A Morningstar global study released today gives Canada a failing grade on fund fees, while praising most other attributes of the Canadian fund scene.
Authored by John Rekenthaler, vice-president of research for Morningstar Inc., and research analyst Benjamin Alpert, the study of the global investor experience is an updated and expanded version of a global study released in May 2009.
Today's study ranks 22 countries, up from 16 two years ago. The countries received grades in four categories: regulation and taxation; disclosure; fees and expenses; and sales and media. From these rating categories, the Morningstar study also calculated a composite grade.
As was the case with the 2009 study, Canada would have scored higher overall if not for its dismal grade on fees. Canada was the only country to receive an F. Italy -- which was the second worst with a D grade -- was the only other country that did not receive at least a C grade for its fees and expenses.
"At a deceptively normal looking C+, Canada's overall grade hides major strengths and weaknesses," the study says. "Positively for investors, sales and media practices are excellent and disclosure is very good. Unfortunately, these benefits are counterbalanced by steep taxes and the highest fund costs found in this survey."
The study's discussion of Canadian fund fees includes point-by-point rebuttals to industry criticisms in response to Morningstar's previous global study of fund-investor experience. Canadian industry executives -- including president Joanne De Laurentiis of the Investment Funds Institute of Canada -- contended that the Morningstar fund-fee comparisons were "apples to oranges" because of major differences between Canadian pricing structures and those of other countries.
Among the differences cited by the industry are: the bundling of advisor compensation into the management fees of Canadian-domiciled funds; lower front-end commissions charged in Canada; federal and provincial taxes that push up management-expense ratios (MERs) in Canada; and greater transparency in the reporting of expenses in Canada.
In rebuttal, Rekenthaler and Alpert state in the newly released 2011 study that with "rare exception," every country's funds pay for distribution costs out of their funds expense ratios.
On load structures, the Morningstar study says "Canada's load structure is broadly similar to the global average. In many countries, funds with a front-end sales charge are in the minority, and in many countries as well these charges can and are negotiated to lower levels than are stated in the prospectus."
The Chicago-based authors acknowledge that high taxes are partly to blame for contributing to high MERs in Canada, but that this did not affect their global ratings by country. "The source of the costs is immaterial to the fund investor," they said, adding that many European funds also are subject to value-added taxes.
On transparency of fund expenses, the study stated that Canadian disclosure of fund fees and expenses is not materially different from that of the other 21 countries studied.
The study said there is some merit to the argument that Canadian fund fees should not be compared to those of the U.S., since the U.S. market is much larger and enjoys greater economies of scale. But the authors also noted that Canadian fees are "significantly higher" than those in other countries with modest populations, such as Australia, Belgium, Hong Kong, Norway and Sweden, among others.
Canada's overall grade of C+ placed it in a tie with France, Germany, Japan and the United Kingdom. Nine countries were awarded better grades, led by the United States and Singapore which were the only two countries to be awarded an A grade. Six countries received a C grade, while South Africa received the second lowest grade of C-. New Zealand received a D-, which was the worst overall grade.
On other aspects of the Canadian fund industry, the study concluded:
To read, the full study, click here.
Canada's global grades
|Regulation and taxation||D|
|Fees and expenses||F|
|Sales and media||A|
|Source: Morningstar Fund Investor Experience 2011|