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Posts Tagged ‘municipal money market funds’

IOU? . . . No You Don’t

Posted by Larry Doyle on July 7th, 2009 11:00 AM |

They may make nice bathroom wallpaper, but major banks have no interest in continuing to accept California’s IOUs. The Wall Street Journal highlights this pathetic fiscal folly in writing, Big Banks Don’t Want California’s IOUs.

These IOUs, respectfully designated as warrants, will pay a rate of 3.75% and mature in early October if financial institutions choose not to redeem them. The statement by the major Wall Street banks speaks volumes. What are they saying?

1. They have no confidence in the California legislature to start putting their fiscal house in order.

2. They have no reason to believe Uncle Sam will step in to bailout California as that would open the door for 49 other wayward ‘children’ to march on Washington looking for the same handout.

3. They do not believe the rate of 3.75% properly prices the risk, especially relative to other opportunities to allocate capital.

If these large banks are not willing to accept the IOUs, then why should any individual? I wouldn’t.

Where is this situation headed? I think we can get a strong hint of the direction this situation is headed from an article I posted in the Newsworthy tab here at Sense on Cents. This article from The Washington Post, States Straining to Repair Budgets, highlights that:

The Obama administration has studied several Capitol Hill proposals to help the states but has decided not to move forward on any of them, according to an authoritative government source who spoke on the condition of anonymity because no announcement has been made about the discussions, which were private. One idea was to let struggling local governments borrow at lower rates from the municipal bond market.

Lower rates from the municipal bond market? What? Do you think California would be issuing IOUs if they could tap longer term financing via the municipal bond market? I seriously doubt California could successfully place longer term debt at anything resembling a reasonable rate of interest.

Then just what does the administration mean about “letting struggling local governments borrow from the municipal bond market?”

With short term interest rates on CDs, Treasury bills, and money market funds so excessively low, do not be surprised to see municipalities across the land trying to lure funds via issuing x-Tender securities covered up in municipal money market funds.

For regular readers here at Sense on Cents, you know that I believe these x-Tender securities (municipal auction-rate securities) represent significant risk. Prior to purchasing a municipal money market fund, please review my post entitled “Municipal Money Market Funds: Caveat Emptor.”

LD

Municipal Money Market Funds: Caveat Emptor

Posted by Larry Doyle on June 29th, 2009 6:17 PM |

If and when your money market fund “breaks the buck,” will you be there to collect the change?

I believe it is increasingly likely that money market funds will “break the buck.” The recent SEC statement put forth by SEC Chair Mary Schapiro, which I highlighted in writing “The Buck Is Beginning to Break”, addresses this topic.

In that post, I specifically referenced my concern for municipal money market funds given the recent launch of a municipal version of an Auction-Rate Security, designated as an x-Tender by Wall Street. I walked you through the processing and packaging of this mystery meat in writing, “The Wall Street ‘Sausage Making’ Process.”

Today the Wall Street Journal offers another whiff of the factory and gives us further reason to stay away from municipal money funds specifically. The WSJ writes, Mutual-Fund Giants Give Mixed Reviews to SEC Proposals:

The SEC proposed requiring retail money-market funds to have at least 5% of their assets in cash, U.S. Treasury Securities or securities that are accessible within one day and at least 15% in assets that can be converted to cash within a week. Institutional money-market funds would be required to have at least 10% of assets in instruments that could be converted into cash within one day and at least 30% in securities that could be converted within one week. The rules wouldn’t apply to tax-exempt, municipal money-market funds. (LD’s emphasis)

Why and how is it that newly designed rules for a $3.8 trillion sector of the market can exclude a sector encompassing municipal funds? My antennae went up immediately upon reading that. What is different about municipal money market funds that would exclude them from a set of rules designed to protect investors?

Why doesn’t the WSJ itself pursue this line of questioning in writing the article. How can the industry segregate municipal money market funds?

Municipal finance has been largely dependent on newly defined Build America Bonds which entail an obligation by Uncle Sam. Call me suspicious, but I wonder if the exclusion of  municipal money market funds is due to the hoped for salvation of municipal finance via the municipal auction-rate security, x-Tender, otherwise known as Porky Pig here at Sense on Cents.

I will keep my nose to the ground in an attempt to sniff this out.  Anybody who can help us determine the nature of this stench, please share. In the meantime, stay away from municipal money market funds.

LD

The Wall Street “Sausage-Making” Process

Posted by Larry Doyle on June 20th, 2009 9:01 AM |

Why do pigs need to go through such a curing process before finding their way to market? The innards of a pig are filled with all sorts of waste. In the same vein, the new Wall Street pig, otherwise known as an x-Tender security (but hereby deemed Porky Pig at Sense on Cents), is also filled with similar “junk.” I will try to make this quick, but bring a mask as we navigate the Wall Street sausage factory.

Please recall from my post yesterday, “An Auction-Rate Pig by Any Other Name Is Still a Pig”, that this ‘new’ Wall Street product is merely a revised version of THE LARGEST fraud perpetrated in the history of finance. This “pig” allows municipalities to address long-term funding needs via the short term debt market. The arbitrage involved in that process is akin to slaughtering the pig and making sausage.

Given the stench surrounding this product, take a deep breath as we tip-toe through the pigsty and move into the sausage factory. The Wall Street Journal can serve as our tour guide as it writes, Belt-Tightening by States Squeezes Cities and Towns. Let me connect the dots.

As this article highlights, municipalities across our country are increasingly financially strapped by a combination of decreasing tax revenues and lessened state funding. Regrettably, these municipalities are forced to cut expenses via a reduction in services and layoffs. Additionally, it is only logical to expect that municipalities will increase taxes to bridge their financial gap.

Add it all up, though, and it is very clear that an overwhelming number of municipalities in our nation are not as creditworthy today as a year or two ago. When credit ratings decline, borrowing costs go up. Those increased borrowing costs further squeeze the municipalities. What to do? Let’s enter the sausage factory.

With the blessing of the SEC, and the wizardry of financial engineers on Wall Street, municipalities can address long-term funding needs by borrowing money via the short-term market with a ‘promise’ to repay the funds if the short-term market shuts down. These municipal deals, much like sausage, are packaged and distributed via money market funds that incorporate a variety of short term deals. As such, the poorer credit quality of the municipality is “processed” and sold without investors fully appreciating the contents of the money market fund.

This works, right? The municipality receives the badly needed funds and the Wall Street banks earn their fees. Meanwhile, investors – who by nature move in and out of money market funds expecting them never to “break the buck” (meaning the funds will always maintain a $1.00 net asset value) – are kept in the dark.

Investors should appreciate that money market funds will likely “break the buck” going forward. All one needs to do is review the fiasco involved with the longstanding money market fund, The Reserve Fund.  Investors in that money market fund are now involved in a protracted legal dispute and the value of the fund is truly a great unknown. What happened? The fund took increased credit risk in a variety of products. Investors were clueless of these credit risks.

The same “sausage-making” is going on with this new x-Tender product. I exhort every investor to “check the contents” and ask the “butcher”, that being your broker or financial planner, as to what is going into that money market fund before you buy it.

LD






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