How the Greek Debt Crisis Has Cost You (and How You Can Still Benefit From It)

Greece financial crisis
Greece financial crisis

By Igor Greenwald, senior editor

I'm going to spare you a dissertation on the futility of the latest Greek bailout. If you want that kind of tsuris (not a Greek word but definitely a Greek condition these days) you can find it here, there and everywhere.

Let's just concede that Europe hasn't solved a thing, but it has bought itself some time. Whether that time is measured in weeks or months, it will have been cheap, since the upfront cost has been a big fat nothing.

That's right: for all the talk of "disbursing" the latest 130 billion euro bailout, Greece has, of course, seen not a cent of it so far. Nor will it see much over the restructuring's three-year term (or however long it can endure the punishment.)

Most of the money is earmarked for creditors and will be disbursed from a separate foreign account unsullied by sticky Greek fingers. The kindly saviors further protected themselves against a subsequent default by specifying their right to seize the country's gold should push come to shove. And of course, they will have a financial team on the ground to help Athens deliver the additional austerity it's promised.

Greece got to keep its anthem and flag. The rest of its sovereignty has been outsourced.

But ... so what? Sure, Europe is limping through a mild recession, but it's one that hasn't turned into a global slump to this point.

Is all the budget-cutting counterproductive? Of course it is. But that was just as true a year ago.

Will things get worse? Probably. But real bad, real soon? Probably not.

That's largely thanks to the European Central Bank's policy of lending unlimited money for three years to almost any European bank, no matter how dubious its collateral. The first such auction in December got the market rally going, and there are fears that the sequel next week might mark its conclusion, as no subsequent injections are as yet on tap.

But as a junkie with a need and an unlimited supply of euros, Europe may need another ECB fix before long. And there's no more doubting that it would get it.

And in the meantime, global growth is proving hard to kill: The U.S. is still pulling on its bootstraps against all odds, Latin America keeps booming, Asia is adjusting, and Northern Europe soldiers on. Most overseas markets have outpaced the S&P 500 this month as well as year-to-date.

Instead of harping on the troubles of Greece (or China, or the U.K.), let's look at three companies on three continents from three different industries finding a lot of momentum somewhere.

These aren't investment recommendations, though one could do much worse. But their examples do suggest that U.S. investors have perhaps let Europe and China sour them on overseas markets prematurely.

The auctions marketplace MercadoLibre (MELI) reports earnings this evening, and should show once again why calling it the eBay (EBAY) of Latin America is a great injustice.

EBay's revenue rose 27% last year, in what was hailed as a stunning turnaround. Meanwhile, MercadoLibre, in which eBay holds a minority stake, is expected to post a 40% revenue gain for the quarter, which would be merely par for the course.

The stock is up 21% this year. (Latin American emerging markets are up 18% year-to-date in dollar terms, with roughly half of that courtesy of their rising currencies, according to MSCI Barra.)

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Half a world away, another booming stock with a Nasdaq proxy has already posted its bounty. Indian auto maker Tata Motors (TTM) grew earnings 41% in the December quarter on a 44% jump in sales.

The bulk of the profit came from Jaguar and Land Rover, luxury brands pickpocketed from Ford (F) for $2.3 billion in 2008, and now worth more than double that in all likelihood. Rubbing it in, Land Rover's Evoque crossover was named Truck of the Year last month by the writers covering the North American Auto Show in Detroit.

Tata's Land Rovers are selling like hotcakes in China and Russia, while auto sales in its home market are expected to grow more than 10% this year. (India's stock market has returned 28% in dollar terms year-to-date. And even with last year's 25% drop, it has produced a 28% annualized gain since early 2009.)

Meanwhile, there's musty old Europe, where Germany's stock market is up 18% so far in 2012 in dollar terms, slightly outpacing the Nordics' 16%. The Scandinavians have gained some steam in February, paced by Norway's 11% surge since the month began.

High energy prices have been a boon of course, witness the gains by Statoil (STO) and SeaDrill (SDRL). But high oil prices aren't what's propelling Opera Software (OPERA), which serves as a reminder that Europe's best can compete with anyone.

Opera is riding booming mobile Internet usage with its increasingly popular mobile browser, and is also moving aggressively to carve out a leading role in mobile advertising. Cash flow has soared alongside sales, surprising skeptics. The stock is up 24% year-to-date, while everyone was waiting for the Greek bailout.

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