds of millions users for its IM service, market cap of $38 billion bigger than Yahoo, and twice the size of Baidu. Likely to benefit from Google's China departure, but beware: This is a volatile speculative play.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.