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Shopping International Funds for European Bargains

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The news from Europe may be unnerving, but the region's stock markets have not done badly lately.

This year Europe stock funds have returned 10.1%, compared to 13.9% for the S&P 500, according to Morningstar. Markets in the stable northern countries have been particularly strong. Fidelity Nordic (FNORX), which invests mainly in Sweden and Denmark, returned 13.2%, while iShares MSCI Germany (EWG) returned 14.9%.

Can Europe continue climbing? Yes, argue some fund managers. The managers concede that the European economy will remained troubled for years. But they argue that plenty of companies will continue reporting strong earnings.

The star performers include global businesses that are increasing sales in the emerging markets. Some domestic powerhouses are also growing by taking market share in reliable businesses such as health care.

No matter how successful they may be, the growth stocks tend to be tarred by their associations with Europe. That has created bargains, say the fund managers.

"The multiples on many European stocks are substantially lower than what you see for comparable U.S. companies," says James Hunt, portfolio manager of Tocqueville International Value (TIVFX).

To bet that the rally will continue, you can buy a European fund. Another approach is to try an international fund with a big stake in Europe. International funds with strong track records and sizable European holdings include Cambiar International Equity (CAMIX), Manning & Napier World Opportunities (EXWAX) and Tocqueville International Value.

Value investors may prefer the Tocqueville fund, which has 54% of its assets in Europe. During the past 10 years, the fund returned 9.0% annually, outdoing 94% of foreign large value funds. Portfolio manager James Hunt looks for companies that sell for discounts of 25% to 40% of their fair values. To control risk, he prefers solid businesses with limited amounts of debt.

Lately Hunt has been buying cyclical companies with global sales. "Economically sensitive companies have been sold off indiscriminately because investors figure that European demand will be weak," he says.

A holding is Nexans, a French company that makes cables used by utilities and telecom businesses. The company has growing sales in the emerging markets. A holding with a secure niche is M6 Metropole Television, a French broadcaster. The company is a dominant broadcaster with strong cash flows.

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