As the old saying goes, "hindsight is 20/20." So, although there was no sure-fire way of knowing what would have had the highest yields in 2009, let's take a look at the investments that would have given your pockets some padding.
Stocks From coffee makers to commercial vehicle manufacturers, the stock market provided investors with some of the largest returns of the year.
* Diedrich Coffee - YTD Return: 9,700% Who would have thought a coffee company could deliver such astronomical returns? Since going public in 1996, shares of Diedrich Coffee has spent most of their time trading under $5 (U.S.) per share. Shares reached an all-time low of 21 cents per share in March of this year before skyrocketing to over $35.
* Yongye International - YTD Return: 399% Yongye International manufactures nutrient compounds for plant and animal feed used in China's agricultural industry. Shares on Yongye began the year trading under $2 each and reached a high of $12 in October. Although off their high, shares began December around $8 each.
* Auto China Limited - YTD Return: 300% This four year old automobile firm saw the bulk of its gains arrive over the course of one week in October. From September to October, the price of shares more than tripled. Shares have since reverted, but the year-to-date return still sits above 300%.
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Funds Fund investing can be used to reduce risk, which often comes with reduced returns. These funds held on to the returns, and then some.
* ProFunds UltraLatin America (UBPIX) - YTD Return: 244% This young Latin American fund recently celebrated its second anniversary. The past year has been extremely kind to UBPIX shareholders; the fund returned over 200 percent. Nine of the fund's top 10 holdings hail from Brazil. The largest investments are in Petroleo Brasileiro and Vale (ADR).
* Direxion Monthly Latin America Bull 2X (DXZLX) - YTD Return: 190% Our second Latin American fund keeps its assets allocated around an 80/20 mix of stocks and cash. DXZLX is over three years old, and while the fund's initial investors remain in the red, anyone who invested in late 2008 or early 2009 is enjoying a hefty return on their investment.
* JPMorgan Russia (JRUAX) - YTD Return: 137% This Europe stock fund is less than three years old. After suffering massive losses in 2008, the fund, which typically invests over 80% of its assets in Russian equities or similar securities, staged an aggressive comeback.
Commodity ETFs The exchange-traded funds (ETF) below provide an investing alternative for those who want to participate in the commodities market without really trading commodities. Gasoline and metal provided some of the best returns of the year. (Learn more in 3 Steps To A Profitable ETF Portfolio.)
* United States Gasoline Fund, LP - YTD Return: 88% The United States Gasoline Fund invests in futures contracts on unleaded gasoline. UGA started the year on a sputtering note, but in May, shares built some upward momentum and have settled around $35. The gains in 2009 are sizable, however shares of this ETF climbed as high as $67 last year.
* iShares Silver Trust ETF - YTD Return: 67% This iShares fund is designed to mimic the performance of an investment made in silver. Silver prices steadily rose throughout 2009 and as of December 1, SLV reached a new all-time high.
Initial Public Offerings Two of the most profitable IPOs of 2009 came from Chinese companies involved in water treatment.
* Tri-Tech Holding - YTD Return: 174% Tri-Tech Holding went public in September 2009 and has delivered an impressive debut. The company helps the Chinese government with technical services to manage the country's water supplies. TRIT investors are riding the wave; shares have risen from under $9 in September to over $22 at the end of November.
* Duoyuan Global Water Inc. - YTD Return: 89% This Beijing-based water treatment equipment manufacturing company offered its shares to the public in June. Shares of Duoyuan have fluctuated between $21 and $42 per share, and entered the final month of the year just under $40 each. (To learn more, read our IPO Basics Tutorial.)
Conclusion It is easy to identify which securities could have made you rich in 2009, but remember, the past is not always an accurate indication of what is to come. To insure your comfort with the range of possibilities for potential investments, be sure to evaluate risk associated with a security's expected returns before you invest.