It's the Best Investment in North America - and It Isn't the United States

The U.S. stock market has run up magnificently in the last six months. The U.S. economy has begun to recover, but its performance has fallen short of expectations.

And with good reason. The United States has a bigger and more-troubled financial sector than most countries. It also has a bigger overhang from the housing bubble, has a bigger balance-of-payments deficit and has a budget deficit that's fat enough to stall the recovery.

It would be nice to have an economic recovery to invest in that didn't have all of these problems.

Truth be told, such an investment play does exist. What's more, the market I have in mind is advanced enough for us to invest in it without having to go through all the rigmarole of American Depository Receipt (ADR) investing. Nor will you have to make a potentially risky foray out onto some foreign stock exchange to buy the shares, because they are almost all listed here.

The country I'm talking about is Canada. Think of it as being like home - but without the problems that our home market (the United States) currently suffers from.

Our Healthy Neighbor to the North

When the recession struck, Canada was hit by it quite badly, but for different reasons from its southern neighbor. The Canadian housing market was nowhere near as overheated as its U.S. counterpart. So Canada's housing downturn wasn't as deep.

And what about the banking systems? To be sure, Canadian banks received a bailout, but it was less than $20 billion in total. Compare that to the veritable alphabet soup of U.S. bailout programs ranging from "TARP" and "TALF" that have injected more than $2 trillion into the U.S. financial system.

On the other hand, natural resources prices crashed last autumn, which had a major effect on Canada's resource-based economy. A number of large projects in the Athabasca Tar Sands region were cancelled, for example - since this region has oil reserves around the size of the entire Middle East, its development is crucial to Canada's future.

The "loonie," Canada's currency, declined from around "parity" to the U.S. dollar to an exchange ratio of C$1.30=$1 U.S. In effect, this was a "flight to safety" into the dollar and U.S. Treasuries. And it affected Canada as it did other countries.

In 2009, however, Canada and the United States have traveled down totally different paths. Canada did very little "stimulus," so its state budget is in much better shape. The deficit for the 2009-2010 fiscal year $53 billion (C$56 billion) is only about 4% of gross domestic product (GDP). For the 2010-2011 fiscal year, the deficit is expected to be about $42 billion (C$45 billion), or 3.2% of GDP.

Energy Powers the Rally

The bounce in natural resources prices has really helped power up the rebound of Canada's market.

Investment in the tar-sands region has picked up again, with a big merger between the two largest tar-sands-extraction companies: Suncor Energy Inc. (NYSE: SU) and Petro-Canada. The rising gold price hasn't hurt either - mines are appearing all over the place! All this new activity has made the loonie bounce, so it's back to about C$1.07=$1. While interest rates are as low as the United States, the Bank of Canada hasn't done much "quantitative easing," meaning that inflation isn't too much of a worry.

The strong loonie helps here, too.

Canada seems to be recovering nicely. Its index of leading indicators jumped 1.1% in August, while manufacturing sales grew 5.5% in July. The country presently runs a modest current account deficit, but it's only 2% of GDP. That's much lower than even the current U.S. deficit, let alone that of 2007. It had a little more public debt than the United States in 2008, but given current U.S. deficits, those two lines almost certainly have crossed by now.

There are two caveats. The first is an obvious one: If commodity prices crash to earth, Canada will have some difficulty because commodities are a large part of its economy. Personally, I don't see that happening. It's notable that PetroChina Co. Ltd. (NYSE ADR: PTR) has just invested $1.7 billion in a Canadian tar sands project, so China must not think so, either.

The other risk is political. The current minority Conservative government of Stephen Harper has done a good job, but the opposition Liberals have withdrawn their parliamentary support. That means there may be an election this autumn. A Liberal majority government would be no disaster. They might be a bit sticky about oil-drilling permits, but would not otherwise rock the boat.

However, a Liberal coalition with the leftist New Democrats could push public spending and the deficit up, and there's no guarantee against that. (One of the problems with multi-party systems like Canada's is there is an almost infinite variety of possible governments after each election, some of which can be fairly alarming from a business perspective.)

However, Canadian elections are a much smaller risk than you get in most countries, and the commodity/oil price crash, if it happened, would help the U.S. economy and, presumably, your U.S. portfolio. So it's worth having some Canadian exposure, perhaps with the Canadian market exchange traded fund (ETF) iShare MSCI Canada Index (NYSE: EWC).

For years it was almost fashionable to dismiss Canada from an economic standpoint. Now, however, that may well be where the smart money would like to go. As an economy, Canada is competent and stable.

It's the kind of country that looks to be a good place for some of our money.

[Editor's Note: As Money Morning Investment Director Keith Fitz-Gerald's market analysis demonstrates, success as an investor requires knowing when to act.

But it also requires knowing where to look.

Like under the Eiffel Tower.

The French Oil Ministry has confirmed there is a 40-billion-barrel reserve under that historic landmark - enough to fuel total U.S. oil demand for 5.2 years, according to the Energy Information Administration.

And a tiny U.S. company is poised to profit from this $2.8 trillion cache of crude. Opportunities such as this are the kind of potential profit plays that we focus on in our monthly affiliate newsletter, The Money Map Report. This publication tracks global money flows, and helps subscribers identify precisely where those capital flows intersect with some of the most powerful economic and financial trends at play today.

For more information on The Money Map Report, as well as on the oil cache beneath the Eiffel Tower, please click here.]

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