The pandemic is putting a nail in the coffin of the most vulnerable municipal money funds, taking away tax-free investment options from some mom-and-pop investors.
In September, Vanguard Group told investors it would shutter New Jersey and Pennsylvania-focused funds. Bank of New York Mellon’s Dreyfus liquidated one state-specific fund last month and in August, Federated Hermes said it would wind four down in February.
These muni money funds invest in the ultrasafe, short-term debt of states and local governments.
In the past six months, assets in tax-exempt money funds shrank nearly 10% to about $130 billion across about 180 funds in August, according to Crane Data. At their height 12 years ago, they held almost four times the amount they do now—and there were more than twice as many.
“The Covid storm revealed these evolutionary changes that had been taking place,” said Patrick Luby, a municipal strategist at research firm CreditSights. “You don’t know your roof has a hole in it until it rains.”
The pandemic accelerated a decline in yields after the Fed pledged to keep rates near zero. The drop in yields is squeezing money fund manager profits, shrinking investor returns and dissuading debt-issuing governments from short-term securities.
“In the current low yield environment, the demand from clients for state-specific municipal funds has decreased significantly,” said Stephanie Pierce, CEO of BNY Mellon Investment Management Cash Investment Strategies.
With fewer state money-market funds, individual investors are left with fewer tax-free ways to invest their cash. A New Jersey resident who uses a Vanguard money fund to avoid state taxes on her short-term investment income, for instance, could opt for a different money manager but her overall pool of choices is shrinking.
From individuals to corporations, many investors use different types of money funds as a safe place to hold