Securities Law & Instruments

Headnote

 

NP 11-203 Process for Exemptive Relief Applications in Multiple Jurisdictions – Existing and future mutual funds managed by the Filer granted relief from paragraphs 15.3(4)(c) and (f) of NI 81-102 Investment Funds to permit references to FundGrade A+ Awards, FundGrade Ratings, Lipper Awards and Lipper Leader Ratings in sales communications – Relief subject to conditions requiring specified disclosure and the requirement that the FundGrade A+ Awards and Lipper Awards being referenced not have been awarded more than 365 days before the date of the sales communication.

 

Applicable Legislative Provisions

 

National Instrument 81-102 Investment Funds, ss.15.3(4)(c) and (f), 19.1.

 

March 20, 2017

 

IN THE MATTER OF

THE SECURITIES LEGISLATION OF

ONTARIO

(the Jurisdiction)

 

AND

 

IN THE MATTER OF

THE PROCESS FOR EXEMPTIVE RELIEF APPLICATIONS

IN MULTIPLE JURISDICTIONS

 

AND

 

IN THE MATTER OF

NGAM CANADA LP

(the Filer)

 

DECISION

 

Background

 

The principal regulator in the Jurisdiction has received an application (the Application) from the Filer on behalf of existing mutual funds and future mutual funds of which the Filer is or becomes the investment fund manager (or which an affiliate of the Filer becomes the investment fund manager) and to which National Instrument 81-102 – Investment Funds (NI 81-102) applies (each a Fund and collectively, the Funds) for a decision under the securities legislation of the Jurisdiction of the principal regulator (the Legislation) for an exemption from the requirements set out in paragraphs 15.3(4)(c) (in respect of the FundGrade A+ Awards, FundGrade Ratings, Lipper Awards, and Lipper Leader Ratings) and 15.3(4)(f) (in respect of the FundGrade A+ Awards and Lipper Awards only) of NI 81-102, which provide that a sales communication must not refer to a performance rating or ranking of a mutual fund or asset allocation service unless:

 

1.             the rating or ranking is provided for each period for which standard performance data is required to be given, except the period since the inception of the mutual fund; and

 

2.             the rating or ranking is to the same calendar month end that is:

 

(a)           not more than 45 days before the date of the appearance or use of the advertisement in which it is included, and

 

(b)           not more than three months before the date of first publication of any other sales communication in which it is included;

 

(together, the Exemption Sought), to permit the FundGrade A+ Awards, FundGrade Ratings, Lipper Awards, and Lipper Leader Ratings to be referenced in sales communications relating to the Funds.

 

Under the Process for Exemptive Relief Applications in Multiple Jurisdictions (for a passport application):

 

(a)           the Ontario Securities Commission is the principal regulator for this application, and


(b)           the Filer has provided notice that section 4.7(1) of Multilateral Instrument 11-102 Passport System (MI 11-102) is intended to be relied upon in each of the other provinces and territories of Canada (together with Ontario, the Jurisdictions).

 

Interpretation

 

Terms defined in National Instrument 14-101 – Definitions, NI 81-102 have the same meanings if used in this decision, unless otherwise defined.

 

Representations

 

This decision is based on the following facts represented by the Filer:

 

The Filer and the Funds

 

1.             The Filer is a limited partnership established under the laws of the Province of Ontario having its head office in Toronto, Ontario. The general partner of the Filer is NGAM Canada Limited, a corporation incorporated under the laws of the Province of Ontario.

 

2.             The Filer is registered as an investment fund manager in Ontario, Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador, an exempt market dealer in each of the Jurisdictions, and a portfolio manager and mutual fund dealer in Ontario.

 

3.             The Filer manages the Funds, which are open-ended mutual funds, the securities of which are, or will be, qualified for distribution to investors in one or more of the Jurisdictions pursuant to various simplified prospectuses, as they may be amended or renewed from time to time.

 

4.             Each of the Funds is, or will be, a reporting issuer in one or more of the Jurisdictions. Each of the Funds is or will be subject to NI 81-102, including Part 15 of NI 81-102, which governs sales communications.

