By David Sterman of StreetAuthority

NEW YORK ( StreetAuthority) -- Ironically, some of the most highly valued stocks in the Dow appear to hold some of the highest risk.

That may come as a surprise when you consider that the broader markets (as measured by the S&P 500) have risen more than 80% from their early 2009 lows.

Then again, if the markets need a rest in 2011 after such a strong two-year run, a number of stocks will be ripe for profit-taking.

That's why I'm looking at the Dow's richest stocks today. These companies have relatively high price-to-earnings (P/E) ratios, and more important, a high degree of exposure to foreign markets. That's a plus if the global economy rebounds in 2011.

But it will be a real negative if China (See: "5 Landmines for Chinese Stocks"), Brazil (See: "The Number One Reason Brazil Could be Headed for a Pullback") or even Europe ( "If the Euro Crisis Deepens...") find tougher sledding in 2011.

Good News Priced In

One thing is for sure about the companies in the table below: With the exception of Home Depot ( HD), all have been performing quite well in recent periods. Yet it's important to check whether the good times can last. In some cases, cracks are already beginning to appear.

For example, same-store sales growth at McDonald's ( MCD) has begun to moderate. November same-store sales rose 4.8%, down from 6.5% in October.

More important, sales in foreign markets appear to be weakening even more dramatically. China in particular is starting to weaken, according to Citigroup. And that could be a sign of things to come: When McDonald's ventured into Latin America in the 1990s, it saw early success. But by 2005, it became increasingly clear that many Latin American economies simply couldn't sustain the model, as the cost of a Big Mac rivaled a full meal sold elsewhere. As a result, the company closed more than 500 stores in Latin America during 2005 and 2006. These days, it's fair to wonder if the nascent China slowdown is also a sign that the premium pricing afforded to Big Macs is becoming a problem.

Yet in the United States, McDonald's has had a very impressive run against key rivals. In 2001, McDonald's controlled about 14% of the quick-service restaurant (QSR) segment, while Burger King and Wendy's ( WEN) held a combined 10% market share. A decade later, McDonald's' share has risen to 17% while its two rivals have seen their collective share slump to 9.5%.


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