Banks in the United States offer savings and money market deposit accounts, but these should not be confused with money mutual funds. These bank accounts offer higher yields than traditional passbook savings accounts, but often with higher minimum balance requirements and limited transactions. A money market account may refer to a money market mutual fund, a bank money market deposit account (MMDA) or a brokerage sweep free credit balance.
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.
When comparing money market mutual funds a few patterns arose. First, when it comes to expense ratios, or the annual fees you’ll pay to own the funds, 0.25% is a threshold that separates the top and bottom half of the money market mutual funds in my short list. When it comes to yields, 2.1% is a defining 7-Day Yield threshold. For YTD yields, 1.4% is a benchmark that separates the pack.
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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.
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.
Ultrashort bond funds are mutual funds, similar to money market funds, that, as the name implies, invest in bonds with extremely short maturities. Unlike money market funds, however, there are no restrictions on the quality of the investments they hold. Instead, ultrashort bond funds typically invest in riskier securities in order to increase their return. Since these high-risk securities can experience large swings in price or even default, ultrashort bond funds, unlike money market funds, do not seek to maintain a stable $1.00 NAV and may lose money or dip below the $1.00 mark in the short term. Finally, because they invest in lower quality securities, ultrashort bond funds are more susceptible to adverse market conditions such as those brought on by the financial crisis of 2007–2010.
Money market funds can be categorized into three groups: Prime, Government and Tax-free. Prime money market funds are typically invested in short-term corporate and bank debt securities. Government money market funds have at least 99.5% invested in government backed securities, making them extremely safe investments. Finally, tax-free money market funds are invested primarily in debt obligations issued by municipalities or other entities whose interest is federally tax-exempt.
The best money market accounts have low or no minimum balance requirements. And if they do have higher balance requirements, the best money market accounts reward you for keeping this balance. The balance requirement doesn’t really matter, as long as it’s within what you plan on keeping in the account so that you earn a maximum APY and don’t incur fees.
In 1971, Bruce R. Bent and Henry B. R. Brown established the first money market fund. It was named the Reserve Fund and was offered to investors who were interested in preserving their cash and earning a small rate of return. Several more funds were shortly set up and the market grew significantly over the next few years. Money market funds are credited with popularizing mutual funds in general, which until that time, were not widely utilized.
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From the outset, money market funds fell under the jurisdiction of the SEC as they appeared to be more like investments (most similar to traditional stocks and bonds) vs. deposits and loans (cash and cash equivalents the domain of the bankers). Although money market funds are quite close to and are often accounted for as cash equivalents their main regulator, the SEC, has zero mandate to control the supply of money, limit the overall extension of credit, mitigate against boom and bust cycles, etc. The SEC’s focus remains on adequate disclosure of risk, and honesty and integrity in financial reporting and trading markets. After adequate disclosure, the SEC adopts a hands off, let the buyer beware attitude.
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