Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Risk Free

Look out.

The uncertainty among money market fund investors centers on what would happen if the SIVs couldn't repay their debts because their assets lost value. Some money market fund investors are, in turn, worried about losing money.

But that's unlikely, says Bruce Bent, who invented the money market fund in 1970. His firm, The Reserve, has about $83 billion in assets and doesn't hold investments in SIVs.

"In the history of the money funds, you've had a number of situations where the management companies have bailed out the funds," he said.

He thinks it's unlikely the companies running money market funds would allow them to "break the buck," as it's known in Wall Street parlance even if the funds lost money on SIV-related investments. The draw of money market funds, of course, is that an investor putting in $1 get $1 back plus interest. If a fund were to, say, give back only 90 cents for every dollar, investors would be outraged.

Still, it's important to remember that money market funds, though considered safe investments, aren't FDIC insured.


Some money market funds got involved in SIVs by lending them money. Now, though, as it has become more difficult for the SIV wheel to keep spinning some money market fund managers have grown concerned that SIVs are less likely to repay the money they borrowed.

John Atkins, a corporate bond analyst at IDEAglobal, thinks the market's pain could be widespread, though he cautions no one can know far the losses will spread or whether they will extend to money market funds.