Commercial paper has become a common component of money markets funds as they have evolved from holding only government bonds—their original mainstay—to boost yields. However, it was this reliance on commercial paper that led to the Reserve Primary Fund crisis. In addition to the post-financial crisis reforms in 2010, mentioned above, the SEC adopted fundamental structural changes to the regulations of money market funds.
Finance companies typically fund themselves by issuing large amounts of asset-backed commercial paper (ABCP), which is secured by the pledge of eligible assets into an ABCP conduit. Examples of eligible assets include auto loans, credit card receivables, residential/commercial mortgage loans, mortgage-backed securities and similar financial assets. Some large corporations with strong credit rating issue commercial paper on their own credit. Other large corporations arrange for banks to issue commercial paper on their behalf.
Institutional prime and institutional municipal money market mutual funds are funds that do not qualify as retail funds—i.e., they may be held by institutional investors. These funds are subject to potential liquidity fees and redemption gates, and will price and transact at a floating NAV (meaning that the NAV will be priced to 4 decimal places, e.g. $1.0000, and will experience fluctuations from time to time).
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).
If this sounds similar to banks’ high-yield savings accounts or money market accounts, it is. The largest difference lies in the ability for yields on money market mutual funds to rise proportionately with interest rates. For example, as interest rates have risen, the yields on most bank money market accounts (which are set by the banks themselves) have stayed relatively flat, while money market mutual fund yields have increased.