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Actively managed ETFs have industry buzzing

Haven't heard of "actively managed ETFS"? No worries, you'll be hearing lots about them soon enough.

Earlier this year, fund giant PIMCO raced out of the gate with the launch of its Total Return ETF, which will be actively managed by a portfolio manager. The fund is very similar to PIMCO's Total Return mutual fund, but it's smaller so the manager can try out different strategies with more ease, and in a more timely fashion.

Given this ETF's success, which outperformed the sister mutual fund early on and amassed over $2-billion in assets in just a few months, there is talk of launching more of these actively managed products. The industry sees these as catalysts to kick start a bout of rapid growth.

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Make no mistake, the industry is already growing quite quickly. Here in Canada, ETF assets under management are up 16 per cent this year, according to a new report from Bank of Montreal. That performance puts 2012 in line with the industry's average compound annual growth rate of 18.5 per cent over the past few years.

The problem, however, is that ETFs still make up about just 7 per cent of mutual fund assets in Canada. No doubt, getting to this mark was a great feat, but to really make their mark, ETFs will need to steal more away from the traditional funds – hence the hope around actively managed funds. (The contrarian view, however, is that if more mutual fund players start offering their own ETFs, it may not generate growth in the form of new money. Investors could simply switch from one type of fund to another.)

As for other avenues of growth, the report notes that the industry has big hopes for defined contribution pension plans. At the moment, ETFs are rarely offered to contributors to these plans and the industry wants to make more of its product available to this growing group now that defined benefit plans slowly become a thing of the past.

For now, bond ETFs are the hot ticket in Canada. As BMO noted, even though government bonds are trading at rock-bottom low rates, bond ETFs are on fire -- with assets under management growing from about $13-billion in January to $18-billion today.

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About the Author
Reporter and Streetwise columnist

Tim Kiladze is a business reporter with The Globe and Mail. Before crossing over to journalism, he worked in equity capital markets at National Bank Financial and in fixed-income sales and trading at RBC Dominion Securities. Tim graduated from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism and also earned a Bachelor in Commerce in finance from McGill University. More


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