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  Now is a good time to make '02 contribution to your RRSP

BENJ GALLANDER and BEN STADELMANN

Saturday, March 2, 2002

Humans are creatures of habit. Given a deadline months away, an inordinate percentage of the population waits until the last couple of days to do the homework. Rare is the bird who hunkers down at the desk a month before the crunch date and relaxes while putting the assignment to bed.

Another registered retirement savings plan season just closed and guess what, the bulk of the populace hunkered down at the last minute to slot their money into a barely contemplated investment. Most of these latecomers to the dance get their information at the last moment, and because it is in haste, the tendency is to go with what they see in advertisements. Which, typically, is the trend of the moment.

Or they consult their adviser, who generally goes with the vogue because it's okay to be wrong if you have lots of company. But that which is popular has recently been successful and therefore is most likely to regress toward the mean, indicating an imminent downward tilt. Yet people wonder why, over time, their investments do poorly! Buy. Hold. Be vanquished.

How can you do better? Well, one simple suggestion is not to wait until the last minute. If you push up your investment time horizon by a year, 2002's RRSP investment should be made now.

This way, the return is earned tax-free for a full year. That tax-free gain can then be compounded year after year, adding substantial dollars to the retirement account. By investing early, one has a golden age windfall. Too easy, eh?

Now about choosing that mutual fund to invest in as soon as possible for your 2002 contribution. History clearly indicates that over time, mutual funds do not perform as well as market averages. This is not because the advisors are not intelligent people, but because of the associated fees. Year after year a clawback occurs, on average to the tune of 2.2 percent. That adds up.

How can you avoid these fees? One way is to self-direct your RRSP and invest on your own. While many people think that investments are best handled by Mensa candidates, it is temperatment -- not IQ -- that is the key criteria in this field. And critical to a fortuitous temperament is the ability to remain unswayed by the flavour of the day.

Ready to try the independent route? Start by heading to a bookstore or the library. Read a few books on investing. Then make some paper bets and, if reasonably successful over time, plunk down a few bucks at your discount brokerage -- after finding out if there is an annual fee for self-directed RRSPs.

If your account is of sufficient size, or the firm agrees to waive the toll, there will still be trading commissions to pay, but only when you buy and sell. No need to worry about an annual encumbrance impinging on your returns.

Want a stock to get you going? Clairvest Group Inc. (CVG-TSE) looks like an excellent choice. This merchant bank is diversified into a number of investments including: Allied Global Holdings, an international accounts receivable management firm; Consolidated Vendors, which services about 4,500 vending machines in Michigan; and Sparkling Spring Water, which operates primarily in Canada and the United States along with an appendage servicing Britain and Scotland. One of their more recent forays was into Gateway Casinos, an area that is virtually always lucrative.

The board of directors of Clairvest is a who's who of Canadian finance. The list includes Tom Beck, founder of Noma; Michael Bregman, who recently spearheaded an increase in the disposition value of Second Cup; Eph Diamond of Cadillac Fairview fame; and Isadore Sharp, who sometimes sleeps at the Four Seasons chain he built. There's heaps of brain power here.

We purchased Clairvest during another annual ritual, tax loss season in December, 2000. Our buy ticket kicked in at $3.41. Our initial sell target of $8.70 is close to the book value, which is a shade over $8.50. Given the current price of $5.44, this firm screams value.

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