The Securities and Exchange Commission is drafting proposals to further strengthen money-market mutual funds, two years after it approved an initial set of new rules in the wake of the financial crisis.
Here are some key options as the SEC prepares a formal proposal:
—Floating net asset value:
Money funds are supposed to hold at least $1 in assets for each investor dollar put in. Critics have suggested the dollar-for-dollar safety benchmark is too strict, and creates risk that one soured investment by a fund can touch off panic among investors wanting to quickly withdraw cash.
One option is to give fund managers leeway for temporary fluctuations, or a “floating net asset value,” slightly above or below the dollar-for-dollar level. That means investors may have to absorb small losses at times, depending on market conditions and asset values when they withdraw cash from a fund.
SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro has said a float could stabilize money funds and ensure that investors realize they can sustain losses when markets are under stress. Critics, including the money fund industry, say the dollar-for-dollar expectation is what attracts many safety-minded investors to money funds in the first place.
Money funds could be required to maintain cash reserves, similar to bank requirements, to ensure that they have adequate cash to return money on demand. Currently, if a fund makes a bad investment that put its investors at risk of losses, it’s typically at the discretion of the fund’s parent company whether to absorb the loss by purchasing that troubled asset out of the fund’s portfolio.
A capital buffer requirement would establish a formal framework to protect investors. Companies running the funds would have three options for building up a reserve. They could draw money from their corporate coffers, raise cash by offering shares of stock or selling debt, or collect money from fund shareholders, perhaps through a new fee.
Investors could be barred from quickly withdrawing all their assets from a fund. For example, an investor might be able to get back only 95 percent initially, then the rest after 30 days.