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".
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Money market funds offer high liquidity compared to other instruments with similar expected returns, like CD’s and treasury bills, while still being relatively low risk. You must typically hold a CD until its full maturity date to avoid paying an early withdrawal penalty. Treasury bills also have specific maturity dates. Money market funds, however, don’t have a set shelf life and can be liquidated on-demand when the cash is needed. In the wholesale market, commercial paper is a popular borrowing mechanism because the interest rates are higher than for bank time deposits or Treasury bills, and a greater range of maturities is available, from overnight to 270 days. However, the risk of default is significantly higher for commercial paper than for bank or government instruments.
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.