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How Safe is Your Money Fund?

Updated on December 9, 2011

1-15-09 Reserve Money Market Fund Executives Accused of Lying

State regulators in Massachusetts have accused top executives of the Reserve Fund of lying to shareholders about the safety of their investments hours before the firm’s largest money fund disclosed that its share price had fallen below a dollar — and then giving big shareholders first crack at avoiding losses.

10-09-08 Four Mutual Funds Join Money Fund Guaranty Plan

Four Mutual Fund Giants Join Guaranty Plan October 9, 2008, 6:40 am

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As the deadline for enrollment neared on Wednesday, four of the nation's best-known mutual fund companies said they had joined the new federal program aimed at restoring confidence in the nation's money market funds, The New York Times's Diana B. Henriques writes.

Fidelity Investments, Vanguard, T. Rowe Price and Oppenheimer Funds all have decided to participate in the ad hoc guaranty plan, which was announced by the Treasury Department on Sept. 19 as part of the federal rescue package aimed at stabilizing the hard-hit credit markets. It specifically insures that the value of participating money fund shares will not fall below a dollar.

Charles Schwab, Federated, Morgan Stanley, Putnam Investments, BlackRock and JPMorgan Chase announced their enrollment in the plan last week.

The cutoff for the program was set at 11:59 p.m. Wednesday.

All the newly enrolled companies emphasized that their own money funds had never "broken the buck" by reporting a per-share price below a dollar and were not at risk of doing so now.

"However, the current global financial climate is extremely uncertain," Gus Sauter, chief investment officer at Vanguard, said in a statement sent to shareholders on Tuesday.

T. Rowe Price also cited the unsteady market conditions in its announcement, saying that participation in the new program would "provide an additional layer of reassurance for our money fund shareholders during this difficult period."

Money funds are an important source of short-term credit for banks and businesses because they have been steady buyers of the commercial paper and other short-term corporate notes that businesses issue.

But investor confidence was shaken by news on Sept. 16 that the Reserve Fund, the original money fund sponsor, had broken the buck. The resulting stampede out of money funds put additional strain on a financial system already shaken by the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers and the federal rescue of American International Group.

The Treasury plan seems to be having some effect. The most recent data from iMoneyNet, a research firm, shows that money fund assets had steadied at $3.38 trillion in the week ended Tuesday night after declining almost daily for weeks. On Sept. 15, money funds held $3.43 trillion in assets.

Go to Article from The New York Times » Go to Press Release from Vanguard »



9-19-09 Money Market Fund Gurarantee Proposed by Bush

The Bush administration is working with a bi-partisan Senate and House group on a proposal that the federal government provide a temporary guarantee of private money market funds. The details of the proposal are yet to be worked out. Presumably, the guarantee will be similar to that provided to bank deposits by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC).The maximum amount in any one fund which would be guaranteed by the government has not been announced. Stay tuned.

Cloud Over Money Market Funds


Tara Siegel Bernard writes in the New York Times 9-18-08 that "Money Market Funds Enter a World of Surprising Risk":

Money Market Funds Enter a World of Risk

By TARA SIEGEL BERNARD Published: September 17, 2008

Money market funds have been among the few places that investors could put their cash and sleep peacefully.

Matthew Tuttle said money management funds at large brokerage firms can be reassuring for investors.

At the moment, that is not necessarily true.

On Tuesday, the Reserve Primary Fund, a giant money market fund whose parent helped invent that investment, said its customers would lose money. Instead of each share being worth a dollar for every dollar invested, it said its customers' shares were worth only 97 cents. In Wall Street parlance, it "broke the buck," a rare occurrence.

So far, it appears that no other money market funds have fallen below a dollar a share. And other money market managers have hastened to reassure investors that their money is safe. But the Primary Fund's announcement did raise this question: What, in today's world, is truly safe?

After all, the Primary Fund's troubles did not occur in isolation. They followed the disappearance of both Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch, not to mention the government bailouts of the mortgage finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and the insurance company American International Group. And if you haven't already forgotten, there was the failure of the California thrift IndyMac in July.

And that's why, in this market, financial advisers agreed on Wednesday, consumers need to become their own chief investment officers, even when it comes to something as simple as finding a place to put their cash.

"One by one, all of my safe havens aren't so safe anymore, and that's a bad thing," said Matthew Tuttle, a certified financial planner and president of Tuttle Wealth Management in Stamford, Conn.

"It used to be O.K. to have money in a CD, but now you have to worry, ‘Is my bank going to go under?' " he added. "You used to be able to buy a guaranteed annuity from an insurance company, but now you have to worry, ‘Is my insurance company going to go under?' Or, you can have auction-rate preferred securities, but now there is no market."

