3 Star-Spangled Stocks That Are Crushing the Competition

The year is half over, Independence Day is upon us, and most Americans’ thoughts are turning to some hard-earned R&R, barbecues and catching up with (too often long-neglected) friends and family.

Let’s be honest: the stock market is probably the last thing on many people’s minds right now. Still, it’s a perfect time to glance in the rearview mirror and take a good look at your portfolio as we head into the home stretch of 2012.

It’s also a great time to snap up some fast-growing U.S. stocks that are hammering the competition and growing quickly overseas. More on those below.

The U.S.A. Is Still One of the World’s Best Places to Invest

As an investor, you can be forgiven for being pessimistic about 2012 so far: The Dow has largely moved sideways, unemployment remains stubbornly high, consumer confidence is in the dumps, and no one in Washington seems able (or willing) to get a handle on the country’s ballooning national debt.

These are significant problems, to be sure. But there are still lots of reasons to be bullish about the U.S. economy’s prospects. For one, the country remains one of the most attractive places in the world to invest. According to the World Bank’s latest ease-of-doing-business survey, the U.S. ranked fourth out of 183 countries, well ahead of debt-hobbled European nations and emerging markets like Russia (#120) and Brazil (#126).

What’s more, U.S. productivity growth has been on a tear in recent years, doubling from 2008 to 2009, then doubling again in 2010, according to the OECD. That’s been a key factor in the growth of U.S. corporate profits since the 2008/09 financial crisis.

Major U.S. Stocks Are Taking on the World—and Winning

Perhaps nowhere else is American economic dominance more evident than in the strength of its multinational corporations. Simply put, no other country has so many companies that are so dominant in so many different markets.

The companies that are most successful internationally all have one thing in common: well-known brands. That’s crucial, because having a strong brand and a sterling reputation not only lets them keep their customers loyal here in the U.S., but also gives them a key advantage against domestic competitors when they enter a new market.

Here are three major U.S. companies that are leveraging their well-respected brands to make big gains overseas. They also stand to benefit as the U.S. economy continues to recover.

Apple Takes Another Victim

It’s hard to think of a bigger success story than the Apple (NasdaqGS: AAPL) iPhone. In the first quarter of 2012, iPhone sales continued their rapid growth, jumping 88% from a year earlier, to 35.1 million units. The iPhone now controls 23% of the global smartphone market.

In addition, many analysts think last week may have marked Apple’s final triumph over the company that invented the smartphone, Canada-based Research in Motion (NasdaqGS: RIMM).  That’s because RIM announced dismal quarterly results on Thursday that included a $518-million loss and 5,000 job cuts.

Worst of all, RIM delayed the launch of its new BlackBerry smartphone until 2013. The company has seen its share of the global smartphone market whittled down to 6.4%. Many analysts see that falling below 5%.

Apple stock has soared 48% this year, to $599. Even so, it trades at a reasonable price-to-earnings ratio of 14.6.

Yum! Brands Dominates In China

Kentucky-based Yum! Brands (NYSE: YUM) is the world’s largest restaurant operator, with over 37,000 outlets in 117 countries. Its owns the KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell banners.

The company’s growth outside America’s borders is staggering: in 2011, Yum! opened an average of four new international restaurants a day. It continued its rapid growth in the first quarter of 2012, opening a total of 297 new restaurants overseas. Of those, 168 were in China.

Yum!’s rapid expansion in China has been a big part of the company’s growth story. It was the first major fast-food chain to enter the country, in 1987. Today, it has over 4,650 outlets in China.

The country accounted for 44% of Yum!’s sales and 50% of its profits in 2011. China’s economy is slowing, but it should still expand at a rate of 7.5% this year.

Yum! is now turning its attention to India, with plans to open a total of 100 new outlets in that country in 2012. That will significantly build on the 360 restaurants it currently operates there.

Coca-Cola Looks for Growth in India

Meanwhile, Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO), one of the world’s top brands, announced this week that it’s seriously upping its game in India. Coke now plans to invest $5 billion in the country by 2020. That’s on top of the $2-billion investment that it announced at the end of 2011.

The company is far from building from scratch in India. Its Indian unit currently controls 25% of the country’s soft drink market, compared to 20% for rival PepsiCo (NYSE: PEP) and 25% for domestic soft-drink maker Parle Bisleri Ltd.

Coke will to use this cash to expand its distribution networks, introduce new products and increase its manufacturing capacity. That will help it better attract consumers as India’s middle class keeps growing.

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