 

5.             The Filer and each of the Funds are not in default of securities legislation in any of the Jurisdictions.

 

FundGrade Ratings and FundGrade A+ Awards

 

6.             The Filer wishes to include in sales communications of the Funds references to the FundGrade Ratings and references to the FundGrade A+ Awards where such Funds have been awarded a FundGrade A+ Award.

 

7.             Fundata Canada Inc. (Fundata) is a “mutual fund rating entity” as that term is defined in NI 81-102. Fundata is a leader in supplying mutual fund information, analytical tools, and commentary. Fundata's fund data and analysis, fund awards designations and ratings information provide valuable insight to advisors, media and individual investors.

 

8.             One of Fundata's programs is the FundGrade A+ Awards program. This program highlights funds that have excelled in delivering consistently strong risk-adjusted performance relative to their peers. The FundGrade A+ Awards designate award-winning funds in most individual fund classifications for the previous calendar year, and the awards are announced in January of each year. The categories for fund classification used by Fundata are those maintained by the Canadian Investment Funds Standards Committee (CIFSC) (or a successor to CIFSC), a Canadian organization that is independent of Fundata.

 

9.             The FundGrade A+ Awards are based on a proprietary rating methodology developed by Fundata, the FundGrade Rating system. The FundGrade Rating system evaluates funds based on their risk adjusted performance, measured by three well-known and widely-used metrics: the Sharpe Ratio; the Information Ratio; and the Sortino Ratio. The ratios are calculated for the two through ten year time periods for each fund. When there is more than one eligible series of a fund, an average ratio is taken for each period. The ratios are ranked across all time periods and an overall score is calculated by equally weighting the yearly rankings.

 

10.          The FundGrade Ratings are letter grades for each Fund and are determined each month. The FundGrade Ratings for each month are released on the seventh business day of the following month. The top 10% of funds earn an A Grade; the next 20% of funds earn a B Grade; the next 40% of funds earn a C Grade; the next 20% of funds receive a D Grade; and the lowest 10% of funds receive an E Grade. Because the overall score of a fund is calculated by equally weighting the periodic rankings, to receive an A Grade, a Fund must show consistently high scores for all ratios across all time periods.

 

11.          Fundata calculates a grade using only the retail series of each Fund. Institutional series or fee-based series of any Fund are not included in the calculation. A Fund must have at least two years of history to be included in the calculation. Once a letter grade is calculated for a Fund, it is then applied to all related series of that Fund.

 

12.          At the end of each calendar year, Fundata calculates a “Fund GPA” for each Fund based on the full year's performance. The Fund GPA is calculated by converting each month's FundGrade Rating letter grade into a numerical score. Each A is assigned a grade of 4.0; each B is assigned a grade of 3.0; each C is assigned a grade of 2.0; each D is assigned a grade of 1.0; and each E is assigned a grade of 0. The total of the grades for each Fund is divided by 12 to arrive at the Fund's GPA for the year. Any Fund earning a GPA of 3.5 or greater earns a FundGrade A+ Award.

 

13.          When a Fund is awarded a FundGrade A+ Award, Fundata will permit such Fund to make reference to the award in its sales communications.

 

Lipper Leader Ratings and Lipper Awards

 

14.          The Filer also wishes to include in sales communications of the Funds references to Lipper Leader Ratings (which are performance ratings or rankings for funds issued by Lipper and include the Lipper Leader Ratings for Consistent Return, Lipper Leader Ratings for Total Return and Lipper Leader Ratings for Preservation, which are described below) and Lipper Awards (as described below) where such Funds have been awarded a Lipper Award.

 

15.          Lipper, Inc. (Lipper) is a “mutual fund rating entity” as that term is defined in NI 81-102. Lipper is part of the Thomson Reuters group of companies, and is a global leader in supplying mutual fund information, analytical tools, and commentary. Lipper's fund data and analysis, fund awards designations and ratings information provide valuable insight to advisors, media and individual investors.

 

16.          One of Lipper’s programs is the Lipper awards program. This program recognizes funds that have excelled in delivering consistently strong risk-adjusted performance relative to peers and also recognizes fund families with high average scores for all funds within a particular asset class or overall. Currently, the Lipper awards take place in approximately 13 countries.

