With a seismic overhaul of the $2.6 trillion money-market industry weeks away from kicking in, money managers are bracing for a last-minute exodus of as much as $300 billion from funds in regulators’ cross hairs.
Prime funds, which seek higher yields by buying securities like commercial paper, are at the center of the upheaval. Their assets have already plunged by almost $700 billion since the start of 2015, to $789 billion, Investment Company Institute data show. The outflow has rippled across financial markets, shattering demand for banks’ and other companies’ short-term debt and raising their funding costs.
The transformation of the money-fund industry, where investors turn to park cash, is a result of regulators’ efforts to make the financial system safer in the aftermath of the credit crisis. The key date is Oct. 14, when rules take effect mandating that institutional prime and tax-exempt funds end an over-30-year tradition of fixing shares at $1.
Companies such as Federated Investors Inc. and Fidelity Investments, which have already reduced or altered prime offerings, are preparing in case investors yank more money as the new era approaches.
“All managers, like ourselves, are positioning around the uncertainty of the exact magnitude of the outflows,” said Peter Yi, director of short-term fixed income at Chicago-based Northern Trust Corp.
While Yi sees the additional outflow from prime-fund investors potentially reaching $200 billion in the next 30 days, TD Securities predicted in a Sept. 7 note that it may tally as much as $300 billion.
Amid the tumult, money-fund assets have held steady because most of the cash leaving prime and tax-exempt funds has streamed into less risky offerings focusing on Treasuries and other government-related debt, such as agency securities and repurchase agreements.
A major repercussion of the flight from prime funds is that there’s less money flowing into commercial paper and certificates of deposit, which banks depend on for funding. As a result, banks’ unsecured lending rates, such as the dollar London interbank offered rate, have soared.
Although bank funding costs are rising, it will not result in a crisis and cause the strain of the movements in 2008, said Jerome Schneider, head of short-term portfolio management at Pacific Investment Management Co.