The Best International Stock You've Never Heard Of

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For decades, if not centuries, Britain has been home to some of the best companies -- and the best investments -- in the world. It's delivered profits to investors by air (British Airways), land (Rolls-Royce), and sea (BP).) A new report out of the country's business periodical of record, though, warns investors that the sun may finally be setting on the British Empire.

Last week, the Economist Intelligence Unit announced that if current trends hold true, Britain will cede pride of place in the global economy to Brazil sometime before the year is out. Gross domestic product for Brazil is expected to hit $2.44 trillion by year end, eclipsing Britain's own $2.1 trillion GDP. Indeed, at its current pace, Brazil is on track to eclipse each and every European nation on GDP by 2020.

What's it mean to investors?
Brazil's ascendance suggests that investors who've been putting the portion of their portfolios labeled "international" in European stocks like beleaguered BP, for example, may be behind the curve. It's time to do some forward thinking and start shifting some funds away from the tried and true, and toward countries like Brazil, which are looking shiny and new.

The simplest way to do this, of course, might be by way of investing in a broad-based, country-focused index fund such as the iShares MSCI Brazil Index (NYS: EWZ) . And if that's the way you choose to go, now looks like a great time to get started. Over the past five years, the Brazil Index has utterly whomped returns on the Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDEX: ^DJI), gaining 44.5%, versus a 4.4% decline on the Dow. But recent market turmoil has the Brazil Index trading 16% off its highs of just six months ago -- giving you a great chance to buy into this growth story at a discount.

Sounds good. How can I do better?
Index investing isn't for everyone, of course. Sometimes, it's hard to know what's in there when buying an index, and there's something to be said for knowing exactly what it is you're buying with your hard-earned cash. More intrepid investors might also want to make more targeted bets. After all, if you can find the best investments in Brazil, why bother with an index fund that forces you to also buy the rest?

If investing in individual stocks is more to your test (as it is mine), then here are a few specific plays on the Brazilian economy that might pique your interest.

Embraer (NYS: ERJ) "Brazil's Boeing" is a superb little upstart in the aerospace sphere. Building everything from business jets, to passenger aircraft, to fighter jets, Embraer shares look like a relative bargain next to Boeing (NYS: BA) . They cost only 11.5 times earnings (versus 13 for Boeing) and yield a hefty 3.4% dividend (Boeing pays only 2.6%). Best of all, most analysts expect Embraer to post years of profits growth at an annual rate approaching 17%. The best Boeing is expected to produce is 13.5%.

Petrobras (NYS: PBR)
Would you love to own a piece of ExxonMobil (NYS: XOM) , but maybe at a more attractive price? Allow me to introduce you to Petroleo Brasileiro -- Petrobras to its friends. By one measure -- proven oil reserves -- Petrobras is nearly as big as its more famous cousin from the north. It boasts 10.7 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, versus the 11.7 billion we find on Exxon's balance sheet. Yet with a market cap of $170 billion, Petrobras costs less than half the $375 billion market cap that investors shower upon Exxon. I don't think the discount is deserved. With the stock at 6.7 times earnings, I say PBR me, ASAP!

Vale (NYS: VALE)
Want an even better price? Then take a look at iron-ore miner Vale. Worries over near-term prospects for global steel production have this stock trading for a price that far undervalues its long-term prospects. The shares cost a mere 6.1 times earnings today, and with plenty of growth on the horizon, that valuation falls to just 5.8 if you look out to 2012 projected earnings. Vale also pays a 1.8% dividend.

Foolish takeaway
I won't beat around the bush on this, Fools. If you want my opinion on the single best bargain in Brazil today, I think it's Embraer, hands-down. (That's why I own the stock.) But compared with analogous enterprises in more developed countries, each of the three Brazilian bargains I've laid out here looks attractive.

I say, if you're looking to invest internationally, there's no better time than the present. And if you're looking for the single best place to invest internationally, up-and-coming Brazil is a good place to start.

Still not sure you want to invest in individual stocks? No worries. If you're more comfortable sticking with broad-based ETFs, we've got you covered there, too. Read the Fool's new -- and free! -- report on:3 ETFs Set to Soar During the Recovery.

At the time this article was published Fool contributorRich Smithowns shares of Embraer.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended buying shares of Embraer and Petrobras.We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy.

Copyright © 1995 - 2011 The Motley Fool, LLC. All rights reserved. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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