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Investors face mind-boggling choices when considering mutual funds for their nest egg. But these investments can still can offer better options than the puny returns from so-called safe securities like guaranteed investment certificates (GICs) or government bonds held to maturity.

With the deadline for registered retirement savings plan (RRSP) contributions nearing on Feb. 29, we asked several mutual fund experts to give their top picks for conservative and aggressive investors. It's worth considering alternatives when interest rates are near zero and the prospect of inflation eating away at returns looms large.

Dave Paterson, fund analyst, D.A. Paterson & Associates Inc.

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IA Clarington Canadian Conservative Equity (conservative)

The Canadian equity fund, which is co-managed by George Frazer and Douglas Kee of Leon Frazer and Associates Inc., focuses on dividend-paying stocks. More than half of the value-oriented fund is invested in pipelines, banks, utilities and telecommunication firms. "This is a type of fund that will do well in very volatile market conditions," but lag the broader market when equities are rising, he said.

Dynamic Power American Growth (aggressive)

The U.S. equity fund, which is managed by Noah Blackstein of GCIC Ltd., has a high portfolio turnover, tends to be more volatile than its peers, and makes big sector bets in areas such as technology. But the fund has also outpaced the market and its peers longer-term, and is well positioned because "I believe the United States will be one of the stronger markets in the coming year," he said.

Dan Hallett, fund analyst, HighView Financial Group

Mawer Canadian Balanced Retirement Savings (conservative)

The balanced fund, which is overseen by Greg Peterson of Mawer Investment Management Ltd., invests in the institutional series of the Mawer stock and bond funds. With a low fee of less than 1 per cent and excellent management, this fund is "truly a one-stop solution for more than just novice investors," Mr. Hallett said. "An investor could use this fund for their RRSP well into six figures."

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Castlerock Global Leaders (aggressive)

The value-oriented global equity fund, which has been run since 2006 by Bill Kanko of Black Creek Investment Management Inc., is "a case of a truly skilled manager coming off a bad year [15-per-cent loss in 2011]" he said. There is no guarantee the value-oriented fund couldn't face another similar year, but "buying a great manager after a weak period" increases chances for a successful investment over the longer term, he added.

James Gauthier, vice-president of investment funds, DundeeWealth Inc.

Mackenzie Sentinel Corporate Bond (conservative)

The high-yield fixed-income fund, which is run by Boston-based Putnam Investments, invests in U.S. and Canadian corporate bonds, and hedges its foreign currency back to Canadian dollars. While there are risks to non-investment-grade bonds, they offer attractive yields of 7 to 8 percentage points higher than U.S. Treasuries, while balance sheets of many issuers are strong, he said.

Mutual Discovery Fund (aggressive)

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The value-oriented global equity fund is run by Philippe Brugère-Trélat and Peter Langerman of Mutual Series, a unit of Franklin Templeton Investments. "The idea is to buy a dollar of assets for 50 cents," he said. "There is a big focus on tobacco names right now." High-profile U.S. investors such as Carl Icahn and Wilbur Ross have partnered with Mutual Series on potential takeovers, he said.

Salman Ahmed, fund analyst, Morningstar Canada

CI American Value (conservative)

The U.S. large-company fund, which is run by David Pearl of New York-based Epoch Investment Partners, focuses on undervalued stocks. It owns firms whose managers try to improve shareholder value through means such as dividend growth, share buybacks and acquisitions, he said. This fund can weather a tougher economy, but is likely to underperform when the risk appetite is high, he said.

Mackenzie Cundill Recovery (aggressive)

The global small- to mid-capitalization equity fund, which has been run since 1998 by James Morton of Singapore-based Santa Lucia Asset Management, focuses on distressed stocks or corporate turnarounds from restructurings or bankruptcy, Mr. Ahmed said. Mr. Morton's contrarian approach often takes him to more volatile emerging markets, but the fund has posted strong annualized returns of 10 per cent under his tenure.

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An earlier online and print version of this story incorrectly stated George Frazer's name. This online version has been corrected.



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Top Mutual Fund Picks for an RRSP



Fund

Category

MER

Assets ($ mil.)

1 year to Jan. 31/12

3 years

5 years

10 years

Conservative

IA Clarington Cdn Conservative Eqty

Canadian Equity

2.43

410.1

1.14%

14.01%

3.43%

7.57%

Mawer Cdn. Balanced RSP

Global Neutral Balanced

0.98

251.7

3.90%

12.08%

2.89%

6.04%

Mackenzie Sentinel Corporate Bond

High Yield Fixed Income

1.70

1309.8

4.49%

14.78%

4.59%

5.89%

CI American Value

U.S. Equity

2.43

174.6

-0.25%

7.77%

-3.36%

0.09%

Aggressive

Dynamic Power American Growth

U.S. Equity

3.61

484.6

6.29%

21.38%

3.50%

3.26%

Castlerock Global Leaders B

Global Equity

2.83

202.5

-14.84%

10.28%

-3.17%

-1.11%

Mutual Discovery

Global Equity

2.77

502.2

-3.08%

7.11%

-1.94%

Mackenzie Cundill Recovery 'C'

Global Small/Mid Cap Equity

2.58

1241.6

-20.84%

18.80%

-1.19%

8.66%

Source: Globe Investor

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Join us in a live discussion right now on picks for your portfolio with award-winning fund manager Alan Radlo:

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