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Searching for the next Apple? Citi says look East

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Investors who missed out on Apple' (AAPL)s turnaround should check out Japan and Korea's low-valued, "cash-hoarding" companies, according to analysts at Citi.

Apple's market capitalization broke back above $600 billion in the past month, regaining it the title of the world's most valuable company, having fallen and then gained around $300 billion in the past two years.

Since a nadir in April 2013, NASDAQ (^IXIC)-listed Apple shares have risen roughly 85 percent and are now trading around $102.

Read More Apple eyes pay-by-touch for next iPhone

"With hindsight, the activist opportunity at Apple looks obvious," said equity strategists at Citi in a research note on Thursday evening.

"But where can we find the next opportunity? Which other lowly rated companies are also hoarding cash and might be politely (or not so politely) persuaded to return some of it to shareholders?"

Citi advised investors to target companies currently in a similar situation to Apple a year-and-a-half ago, with cheap valuations and a cash pile that management could be persuaded to part with.

"We look for global stocks which currently trade at similar valuations to Apple a year ago. Korean and Japanese companies feature strongly. Changing legislation may encourage them to increase payouts," they said.

Citi highlighted 11 global companies that could be the "next Apple"-10 of which were in Asia. Of these, five were in South Korea, such as Samsung Electronics (Korea Stock Exchange: 83-KR), and four were in Japan, for example, Sony (Tokyo Stock Exchange: 6758.T-JP).

Citi's Apple hopefuls:

  • Cairn India (National Stock Exchange of India: CAIRN-IN) (India, energy)
  • Fuji Heavy Industries (Tokyo Stock Exchange: 7270.T-JP) (Japan, consumer discretionary)
  • GungHo Online Entertainment (Tokyo Stock Exchange: 3765.T-JP) (Japan IT)
  • Sony (Japan, consumer discretionary)
  • Taisei (Tokyo Stock Exchange: 3359.T-JP) (Japan, industrials)
  • Hankook Tire (Korea Stock Exchange: 24-KR) (Korea, consumer discretionary)
  • Kia Motors (Korea Stock Exchange: 27-KR) (Korea, consumer discretionary)
  • LG Display (Korea Stock Exchange: 3422-KR) (Korea, IT)
  • Samsung Electronics (Korea Stock Exchange: 593-KR) (Korea, IT)
  • Samsung Heavy Industries (Korea Stock Exchange: 1014-KR) (Korea, industrials)
  • Gazprom (Moscow Interbank Currency Exchange: SBNF-MZ) (Russia, energy)

These are all non-financial companies with a strong balance sheet, minimum market cap of $5 billion and free surplus cashflow yields of 10 percent or more, like Apple at its April 2013 lows.

Citi noted that an increasing number of U.S. activist investors were showing up on Samsung Electronics' shareholder list, and that the company's surplus free cashflow yield of 11 percent was similar to Apple's 16 months ago.

Read More Samsung launches Gear S smartwatch ahead of iWatch

"Maybe activist investors should look to Asia. Our screen is now dominated by Korean and Japanese companies. Perhaps this is where the capital-extraction strategy that worked so well at Apple has the greatest future potential," they wrote.

Cynics might argue that Korean and Japanese companies typically ignore shareholders and overspend on capital expenditure. But Citi pointed to signs that companies were being pushed towards more shareholder-friendly policies.

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Japan has passed recent corporate-governance friendly measures, including legislation to improve industrial competitiveness and revisions to corporate law. In South Korea, the government is looking to increase the dividend payouts of state-owned companies, which could pressure privately-owned firms to do the same.

"In the past, the Japanese and Korean governments have been inclined to suppress the desires of more interventionist overseas shareholders," said Citi. "That may now be changing."

-By CNBC's Katy Barnato