Both Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Mary Schapiro and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke have warned in recent days that money market funds remain vulnerable to runs. That is unquestionably true, and if a run occurs, U.S. taxpayers will bear the costs of bailing them out. Should taxpayers continue to subsidize the money market mutual fund (MMMF) industry?
The run on U.S. MMMFs in September 2008 was a critical moment in the financial crisis. It underscored the extent to which these funds, an important part of the shadow banking system, created systemic risk that indirectly threatened the financing of even the healthiest U.S. firms. To end the run, the U.S. Government guaranteed MMMF liabilities, sustaining the funds’ promise to pay $1 for every share.
That guarantee stopped the run, but it also created enormous moral hazard. Were a similar threat to arise today, we can safely assume that taxpayers would remain on the hook to rescue the MMMFs. This uncompensated, rainy-day backstop constitutes a subsidy to the MMMF industry — and to its investors and borrowers.
No wonder, then, that representatives of these groups loudly oppose regulatory efforts to counter the systemic threat that still emanates from the MMMF business model. The SEC (which is the industry’s regulator) reportedly is considering the introduction of capital requirements, constraints on fund convertibility and — most important — replacement of the $1-per-share valuation commitment with a floating net asset value (NAV).
From the point of view of taxpayers, policy action to address the systemic threat is long overdue. Aside from the government-sponsored enterprises, the most glaring omission in the Dodd-Frank financial reform was the failure to address critical short-term markets such as those for money funds and repurchase agreements.