 

17.          In Canada, the Lipper Awards include the Lipper Fund Awards and Lipper ETF Awards (which were awarded for the first time in Canada in 2014). For the Lipper Fund Awards, Lipper designates award-winning funds in most individual fund classifications for three, five and ten year periods. For the Lipper ETF Awards, Lipper designates award-winning funds in a number of individual fund classifications for the three year period, and it is expected that awards for the five and ten year periods will be given in the future.

 

18.          The categories for fund classification used by Lipper for the Lipper Awards in respect of Canadian funds are those maintained by the Canadian Investment Funds Standards Committee (CIFSC) (or a successor to the CIFSC), a Canadian organization that is independent of Lipper. Only those CIFSC groups of ten or more unique funds will claim a Lipper Fund Award, and only those CIFSC groups of five or more unique ETFs (each of whom have a minimum of three years of performance history) will claim a Lipper ETF Award.

 

19.          The Lipper Awards are based on a proprietary rating methodology prepared by Lipper, the Lipper Leader Rating System. The Lipper Leader Rating System is a toolkit that uses investor-centred criteria to deliver a simple, clear description of a fund's success in meeting certain goals, such as preserving capital, lowering expenses or building wealth. Lipper Ratings provide an instant measure of a fund’s success against a specific set of key metrics, and can be useful to investors in identifying funds that meet particular characteristics.

 

20.          In Canada, the Lipper Leader Rating System includes Lipper Leader Ratings for Consistent Return (reflecting funds’ historical risk-adjusted returns relative to funds in the same classification), for Total Return (reflecting funds’ historical total return performance relative to funds in the same classification) and for Preservation (reflecting funds’ historical loss avoidance relative to other funds in the same classification). In each case, the categories for fund classification used by Lipper for the Lipper Leader Ratings are those maintained by CIFSC (or a successor to the CIFSC). Lipper Leader Ratings are measured monthly over 36, 60 and 120 month periods, and an overall rating is also measured, which is an un-weighted average of the previous three periods. The highest 20% of funds in each category are named Lipper Leaders for that particular rating and receive a score of 5, the next 20% receive a score of 4, the middle 20% are scored 3, the next 20% are scored 2 and the lowest 20% are scored 1.

 

21.          The Lipper Awards, awarded annually in Canada, are based on the Lipper Ratings for Consistent Return measure, which, as generally described above, is a risk-adjusted mutual fund return performance measure used by Lipper that takes into account both short- and long-term risk-adjusted performance relative to fund classification, together with a measure of a fund’s consistency. In respect of the Lipper Awards for Canada, the Lipper Ratings for Consistent Return are measured over the 36, 60 and 120 month periods ending at the end of July of each year. As noted above, the highest 20% of funds in each classification are named Lipper Leaders for Consistent Return, and the highest Lipper Leader for Consistent Return in each applicable fund classification over these periods (currently, in the case of the Lipper ETF Awards, over the 36 month period only) wins a Lipper Award.

 

Sales Communication Disclosure

 

22.          The FundGrade Ratings and Lipper Leader Ratings fall within the definition of “performance data” under NI 81-102 as they constitute “a rating, ranking, quotation, discussion or analysis regarding an aspect of the investment performance of an investment fund”, given that the FundGrade Ratings and Lipper Leader Ratings are based on performance measures calculated by Fundata and Lipper, respectively. The FundGrade A+ Awards and Lipper Awards may be considered to be “overall ratings or rankings” given that the awards are based on the FundGrade Ratings and Lipper Leader Ratings, respectively, as described above. Therefore, references to FundGrade Ratings, FundGrade A+ Awards, Lipper Leader Ratings, and Lipper Awards in sales communications relating to the Funds need to meet the applicable requirements in Part 15 of NI 81-102.

 

23.          Paragraph 15.3(4)(c) of NI 81-102 imposes a “matching” requirement for performance ratings or rankings that are included in sales communications for mutual funds. If a performance rating or ranking is referred to in a sales communication, it must be provided for, or “match”, each period for which standard performance data is required to be given for the fund, except for the period since the inception of the fund (i.e. for one, three, five and ten year periods, as applicable).

