A money market mutual fund is a type of fixed income mutual fund that invests in debt securities characterized by their short maturities and minimal credit risk. Money market mutual funds are among the lowest-volatility types of investments. Income generated by a money market fund can be either taxable or tax-exempt, depending on the types of securities in which the fund invests.
Looking closer we see that if you can meet the $3,000 minimum investment size, Vanguard’s VMMXX offers an appealing combination of relatively high returns with low expenses. If you don’t have a large amount of cash to invest, you should note that both FMPXX and FIDXX have $1MM investment minimums. If you have less than $1,000, SPRXX doesn’t meet the yield and expense ratio thresholds we laid out, but it doesn’t have an investment minimum.
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Money market funds seek a stable net asset value, or NAV per share (which is generally $1.00 in the United States); they aim to never lose money. The $1.00 is maintained through the declaration of dividends to shareholders, typically daily, at an amount equal to the fund's net income. If a fund's NAV drops below $1.00, it is said that the fund "broke the buck". For SEC registered money funds, maintaining the $1.00 flat NAV is usually accomplished under a provision under Rule 2a-7 of the 40 Act that allows a fund to value its investments at amortized cost rather than market value, provided that certain conditions are maintained. One such condition involves a side-test calculation of the NAV that uses the market value of the fund's investments. The fund's published, amortized value may not exceed this market value by more than 1/2 cent per share, a comparison that is generally made weekly. If the variance does exceed $0.005 per share, the fund could be considered to have broken the buck, and regulators may force it into liquidation.
^ See Markus K. Brunnermeir,Deciphering the 2007-08 Liquidity and Credit Crunch, Journal of Economic Perspectives (May, 2008)(arguing that investment banks reliance on commercial paper and repo markets had increased over the last 3 years. This reliance is seen in the fact that 25% of assets purchased by investment banks had been funded through the repo market.)
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The first money market mutual fund to break the buck was First Multifund for Daily Income (FMDI) in 1978, liquidating and restating NAV at 94 cents per share. An argument has been made that FMDI was not technically a money market fund as at the time of liquidation the average maturity of securities in its portfolio exceeded two years. However, prospective investors were informed that FMDI would invest "solely in Short-Term (30-90 days) MONEY MARKET obligations". Furthermore, the rule restricting which the maturities which money market funds are permitted to invest in, Rule 2a-7 of the Investment Company Act of 1940, was not promulgated until 1983. Prior to the adoption of this rule, a mutual fund had to do little other than present itself as a money market fund, which FMDI did. Seeking higher yield, FMDI had purchased increasingly longer maturity securities, and rising interest rates negatively impacted the value of its portfolio. In order to meet increasing redemptions, the fund was forced to sell a certificate of deposit at a 3% loss, triggering a restatement of its NAV and the first instance of a money market fund "breaking the buck".
The SEC is giving money fund boards of directors the discretion whether to impose a liquidity fee if a fund’s weekly liquidity level falls below the required regulatory threshold, and/or to suspend redemptions temporarily, i.e., to "gate" funds, under the same circumstances. These amendments will require all non-government money funds to impose a liquidity fee if the fund’s weekly liquidity level falls below a designated threshold, unless the fund’s board determines that imposing such a fee is not in the best interests of the fund.
In the wake of the crisis two solutions have been proposed. One, repeatedly supported over the long term by the GAO and others is to consolidate the U.S. financial industry regulators. A step along this line has been the creation of the Financial Stability Oversight Council to address systemic risk issues that have in the past, as amply illustrated by the money market fund crisis above, fallen neatly between the cracks of the standing isolated financial regulators. Proposals to merge the SEC and CFTC have also been made.
Fund yields are typically somewhat higher than bank savings accounts, but of course these are different products with differing risks (e.g., money fund accounts are not insured and are not deposit accounts). Since Retail funds generally have higher servicing needs and thus expenses than Institutional funds, their yields are generally lower than Institutional funds.
The types of debt securities held by money market mutual funds are required by federal regulation to be very short in maturity and high in credit quality. All money market funds comply with industry-standard regulatory requirements regarding the quality, maturity, liquidity, and diversification of the fund’s investments. Investments can include short-term U.S. Treasury securities, federal agency notes, Eurodollar deposits, repurchase agreements, certificates of deposit, corporate commercial paper, and obligations of states, cities, or other types of municipal agencies—depending on the focus of the fund.
While they sound highly similar, a money market fund is not the same as a money market account (MMA). The former is an investment, sponsored by an investment fund company, and hence carries no guarantee of principal. The latter is an interest-earning saving account offered by financial institutions, with limited transaction privileges and insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC).
The U.S. government issues Treasury bills in the money market, with maturities that range from a few days to one year. Primary dealers buy them in large amounts directly from the government to trade between themselves or to sell to individual investors. Individual investors can buy them directly from the government through its TreasuryDirect website or through a bank or a broker. State, county, and municipal governments also issue short-term notes.
On the borrowing end, after 10–20 years, the S&P 500 corporations become extremely accustomed to obtaining funds via these money markets, which are very stable. Initially, perhaps they only borrowed in these markets for a highly seasonal cash needs, being a net borrower for only say 90 days per year. They would borrow here as they experienced their deepest cash needs over an operating cycle to temporarily finance short-term build ups in inventory and receivables. Or, they moved to this funding market from a former bank revolving line of credit, that was guaranteed to be available to them as they needed it, but had to be cleaned up to a zero balance for at least 60 days out of the year. In these situations the corporations had sufficient other equity and debt financing for all of their regular capital needs. They were however dependent on these sources to be available to them, as needed, on an immediate daily basis.