As the financial crisis takes its toll and any number of events threaten to completely collapse an already fragile global banking system, the Federal Reserve has stepped in with a stop-gap measure to prevent liquidity from being drained out of money market funds in the event of a panic.
What this means is that at exactly the moment when Americans need money, in the midst of a massive financial panic, access to funds will be limited or altogether restricted.
Basically, according to the Fed, the minimum balance would make the financial system more fair, reduce systemic risk and protect smaller investors who can be left with losses if larger investors in their fund withdraw cash first. The proposal would require a “small fraction” of each fund investor’s recent balances to be segregated into a sinking fund to absorb losses if the fund is liquidated. Subsequently redemptions of these minimum balances at risk would be delayed for 30 days, “creating a disincentive to redeem if the fund is likely to have losses.” In other words: socialized losses. Where have we seen this before?
But the real definition of what the Fed is suggesting is: capital controls. Once this proposal is implemented, the Fed, or some other regulator, will effectively have full control over how much money market cash is withdrawable from the system at any given moment. At $2.7 trillion in total, one can see why the Fed is suddenly concerned about this critical liquidity and capital buffer.
A key proposal in the overhaul of money market regulation suggests that money market fund managers will have the option to “suspend redemptions to allow for the orderly liquidation of fund assets.” You read that right: this does not refer to the charter of procyclical, leveraged, risk-ridden, transsexual (allegedly) portfolio manager-infested hedge funds like SAC, Citadel, Glenview or even Bridgewater (which in light of ADIA’s latest batch of problems, may well be wishing this was in fact the case), but the heart of heretofore assumed safest and most liquid of investment options: Money Market funds, which account for nearly 40% of all investment company assets. The next time there is a market crash, and you try to withdraw what you thought was “absolutely” safe money, a back office person will get back to you saying, “Sorry – your money is now frozen. Bank runs have become illegal.”