 

24.          While FundGrade Ratings are based on calculations for a minimum of two years through to a maximum of ten years and the FundGrade A+ Awards are based on a yearly average of monthly FundGrade Ratings, specific ratings for the three, five and ten year periods within the two to ten year measurement period are not given. This means that a sales communication referencing FundGrade Ratings cannot comply with the “matching” requirement contained in paragraph 15.3(4)(c) of NI 81-102. Relief from paragraph 15.3(4)(c) of NI 81-102 is, therefore, required in order for a Fund to use FundGrade Ratings in sales communications.

 

25.          The exemption in subsection 15.3(4.1) of NI 81-102 for references to overall ratings or rankings of funds cannot be relied upon to reference the FundGrade A+ Awards in sales communications for the Funds because it is available only if a sales communication “otherwise complies” with the requirements of subsection 15.3(4). As noted above, sales communications referencing the FundGrade A+ Awards cannot comply with the “matching” requirement in subsection 15.3(4) because the underlying FundGrade Ratings are not available for the three, five and ten year periods within the two to ten year measurement period for the FundGrade Ratings, rendering the exemption in subsection 15.3(4.1) unavailable. Relief from subsection 15.3(4)(c) is, therefore also, required in order for Funds to reference the FundGrade A+ Awards in sales communications.

 

26.          Paragraph 15.3(4)(f) of NI 81-102 imposes certain restrictions on disclosure in sales communications. This paragraph provides that in order for a rating or ranking such as a FundGrade A+ Award to be used in an advertisement, the advertisement must be published within 45 days of the calendar month end to which the rating or ranking applies. Further, in order for the rating or ranking to be used in any other sales communication, the rating or ranking must be published within three months of the calendar month end to which the rating or ranking applies.

 

27.          Because the evaluation of Funds for the FundGrade A+ Awards will be based on data aggregated until the end of December in any given year and the results will be published in January of the following year, by the time a Fund receives a FundGrade A+ Award in January, paragraph 15.3(4)(f) of NI 81-102 will only allow the FundGrade A+ Award to be used in an advertisement until the middle of February and in other sales communications until the end of March.

 

28.          In Canada and elsewhere, Lipper Leader Ratings are calculated only for 36, 60 and 120 month periods and are not calculated for a one year period. This means that a sales communication referencing a Lipper Leader Rating cannot comply with the “matching” requirement contained in paragraph 15.3(4)(c) of NI 81-102 because a rating is not available for the one year period. Relief from paragraph 15.3(4)(c) of NI 81-102 is therefore required in order for Funds to reference Lipper Leader Ratings in sales communications.

 

29.          In addition, a sales communication referencing the overall Lipper Leader Ratings and the Lipper Awards, which are based on the Lipper Leader Ratings, must disclose the corresponding Lipper Leader Rating for each period for which standard performance data is required to be given. As noted above, because a rating for the one year period is not available for the Lipper Leader Ratings, sales communications referencing the overall Lipper Leader Ratings or Lipper Awards also cannot comply with the matching requirement contained in paragraph 15.3(4)(c) of NI 81-102.

 

30.          The exemption in paragraph 15.3(4.1) of NI 81-102 for references to overall ratings or rankings of funds cannot be relied upon to reference the overall Lipper Leader Ratings or Lipper Awards in sales communications for the Funds because section 15.3(4.1) is available only if a sales communication “otherwise complies” with the requirements of section 15.3(4). As noted above, sales communications referencing the overall Lipper Leader Ratings or Lipper Awards cannot comply with the matching requirement in paragraph 15.3(4) because the underlying Lipper Leader Ratings are not available for the one year period, rendering the exemption in paragraph 15.3(4.1) unavailable. Relief from paragraph 15.3(4)(c) is therefore required in order for Funds to reference overall Lipper Leader Ratings and the Lipper Awards in sales communications.

