5. Ecopetrol ( EC ) Company profile: Ecopetrol operates as an integrated oil company in Colombia, Peru, Brazil, and the U.S. Gulf Coast. The company engages in the exploration, development, and production of crude oil and natural gas. The government holds nearly a 90% stake in the company. Investor takeaway: Its shares are up 20% this year and have a three-year annualized return of 50% and its shares carry a 3.98% dividend yield. S&P doesn't have it rated but in a survey of analysts, it found two "buy" ratings and seven "holds." 4. Vale ( VALE) Company profile: Vale is the world's largest iron ore producer and second-largest nickel producer, which means its performance is tied to that of the world's steel industry. Its mines are primarily in Brazil, but it also owns mines from Canada to Indonesia. Investor takeaway: Its shares are up 20% this year and have a three-year annualized return of 20%, and a 4.45% dividend yield. S&P gives its shares a "buy" recommendation and the company a four star rating out of a possible five. The ratings firm found eight "buy" ratings, eight "buy/holds," and seven "holds," in a survey of analysts. 3. Companhia Siderurgica Nacional ( SID) Company profile: CSN is the second largest flat-rolled steelmaker in Brazil and last year it purchased steel mills in Germany and Spain. It is also the world's sixth-largest iron ore miner and uses about 40% of it internally and exports the rest, mainly to China. Investor takeaway: Its shares are up 28% this year and have a three-year annualized return of 14%, and carry a 6.28% dividend yield. S&P doesn't rate its shares, but in a survey of analysts it found two "buy" ratings, one "buy/hold," three "holds," two "weak/holds," and one "sell." 2. Banco Santander Brasil ( BSBR) Company profile: Banco Santander Brasil is the third-largest non-government-controlled bank in Brazil, with about $250 billion in assets and roughly a 10% deposit and loan market share. Investor takeaway: Its shares are up 29% this year and 26% in the past three months and carry a 3.83% dividend yield. Morningstar analysts say: "Even with its provisioning headwinds, we think Santander Brasil's sturdy growth in interest and fee income will keep generating healthy earnings. This will keep strengthening the firm's already strong capital position." The ratings firm has a $15 price target on its shares, which is a 39% premium to its current price. 1. Gerdau ( GGB) Company profile: Gerdau is the second-largest producer of long steel products in the world. It has operations in 14 countries in North and South America, Europe, and Asia. The company also has significant investments in iron ore mining, coke production, and scrap recycling and uses that as a resource for its steel production. Investor takeaway: Its shares are up 30% this year and have a three-year annualized return of 15%. Its shares have a 2.56% dividend yield. S&P found four "buy" ratings, two "buy/holds," two "holds," and one "weak/hold" in its survey of analysts. Those same analysts' consensus is for 2012 earnings to rise 10% to $1.30 per share. Citigroup ( C) cut Gerdau to "neutral" from "buy," Wedensday and Morgan Stanley ( MS) trimmed its rating to "equalweight" from "overweight," citing the steelmaker's share-price run-up and concerns that steel prices in Brazil will stagnate on weak demand and that that will hurt profitability. >>To see these stocks in action, visit the 10 Latin American Stocks Soaring Up to 30% in 2012 portfolio on Stockpickr.