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Money Market Fund Reform

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) yesterday adopted a series of amendments to the rules that govern money market funds.  The most controversial of these amendments will require institutional prime and tax-exempt money market funds to maintain a floating net asset value (NAV) and will allow the boards of institutional and retail prime and tax-exempt money market funds to impose liquidity fees and to suspend redemptions temporarily if the funds’ weekly liquid assets fall below a certain threshold.  Funds will have two years to comply with these amendments.

Retail and government funds will be not subject to the floating NAV requirement.  A retail fund is defined as a fund that has policies and procedures reasonably designed to limit all beneficial owners to natural persons.  A government fund is defined as a fund that invests 99.5% of its assets in cash and government securities.  Floating NAVs will be rounded to the fourth decimal place.  In conjunction with the SEC amendments, the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service proposed rules providing a simplified tax accounting method to track gains and losses on floating NAV money market funds and providing relief from the wash sale rules.

If a money market fund’s weekly liquid assets fall below 30% of its total assets, a fund board would be permitted to impose a liquidity fee of up to 2% on redemptions and to suspend redemptions (impose a “gate”) for up to 10 business days.  If the liquid assets fall below 10%, the fund would be required to impose a liquidity fee of 1%, unless the fund board determines that a lower or higher fee (ranging from no fee to a 2% fee) would be in the best interest of the fund.  Government funds would not be subject to these requirements, but could voluntarily opt into them if previously disclosed to investors.

Concern has been expressed that the floating NAV requirement will impose new costs on money market funds, prompt institutional investors to shift cash to government funds, bank deposits and unregulated funds, and impair the short-term funding of businesses and governments.  Concern has also been expressed that the liquidity fee and gate requirements will trigger runs.

The SEC at the same time adopted less controversial amendments to the diversification, disclosure and stress testing requirements for money market funds, as well as to the reporting requirements for money market funds and for private funds that operate like money market funds.  In addition, it reproposed amendments to remove references to credit ratings in the rules and forms relating to money market funds.