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Funds keep cards close to chest

Heavyweights IGM, CI join Invesco in dropping monthly sales reports

Some of Canada's most prominent mutual fund companies have suddenly become secretive about their monthly sales numbers.

IGM Financial Inc., which owns Investors Group and Mackenzie Financial, and CI Financial Corp. are the latest companies to shield their competitive monthly data, starting with the January numbers. The two publicly traded companies will release only quarterly numbers in the future.

Last fall, Invesco Trimark Ltd. also yanked its monthly figures, while also going a step further and cancelling its membership in the Investment Funds Institute of Canada (IFIC), the mutual fund industry group that compiles the monthly sales data and overall national fund flows.

These moves have raised eyebrows, but none of these companies are breaking rules. Fund companies were never required to release monthly statistics and merely reported them for years as an industry norm.

Net redemptions could be a factor in their decision. Just prior to pulling the plug on frequent reporting, all three fund giants watched more money leave their firm each month than came in.

"I can't imagine the fund companies would make the same decision if they had positive net sales to brag about," suggested Paul Holden, fund company analyst at CIBC World Markets.

While Mr. Holden acknowledged that monthly sales statistics are not absolutely necessary for his job, he said they help to highlight turning points.

"Among companies that may currently be in net redemptions, it is not going to be easy to pick up on the trend when things start improving," he said.

CI Financial chief executive officer Stephen MacPhail denied that his firm's net redemptions, totalling $110-million in December and $28-million in November after two months of gains, triggered its decision.

Instead, he said CI considered their plans for a year alongside IGM, Canada's largest publicly traded fund company.

"They shared many of our concerns with reporting data outside of their normal reporting cycle," Mr. MacPhail said.

When Invesco Trimark stopped reporting monthly numbers last October, president Peter Intraligi said the decision was not related to the firm's lengthy stretch of net redemptions dating back to 2007, which hit $1.2-billion in the three months before halting monthly disclosure.

It is not clear whether AGF Management Ltd. will follow its publicly traded peers.

By the end of January, the firm has been in net redemptions for 35 consecutive months, including $895-million for the second half of 2010. Executives at AGF were unavailable for comment.

Mr. MacPhail said he knows that some other firms are also considering disclosing less often. Industry sources say that IFIC is even considering stopping the reporting of monthly data for all companies. Right now, "there has been no decision to make any changes," said Dennis Yanchus, manager of statistics.

Still, Mr. MacPhail argued there is no need to hand out monthly numbers when firms in the United States and elsewhere don't do so.

"Canada was unique in evolving into this monthly reporting of sales," he said. "It was never intended to be that way when IFIC started collecting data.

"Somehow, it migrated from confidential internal data amongst IFIC members to public information. No other industry in the world would report this type of information, especially on a monthly basis."

Executives at IGM, which suffered from net redemptions totalling $1.1-billion in the second half of 2010, were not available to comment. Unlike CI and Invesco, IGM remains an IFIC member, and has agreed to report monthly numbers to the organization to help it calculate an industry sales number.

Mr. Yanchus rejected any suggestion that monthly net sales numbers without Invesco and CI Financial are no longer representative of industry activity. Last week, IFIC estimated that net sales in January, the first month of the key registered retirement savings plan (RRSP) season, were between $2.5- and $3-billion.

"We are still looking at about 85 per cent of industry assets," he said.

© 2007 The Globe and Mail. All rights reserved.

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