The Broken Buck Stops Here: Embracing Sponsor Support in Money Market Fund Reform
60 Pages Posted: 19 Jun 2014 Last revised: 3 Nov 2015
Date Written: 2015
Since the 2008 financial crisis, in which the Reserve Primary Fund “broke the buck,” money market funds (MMFs) have been the subject of ongoing policy debate. Many commentators view MMFs as a key contributor to the crisis because widespread redemption demands during the days following the Lehman bankruptcy contributed to a freeze in the credit markets. In response, MMFs were deemed a component of the nefarious shadow banking industry and targeted for regulatory reform. The Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) misguided 2014 reforms responded by potentially exacerbating MMF fragility while potentially crippling large segments of the MMF industry.
Determining the appropriate approach to MMF reform has been difficult. Banks regulators supported requiring MMFs to trade at a floating net asset value (NAV) rather than a stable $1 share price. By definition, a floating NAV prevents MMFs from breaking the buck but is unlikely to eliminate the risk of large redemptions in a time of crisis. Other reform proposals have similar shortcomings. More fundamentally, the SEC’s reforms may substantially reduce the utility of MMFs for many investors, which could, in turn, affect the availability of short term credit.
The shape of MMF reform has been influenced by a turf war among regulators as the SEC has battled with bank regulators both about the need for additional reforms and about the structure and timing of those reforms. Bank regulators have been influential in shaping the terms of the debate by using banking rhetoric to frame the narrative of MMF fragility. This rhetoric masks a critical difference between banks and MMFs – asset segregation. Unlike banks, MMF sponsors have assets and operations that are separate from the assets of the MMF itself. This difference has caused the SEC to mistake sponsor support as a weakness rather than a key stability-enhancing feature. As a result, the SEC mistakenly adopted reforms that burden sponsor support instead of encouraging it.
As this article explains, required sponsor support offers a novel and simple regulatory solution to MMF fragility. Accordingly this article proposes that the SEC require MMF sponsors explicitly to guarantee the $1 share price. Taking sponsor support out of the shadows embraces rather than ignores the advantage that MMFs offer over banks through asset partitioning. At the same time, sponsor support harnesses market discipline as a constraint against MMF risktaking and moral hazard.
Keywords: regulation of financial markets, banking regulation, securities law and regulation, money market funds, mutual funds, MMFs, SEC, securities, net asset value, financial crisis, shadow banking, systemic risk, financial crisis
JEL Classification: G01, G23, K22
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation