Manulife Investment Management Limited
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), and 19.1.
February 24, 2020
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 MANULIFE INVESTMENT MANAGEMENT LIMITED (the Filer)
The principal regulator in the Jurisdiction has received an application (the Application) from the Filer on behalf of existing and future mutual funds of which the Filer or an affiliate of the Filer is, or in the future will be, 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 under section 19.1 of NI 81-102 from the requirements set out in paragraphs 15.3(4)(c) and 15.3(4)(f) 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 and FundGrade 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).
Terms defined in National Instrument 14-101 Definitions, MI 11-102 and NI 81-102 have the same meanings if used in this decision, unless otherwise defined.
This decision is based on the following facts represented by the Filer:
The Filer and the Funds
1. The Filer is a corporation amalgamated under the laws of Canada, with its registered head office located in Toronto, Ontario.
2. The Filer is registered in the following categories: (i) portfolio manager in Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Northwest Territories, Nova Scotia, Nunavut, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Québec, Saskatchewan and Yukon; (ii) investment fund manager in Newfoundland and Labrador, Ontario and Québec; (iii) commodity trading manager in Ontario; and (iv) derivatives portfolio manager in Québec.
3. The Filer, or an affiliate of the Filer, is, or will be, the manager of each of the Funds.
4. Each Fund is, or will be, established under the laws of Ontario or Canada as an investment fund that is a mutual fund trust, a class of shares of a mutual fund corporation or a limited partnership.
5. The securities of each Fund are, or will be, qualified for distribution in one or more of the Jurisdictions under, as applicable, a prospectus, simplified prospectus, as the same may be amended or renewed from time to time. Each of the Funds is, or will be, a reporting issuer in each of the Jurisdictions.
6. Each of the Funds is, or will be, subject to NI 81-102, including Part 15 of NI 81-102, which governs sales communications.
7. Neither the Filer, nor any of the existing Funds, is in default of securities legislation in any of the Jurisdictions.
FundGrade Ratings and FundGrade A+ Awards
8. 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.
9. Fundata Canada Inc. (Fundata) is a "mutual fund rating entity" as that term is defined in NI 81-102, and is not a member of the organization of the Funds. Fundata is a leading supplier of 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.
10. 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.
11. 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.
12. 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.
13. 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.
14. At the end of each calendar year, Fundata calculates a fund grade point average or "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.
15. When a fund is awarded a FundGrade A+ Award, Fundata will permit such fund to make reference to the award in its sales communications.
Sales Communication Disclosure
16. The FundGrade 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 are based on performance measures calculated by Fundata. The FundGrade A+ Awards may be considered to be "overall ratings or rankings" given that the awards are based on the FundGrade Ratings as described above. Therefore, references to FundGrade Ratings and FundGrade A+ Awards in sales communications relating to the Funds need to meet the applicable requirements in Part 15 of NI 81-102.
17. 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 a fund, except for the period since the inception of the fund (i.e. for one, three, five and ten year periods, as applicable).
18. 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 the Funds to use FundGrade Ratings in sales communications.
19. 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) of NI 81-102. As noted above, sales communications referencing the FundGrade A+ Awards cannot comply with the "matching" requirement in subsection 15.3(4) of NI 81-102 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) of NI 81-102 unavailable. Relief from paragraph 15.3(4)(c) of NI 81-102 is, therefore, required in order for Funds to reference the FundGrade A+ Awards and the FundGrade Ratings in sales communications.
20. 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 or the FundGrade Ratings 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.
21. 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.
22. The Exemption Sought is required in order for the FundGrade Ratings and the FundGrade A+ Awards to be referenced in sales communications relating to the Funds.
23. The Filer submits that the FundGrade A+ Awards and FundGrade 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 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.
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 and FundGrade Ratings to be referenced in sales communications relating to a Fund provided that:
1. the sales communication that refers to the FundGrade A+ Awards and FundGrade Ratings 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;
(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 or FundGrade Rating is based;
(e) a statement that FundGrade Ratings are subject to change every month;
(f) in the case of a FundGrade A+ Award, a brief overview of the FundGrade A+ Award;
(g) in the case of a FundGrade Rating (other than FundGrade Ratings referenced in connection with a FundGrade A+ Award), a brief overview of the FundGrade Rating;
(h) 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); and
(i) reference to Fundata's website for greater detail on the FundGrade A+ Awards and the FundGrade Ratings, which includes the rating methodology prepared by Fundata;
2. the FundGrade A+ 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 and FundGrade Ratings being referenced are calculated based on comparisons of performance of investment funds within a specified category established by CIFSC (or a successor to CIFSC).