 

31.          Paragraph 15.3(4)(f) of NI 81-102 imposes certain restrictions on disclosure in sales communications. The section provides that in order for a rating or ranking such as a Lipper Award to be used in an advertisement, the advertisement must be published within 45 days of the calendar month end to which the rating or ranking applies. Further, in order for the rating or ranking to be used in any other sales communication, the rating or ranking must be published within three months of the calendar month end to which the rating or ranking applies.

 

32.          Because the evaluation of funds for the Lipper Awards will be based on data aggregated until the end of July in any given year and the results will be published in November of that year, by the time a Fund receives an award in November, paragraph 15.3(4)(f) of NI 81-102 will prohibit it from publishing news of the award altogether.

 

33.          The Exemption Sought is required in order for the FundGrade Ratings, FundGrade A+ Awards, Lipper Leader Ratings, and Lipper Awards to be referenced in sales communications relating to the Funds.

 

34.          The Filer submits that the FundGrade A+ Awards, FundGrade Ratings, Lipper Awards, and Lipper Leader Ratings provide important tools for investors, as they provide investors with context when evaluating investment choices. These awards and ratings provide an objective, transparent and quantitative measure of performance that is based on the expertise of FundGrade or Lipper, as applicable, in fund analysis that alleviates any concern that references to them may be misleading and therefore, contrary to paragraph 15.2(1)(a) of NI 81-102.

 

Decision

 

The principal regulator is satisfied that the decision meets the test set out in the Legislation for the principal regulator to make the decision.

 

The decision of the principal regulator under the Legislation is that the Exemption Sought is granted to permit the FundGrade A+ Awards, FundGrade Ratings, Lipper Awards, and Lipper Leader Ratings to be referenced in sales communications relating to a Fund, provided that

 

1.             the sales communication complies with Part 15 of NI 81-102, other than as set out herein, and contains the following disclosure in at least 10 point type:

 

(a)           the name of the category for which the Fund has received the award or rating;

 

(b)           the number of mutual funds in the category for the applicable period;

 

(c)           the name of the ranking entity, i.e., Fundata or Lipper;

 

(d)           the length of period and the ending date, or, the first day of the period and the ending date on which the FundGrade A+ Award, FundGrade Rating, Lipper Award or Lipper Leader Rating is based;

 

(e)           a statement that FundGrade Ratings or Lipper Leader Ratings are subject to change every month;

 

(f)            in the case of a FundGrade A+ Award or Lipper Award, a brief overview of the FundGrade A+ Award or Lipper Awards, as applicable;

 

(g)           in the case of a FundGrade Rating (other than FundGrade Ratings referenced in connection with a FundGrade A+ Award) or a Lipper Leader Rating (other than Lipper Leader Ratings referenced in connection with a Lipper Award), a brief overview of the FundGrade Rating or Lipper Leader Rating;

 

(h)           where Lipper Awards are referenced, the corresponding Lipper Leader Rating that the Lipper Award is derived from is presented for each period for which standard performance data is required other than the one year and since inception periods;

 

(i)            where a Lipper Leader Rating is referenced, the Lipper Leader Ratings are presented for each period for which standard performance data is required other than the one year and since inception periods;

 

(j)            disclosure of the meaning of the FundGrade Ratings from A to E (e.g., rating of A indicates a fund is in the top 10% of its category) or Lipper Leader Ratings from 1 to 5 (e.g., rating of 5 indicates a fund is in the top 20% of its category), as applicable; and

 

(k)           reference to Fundata's website (www.fundata.com) for greater detail on the FundGrade A+ Awards and the FundGrade Ratings or reference to Lipper’s website (www.lipperweb.com) for greater detail on the Lipper Awards and Lipper Leader Ratings, which includes the rating methodology prepared by Lipper, as applicable;

 

2.             the FundGrade A+ Award and Lipper Awards being referenced must not have been awarded more than 365 days before the date of the sales communication; and

 

3.             the FundGrade A+ Awards, FundGrade Ratings, Lipper Awards, and Lipper Leader Ratings being referenced are calculated based on comparisons of performance of investment funds within a specified category established by the CIFSC (or a successor to the CIFSC).

 

“Darren McKall”

Manager

Investment Fund and Structured Products Branch

Ontario Securities Commission