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rrsp strategy

Uncertainty hangs in the air as Canadians fret over their retirement portfolios this year.

No wonder, what with Europe's unresolved turmoil, sluggish American growth and reduced forecasts for Canada's economy.

The same uncertainty holds for financial planners helping their clients navigate turbulent waters. So what do the pros have in mind for their own registered retirement savings plan portfolios? The Globe and Mail asked four certified financial planners to share their game plans.

An important caution: The strategies reflect each adviser's personal circumstances and are not recommendations for others.

Mark Ting

Position: Mutual fund investment specialist, Vancity Credit Union, Vancouver.

RRSP profile: 70 per cent mutual funds and precious metals, 25 per cent stocks, 5 per cent cash.

Personal investing philosophy: High-risk tolerant

Entrepreneurial by nature, Mark Ting has been buying and selling houses since his late teens. Now 38, the married father of two children, 4 and 6, applies that self-starter thinking to his retirement investments.

About 70 per cent of his portfolio is in a long-term "core position" of mutual funds in Canadian and global stocks, bonds and precious metals.

One staple is IA Clarington Inhance Monthly Income Fund, known for socially responsible investing. Mr. Ting says the fund is defensive when necessary but offensive when the market is oversold, noting the fund bounced back after a hit in 2008. About 20 per cent of his long-term investments are held in precious metals, with a preference for Central Fund of Canada, which holds physical (not paper) gold and silver.

His entrepreneurial side comes alive with the 20 per cent to 25 per cent of his portfolio in "play money." Here, he looks for stocks, especially in renewable energy, agriculture and precious metals, that can return 25 per cent or so a year. He has a strong stomach for the inevitable roller-coaster ride.

Mr. Ting makes a big distinction in how he handles the two sides of his portfolio. "For my core position, I am a big believer in time in the market as opposed to timing the market, and in my 'play' section it is all about hoping to time the market."

Tina Tehranchian

Position: Branch manager and senior financial planner, Assante Capital Management Ltd., Richmond Hill, Ont.

RRSP profile: 100 per cent mutual fund equities

Personal investing philosophy: High-risk tolerant

Unlike some who reach the age of 50, Tina Tehranchian has no aspirations to retire early.

"If my health allows, I would love it if I did not have to draw my portfolio until I am in my 80s," says the married mother of a 24-year-old son.

Given her long-term horizon, Ms. Tehranchian accepts market fluctuations in an uncertain economy. "I see volatility as an opportunity," she says, warning her attitude is "not for everyone."

She is broadly diversified in her equity holdings.

Canadian mutual fund stocks make up about 26 per cent of her portfolio, slightly reduced from several years ago. That change allowed her to add some emerging market funds, now about 12 per cent of her holdings. The remainder is divided among global equities (43 per cent), precious metals (16 per cent) and labour funds (4 per cent).

This year, she plans slight adjustments to her Canadian funds to add dividend-paying equities and income trusts. "I think yield is going to be very much in demand over the next five to 10 years," she says. Similarly, she may rejig her mix of global equity funds to snap up bargains in mid-cap stocks.

In general, her goal is to generate a return of 4 per cent annually after inflation.

Brian Wood

Position: Investment sales manager, Nova Scotia district of the Bank of Montreal, Halifax.

Portfolio profile: 100 per cent equities

Personal investing philosophy: Patient, long-term focused

With two pre-teen children playing football, Brian Wood knows the value of keeping one's eye on the ball. The same holds for his personal portfolio.

"If you want to have success in managing your money and being comfortable with the investments you own, build a strategy you are comfortable with and stick to it," he says. "The people who don't are the ones who get into trouble."

At 41, and with a self-employed spouse, Mr. Wood takes a long-term view and prefers not to make frequent changes. "I will sell if the fundamentals change or if I experience an abnormally large return in a short period of time," he says.

While fully invested in equities, a strategy he expects to pursue for the next 15 to 20 years, Mr. Wood takes a diversified approach. He directly buys and sells large-cap Canadian stocks (about 65 per cent of his portfolio) using his BMO Investorline discount brokerage account. But he turns to mutual funds for emerging (20 per cent) and global (15 per cent) markets, seeing long-term potential in China and India.

Mr. Wood aims for an annual return of 3 per cent, after inflation. If his patience pays off, he hopes there might be a trip to the Super Bowl in his future.

Sandra Schmidt

Position: Financial adviser, Vancouver office of Sun Life Financial Inc.

RRSP profile: 40 per cent equities, 60 per cent fixed income

Personal investing philosophy: Conservative

In her business, Sandra Schmidt keeps a close eye on the numbers for her clients.

No surprise, then, that the mid-50s married mother of two children, 26 and 23, closely tracks the performance of her RRSP portfolio.

Her goal is an annual return of between 6 and 8 per cent, after inflation. However, her actual return has been an enviable 12 per cent a year, on average, over the past 20 years.

She has done so through a "conservatively balanced" blend of equities – mostly blue-chip Canadian stocks in mutual funds – and fixed-income products such as corporate and government bonds and income trusts.

Despite low interest rates that limit returns from guaranteed annual certificates, for example, Ms. Schmidt has done well with income trusts, earning more than 8 per cent a year.

"The focus on fixed incomes helps in the down years," she says, such as the stock market tumble of 2008. On the other hand, with blue-chip Canadian stocks that pay dividends, she aims to capture growth when the market is on an upswing.

Her philosophy, she says, "is to err on the side of being conservative, stay the course, be consistent and be disciplined," even with the question marks for 2012.

To that end, she has no plans to tweak her portfolio, but is watching for a possible rally in U.S. equities. "There is a lot of noise around staying the course," she says, noting how uncertainty spooks some investors to zig and zag, at their peril. "But I stay the course."

Special to The Globe and Mail

For tips, stories, videos and live chats ahead of this year's RRSP contribution deadline, check the Globe Investor 2012 RRSP season section for daily updates.