U.S. stocks have exploded out of the gate in 2013. The Dow Jones Industrial Average has repeatedly hit new all-time highs while surging nearly 8.6% since the start of the year. Yet despite those impressive gains, the Dow's maintained a respectable average P/E valuation of just 14.9, a number that's far from expensive.
The best investors know that buying good stocks on the cheap is a recipe for success, however. As U.S. markets have surged, others around the world have experienced mixed results. So just which international markets are too cheap to ignore right now -- and which are too expensive for your investment?
Cheap China, expensive America The United States' national P/E average of stocks ranks quite a bit higher than the Dow's -- it's currently at 17.7, still a respectable valuation but more in line with the impressive gains we've seen since the start of 2013.
Surprisingly, the U.S. ranks as more expensive than the big winner in 2013 that has gobbled up attention everywhere -- Japan. Japanese markets boast a national average P/E of 16.9, even as the Nikkei index has significantly outperformed the Dow to start the year. Fueled by the weakening yen and new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's inflationary tactics, the Nikkei has sprinted to gains of more than 20% year to date, and Japanese stocks remain an attractive buy despite the surge. With the country's central bank unveiling an unprecedented stimulus action this past week, Japan's set to unload a massive amount of yen into its stagnant economy. It's a risky move, but Japanese financial stocks in particular stand to reap rewards on the back of easy money.
Not every Asian nation's doing quite as well as Japan, however. Disgruntled neighbor China, which has singled out Japan's bond-buying program as the precursor to a currency war, ranks as much cheaper. China sports an average P/E of only 7.9: Chinese stocks have struggled to stay above water to start the year, and the country's slowdown has worried economists about the second-largest economy's growth. Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index has fallen by 6.8% since the start of 2013, although the index sports a slightly higher P/E of 10.9.
While China's economy is still growing faster than nearly every other advanced nation, it needs to grow at a considerably quicker rate to support its developing middle class. Unless China identifies a plan that will pick up growth soon, don't be deceived by that cheap valuation: This country's still experiencing the ups and downs of a developing society, and Japan's massive stimulus move won't help Chinese exporters any.
China's fellow BRIC member, Russia, comes in as even cheaper, with an average P/E of just 6. That's a cheaper valuation than any member of the Dow currently; the closest blue-chip stock to Russia is Chevron Corporation (NYSE:CVX) , which sports a P/E of 8.9. Coincidentally, one of Chevron Corporation (NYSE:CVX)'s biggest global rivals has become one of Russia's brightest companies: Russian state-owned oil major Rosneft became the largest publicly traded oil company in the world in March after purchasing TNK-BP, outstripping Chevron Corporation (NYSE:CVX) and fellow energy rivals in size.