Ezra Levant and his right-wing Rebel Media have embarked on plenty of controversial projects over the last few years, but his next venture may be his most provocative one yet. Rebel Media, in partnership with Lloydminster, Alta.-based Wells Asset Management, is launching an investment fund geared toward retirement-saving Canadians. This one carries a lot of risk and doesn’t clear the MoneySense bar for appropriate retirement investment risk, whatever the political orientation.
Considering that almost everything Levant does is highly contentious, you shouldn’t be surprised to find out that this isn’t your typical stock and bond fund. The fund says it’s “targeting” a 4% return for investors, but it’s not doing it by investing in dividend equity or corporate fixed income. Rather, it’s loaning Rebel Media money to produce entertainment projects in exchange for regular interest payments.
Clearly, this is not your typical investment and even die-hard Rebel fans would be urged to do their due diligence before putting their money in a private debt fund. If you are a highly sophisticated investor, can afford to lose the entire investment and find that it meets your rigorous due diligence, then, by all means, have fun helping Levant fund his films. But if you’re saving for retirement, then try a non-political index-hugging exchange-traded fund.
You will find lots of information at MoneySense.ca on how to build a low-fee, diversified ETF portfolio. Our endorsed Couch Potato strategy involves keeping your holdings simple and leaving them alone to build your wealth. But since this fund is being marketed to Canadians as a retirement investment, we thought we’d take a closer look. The plan is launch it March 1, and more disclosure is pending.
The Rebel Freedom Fund was born out of a discussion between Dale Wells, a self-described conservative and Levant fan, and the Rebel founder. Wells had donated money to Rebel crowdfunding projects in the past and told MoneySense in an interview he shares many of the same views as Levant. The two got to know each other over the years and when Wells brought up the idea of a fund that could help Levant develop more projects, and tap into the Rebel’s rabid fan base, Levant liked what he heard. “I think there’s a good market out there,” says Wells, who says that Levant has nothing to do with the running of the fund itself. “I felt that if we set something like this it up that it would help the Rebel cause and the conservative cause.”
Wells, who was disciplined in 2010 by the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada for acting in the role of an advisor without being registered as one, considers his firm a private debt lender. His Wells Multi Strategy Fund invests in asset-backed debt obligations, including in the entertainment and residential mortgage space. He often invests in movies, he says, including the 2016 Denzel Washington film Fences and the Charlize Theron film Tully, which comes out in April.
The primary focus of the Rebel Freedom Fund will be to invest in Rebel-related projects, such as movies or documentaries. Through his other fund he has already invested in one of Levant’s films: Save The Christians, a documentary The Rebel’s website says is about “Christian genocide in Iraq.” However, Wells says that the fund may also invest in other right-learning films or projects and other “third-party investments” like a mortgage backed securities fund or another private debt-related vehicle. (He does say he would invest in left-leaning projects, too, but they wouldn’t find their way into the Rebel Freedom Fund.)
Wells says the Rebel fund is a legitimate portfolio and he’ll only invest in projects if he thinks Levant’s company will be able to pay quarterly interest on the money that the fund loans out. He’ll make that determination by regularly looking at the company’s books. If The Rebel doesn’t have enough cash flow to make its payments, then Wells says he won’t invest in its projects and could even pull the plug on the partnership. He does say the company has no cash flow issues as of now.
And about that 4% return: Wells says that the company must generate about 9% to cover its costs and hit that return target. There’s a 2.5% management expense ratio, a 2% licensing fee that needs to be paid to The Rebel for the use of its name, and another .5% of additional costs on top of that. Many ETFs and index funds having an established record of generating equal or better returns for as low as 0.08%, you really have to believe in The Rebel to pay those kinds of fees.
Funds like these are much less liquid than a traditional mutual fund and, according to Wells’ website, investors will only be able to pull their money out of the fund once a month. It’s also much harder to know what exactly is happening within the fund – investing in a Rebel documentary is not the same thing as investing in BCE stock. If enough projects go bust and if the Rebel can’t pay Wells interest on its investment, it would prove difficult to get that “targeted” 4% return.
Then there’s the no small matter of Levant’s track record as a provocateur and Wells’ history with the IIROC. “We’re always leery of mangers with bad regulatory track records,” says Christopher Davis, an equity analyst with Morningstar. (Wells said he had to pay about $10,000 in fines and disagrees with the ruling, but he “respects the decision and it’s made me who I am today.”) Davis also says that it’s never a good idea to make investment decisions based on political ideology. “It’s always a mistake,” he says. “It’s hard to be objective when it’s furthering a political aim – whether right or left leaning.”
Wells is aware that Levant himself could impact the prospects of the fund. “if Ezra says something inappropriate on any given day then (The Rebel’s) cash flow could change in five minutes,” he says. And while the website does say it’s for people saving for retirement, he adds that investors shouldn’t put all their money into a fund like this. “It’s by no means right for everyone,” says Wells. He classifies it as a medium-risk investment, though Davis, who hasn’t analyzed the fund in depth, says he suspects it will be likely prove to be much higher risk than that.
MORE ABOUT ETFS:
- Now is a good time to take the ETF challenge
- Everything an investor needs in a single ETF
- Can my ETF pay me $3,000 a month in retirement?
- The only money book you need to be a great investor
- How to pick the right bond ETFs for rising interest rates
- Investment advice is not worth 35 times the DIY fee
- Can a portfolio of just one ETF make sense?
- Best low-fee mutual funds for seniors