Before you pull your cash out of your money market fund, you need to understand what you own. There is a big difference between money market mutual funds and the money market deposit accounts at a bank (and banks sometimes sell both).

Money market funds are essentially mutual funds that invest in securities that, until this week, were deemed relatively low risk. Those include government securities, certificates of deposit, asset-backed commercial paper and other highly liquid securities.

The Primary Fund got in trouble because some of its investments were in Lehman Brothers' debt. To stop what is in essence a run on the fund, the Primary Fund has stopped all redemptions for up to seven days.

A money market deposit account, on the other hand, is entirely different. It is an interest-bearing bank account that is insured - up to $100,000 per account and up to $250,000 for some retirement accounts - by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Joint accounts are insured for $100,000 per account holder.

If you had been putting your money into a money market account because you wanted to avoid all risk, then you should consider the money market deposit accounts and other accounts insured by the F.D.I.C., like certificates of deposit and regular checking and savings accounts.

There are also Treasuries. But because so many investors were rushing into them on Wednesday, the yields have been driven down. "There is no yield," said Saxon Birdsong, chief investment officer of Baltimore-Washington Financial Advisors. "It's just a safety play."

If you decide to invest - or stay - in a money market fund, there are several things you should keep in mind.

When it comes to money market funds, bigger may be better, several financial advisers said. Many investors use the funds that happen to be with the brokerage firm they are doing business with because it's convenient to sweep money between accounts. But you should make sure your money market account is with a large, diversified money management company that would have the resources to make you whole, even if its funds ran into trouble.

Mr. Tuttle said companies like Fidelity and Vanguard fit into this category.

"I would be less comfortable with a smaller money management fund that didn't have a lot of assets and wasn't making a lot of money," he said. "From my standpoint, I have a very high comfort level that if a Fidelity money market fund had toxic whatever, they would step up with the money from somewhere else to keep the buck."

Once you decide on a provider, read the prospectus carefully. If you don't understand the investments, call the company and ask for more details.

"I would encourage investors to not stop asking questions until they have complete comfort and peace about what they own," said Karin Maloney Stifler, a certified financial planner with True Wealth Advisors in Hudson, Ohio.

And if you are still nervous, ask your current mutual fund company or brokerage if it has a Treasury or government money market fund that invests only in Treasury securities, said Greg McBride, senior financial analyst at, a personal finance Web site.

"You will have to settle for a lower yield," he said, "but it takes risk off the table."

Indeed, this is one of those times when you shouldn't necessarily choose a fund because it has a high yield. That higher yield could indicate that the fund is investing in riskier securities.

"This is a painful but poignant reminder that anything that is paying you a higher yield, you have to assume is carrying a higher risk," said Peter Crane, president of Crane Data, which tracks money market mutual funds.

Finally, investors should diversify cash holdings, just as they would with a stock and bond portfolio.

"If you have money market mutual funds with multiple providers, you are hedging against the risk that any one of them will encounter problems that they can't survive," Ms. Stifler said.

But if you don't have a strong stomach for the slightest risk, stick with investments that are F.D.I.C. insured, even if you need to sacrifice a little yield.

After all, "this is a portion of your portfolio that should help you sleep at night, not keep you awake," Mr. McBride said.

The Investment Company Institute, the mutual fund industry's trade group, compiled a list of statements late Wednesday from money-market mutual fund managers that assured investors their funds were safe. Here are the links to the fund company's statements:


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    • Wizard Of Whimsy profile image

      Wizard Of Whimsy 6 years ago from The Sapphire City

      Thanks Ralph!

    • Ralph Deeds profile image

      Ralph Deeds 9 years ago from Birmingham, Michigan

      Keep an eye on your money market fund as the April 29, 2009 government guarantee approaches.

    • Ralph Deeds profile image

      Ralph Deeds 9 years ago from Birmingham, Michigan

      Ayn Rand and Alan Greenspan, along with Wall Street, nailed by New York Times reporter Peter S. Goodman for causing the current world economic crisis.

    • Ralph Deeds profile image

      Ralph Deeds 9 years ago from Birmingham, Michigan

      I don't agree that capitalism is dead. But thanks for the comment. We agree on a lot of other things. Capitalism needs to be regulated to make sure that it does a better job of honestly on the promise of promised results. Our goverment's regulatory machinery has been co-opted by the drug, oil, insurance, banking industries.

    • profile image

      ColdWarBaby 9 years ago

      Houses of cards, castles of sand. 

      Capitalism is dead.  Put a fork in it.

      The only question remaining is how many people will it carry to the grave with it?