My emerging markets investments were a mixed bag last year. My biggest success came from Visa (NYSE:V), ending the year up over 44%.
I loved Visa when I recommended it, and I continue to love it now, even at current prices. But I should be very clear that I do not expect another year of 44% returns. Yes, Visa is still at the crossroads of two powerful macro trends — the rise of the emerging market consumer and the shift toward a global cashless economy — and these are trends I see persisting for years to come.
But 2011 was unique in that the stock had been depressed by political risk stemming from the Durbin Amendment to the Dodd-Frank financial reform package. When the cloud of uncertainty was lifted, Visa and rival MasterCard (NYSE:MA) both enjoyed monster rallies. That kind of political risk simply doesn’t exist right now. Still, I do expect Visa to outperform the S&P in the years ahead.
On a side note, my Visa recommendation was the winning pick in InvestorPlace’s 10 Stocks for 2011 contest (Read about my follow-up pick for 2012, and check out the rest of the “10 Best Stocks for 2012”).
Unilever (NYSE:UL) has also quietly generated good returns for me. It ended the year up a solid 8%, and its total return since I recommended it in December of 2010 is a not-too shabby 16%. Unilever already gets more than half of its revenues from emerging markets and pays a great dividend. This is one I recommend holding for the remainder of the decade.
Colgate-Palmolive (NYSE:CL) is another stock that has quietly put out decent returns. The stock ended the year up almost 15% and 21% in total returns since I recommended it in November of 2010. This is another company that is far from sexy — it sells soap and toothpaste — but it’s precisely the right kind of stock to own in a choppy, trendless market.
DirecTV (NASDAQ:DTV) has done relatively well. The stock ended the year up 7%, which isn’t bad considering the abuse the markets have taken over the past year. Warren Buffett made a splash when he announced that Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK.B) had taken a large position in DirecTV, and I continue to like the company as a backdoor way to get access to the rising middle classes of Latin America. Hold on to this one.
Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG) was a roller-coaster stock in 2011 that almost ended flat until it squeaked out major gains in late December, making for a yearly return of 3.7%. This isn’t a huge bust, but — if not for managing a respectable 16% total return since I recommended this stock in July of 2010 — I would call PG a disappointment. Like the other dividend-paying consumer products companies, I continue to like P&G and recommend holding it for another quarter or more. It pays a reliable dividend, which matters in a market like this.
Nestle (PINK:NSRGY) has also been a bit of a disappointment after taking a beating due to the Swiss franc’s fluctuations and due to volatility spilling over from the euro zone. Still, Nestle is one of the finest companies in the world, pays a great dividend and has exposure to emerging markets that goes back decades. This is one stock I recommend you hold on to for a while.
Finally, my broad play on the rise of the emerging market consumer — the EGShares Emerging MarketsConsumer ETF (NYSE:ECON) was down 5.7% for 2011, which compares quite favorably to most broad emerging market indices. As a point of reference, the popular iShares MSCI Emerging Markets (ETF) (NYSE:EEM) was down 20.36% for the year. Therefore, I continue to recommend ECON as a core, long-term holding.