Horizons ETFs – Canada’s Leader in Actively Managed ETFs Since 2009

Understanding Actively Managed ETFs

An exchange traded fund (ETF) provides the best of both worlds when it comes to mutual funds and stocks. Like a mutual fund, ETFs are open-ended, meaning that new units of the fund can be created or redeemed at a price per unit that reflects the market value of the underlying securities the fund holds. Like a stock, ETFs trade on an exchange with a ticker symbol and can be purchased or sold throughout normal trading hours.

The first ETFs launched were each designed to seek to replicate a broad index of securities, such as the S&P/TSX 60TM Index or the S&P 500® Index, just to name two well-known examples. Since there is no expectation of trying to outperform these asset class benchmarks, these ETFs are called “passively = managed”. Cost is a key component of passive index investing – it needs to be as low as possible since there is no expectation of achieving additional returns beyond the benchmark index but they are expected to return as close to the returns of there respective index as possible. Since ETFs are a low-cost* and flexible way to gain index exposure, the rise in the use of indexing amongst the investing public
coincided with the rise of ETF usage.

Although ETFs have traditionally been associated with passive indexing, this doesn’t mean they can’t be actively managed like a typical mutual fund using a portfolio management team to seek better risk-adjusted returns. In fact, ETFs are an excellent vehicle to offer actively managed investment strategies, which is why Horizons ETFs is the largest provider of actively managed ETFs in Canada1. Our suite of actively managed ETFs offer the benefits of ETF investing – including lower costs than comparable mutual funds, intra-day purchasing and liquidity, combined with the advantages of active management – which we believe can deliver better risk-adjusted returns in many asset classes.

Unique Features of Actively Managed ETFs in Canada

A major reason that actively managed ETFs have been more successful in Canada than other developed ETF markets – representing about 36% of Canadian ETF assets2 – is due to the regulatory environment of the Canadian investment industry. The vast majority of actively managed ETFs are regulated under National Instrument 81-102, which governs all investment funds. This ostensibly means that ETFs are governed under the same laws that govern mutual funds.

In Canada, the disclosure for ETFs and mutual funds is generally the same. In the case of Horizons ETFs for example, the ETF’s top 10 holdings are disclosed publicly on a monthly basis, top 25 holdings quarterly, and full portfolio, semi-annually. We view this as a suitable level of transparency, particularly since most investors in actively managed ETFs are usually seeking longer-term holding periods than those investing in index strategies, which can be (and often are) used for shorter-term trading purposes.

A key feature of ETFs is their liquidity – as units can be bought and sold throughout the business day on an exchange. In order to ensure that the units trade at or very near their current net asset value (NAV) throughout the day, an institutional capital markets trader, known as the designated broker, creates and redeems units of the ETF with both the ETF provider and the secondary market.

This process has worked well for actively managed ETFs, many of which now trade at bid/ask spreads equivalent to spreads observed on comparable index ETFs.

The Importance of Low* Fund Management Fees

A central appeal of ETFs is their typically low management fees compared to regular mutual funds. Fees can have a significant impact on investment performance, since they create an additional hurdle for the investment to overcome in order to be profitable. Simply put, the higher the fee on an investment fund, the better the fund needs to perform in order to generate a higher return.

We believe the single-largest obstacle to the performance of Canadian actively managed mutual funds is high fees. The cost disparity between Canadian actively managed ETFs and Canadian actively managed mutual funds can be dramatic. The average management fee of an actively managed Canadian ETF is approximately 0.60% versus a 0.83% for Canadian actively managed F-class mutual funds.

Type of Fund Average Management Fee
Average Canadian ETF Fee 0.50%
Average Actively Managed Canadian Equity ETF 0.60%
Average Active F-Class Mutual Fund 0.83%

Source: Morningstar Direct, as at October 2018

The cost savings on ETFs can add significant value to the long-term returns of the fund, as highlighted in the chart below which uses a modest return trajectory of only 5%. The longer the time horizon and the larger the cumulative return, the more a return is lost to fees.


*Assumes investment held for 10 years with no performance fees or distributions.

Active management presents opportunities to enhance returns and reduce risk through:

  1. Independent valuation analysis: Can conduct independent research on portfolio holdings, including cash flow analysis, risk analysis and earnings forecasts.
  2. Institutional access: Fixed income managers generally obtain favorable execution costs for bonds. This would extend to options pricing as well.
  3. Not forced to buy/sell: Actively managed ETFs can opt out of buying securities with questionable valuations or liquidity. They are not forced to buy or sell issues blindly when an index rebalances.
  4. Independent credit analysis: With fixed income investing, active managers will undertake full independent credit analysis of the underlying holdings of the portfolio. Credit analysis is a key determinant of the risk/return profile of fixed income investing and the likelihood of a issuer meeting its debt obligations.

* Relative to the typical MER of regular mutual funds. In Canada, the average management fee for F class mutal funds is 0.83% and 0.50% for ETFs, source: Morningstar Direct as at October 2018.  
Source: Strategic Insight, ETF and Index Funds report - Canada, as at December 31, 2017.
Source: Morningstar Direct, as at October 2018.

Download PDF

Share This Article

Horizons ETFs is a Member of Mirae Asset Global Investments. Commissions, management fees and expenses all may be associated with an investment in exchange traded products managed by Horizons ETFs Management (Canada) Inc. (the "Horizons Exchange Traded Products"). The Horizons Exchange Traded Products are not guaranteed, their values change frequently and past performance may not be repeated. The prospectus contains important detailed information about the Horizons Exchange Traded Products. Please read the relevant prospectus before investing.

The Horizons Exchange Traded Products include our BetaPro Products which consist of our 2x Daily Bull and 2x Daily Bear ETFs ("2x Daily ETFs"), Inverse ETFs ("Inverse ETFs") and our VIX ETF (defined below). The 2x Daily ETFs and certain other BetaPro Products use leveraged investment techniques that can magnify gains and losses and may result in greater volatility of returns. These BetaPro Products are subject to leverage risk and may be subject to aggressive investment risk and price volatility risk, which, where applicable, are described in their respective prospectuses. Each 2x Daily ETF seeks a return, before fees and expenses, that is either 200% or -200% of the performance of a specified underlying index, commodity or benchmark (the "Target") for a single day. Each Inverse ETF seeks a return that is -100% of the performance of a Target. Due to the compounding of daily returns, a 2x Daily ETF's or Inverse ETF's returns over periods other than one day will likely differ in amount and, for the 2x Daily ETFs, possibly direction from the performance of their respective Target(s) for the same period. The BetaPro Product whose Target is the S&P 500 VIX Short-Term Futures Index™ (the "VIX ETF"), which is a (1x) VIX ETF, as described in the prospectus, is a speculative investment tool that is not a conventional investment. The VIX ETF’s Target is highly volatile. As a result, the VIX ETF is not generally viewed as stand-alone long-term investment. Historically, the VIX ETF’s Target has tended to revert to a historical mean. As a result, the performance of the VIX ETFs' Target is expected to be negative over the longer term and neither the VIX ETF nor its Target is expected to have positive long term performance. Investors should monitor their holdings, as frequently as daily, to ensure that they remain consistent with their investment strategies.

*The indicated rates of return are the historical annual compounded total returns including changes in per unit value and reinvestment of all dividends or distributions and do not take into account sales, redemption, distribution or optional charges or income taxes payable by any securityholder that would have reduced returns. The rates of return shown in the table are not intended to reflect future values of the ETF or returns on investment in the ETF. Only the returns for periods of one year or greater are annualized returns.