When the Reserve Primary money fund broke the buck in 2008 following Lehman's collapse, it was a watershed, signaling that treasurers should look more closely at the holdings of their money funds. "Normally, we'd do a monthly review of our well-diversified money market holdings with our CFO," says Matthew Post, treasury manager at Qualcomm, the San Diego-based wireless chip manufacturer, which did not invest in the Reserve Primary fund. But with markets imploding, Post says, "It became almost a daily request: 'What are our exposures? What should we be worried about?'"
To answer those questions, Post and his colleagues began the very manual process of gathering data from Qualcomm's money fund providers regarding their holdings. It wasn't easy. Managers of funds were often reluctant to furnish the data needed to determine Qualcomm's exposures.
New questions about money fund holdings continue to pop up; most recently, European debt worries raised concerns about funds' holdings of Spanish and Italian bank debt. But technology offerings from Institutional Cash Distributors (ICD), a money fund portal, and BNY Mellon, the global custodian and asset manager, go a long way toward providing the transparency--and timeliness--finance departments need.
Transparency Plus, available free of charge to companies that invest through ICD's money market portal, provides data on the positions and counterparty exposure of funds from 35 fund families. The application lets treasurers take a snapshot of almost 95% of the funds on the platform and run "what-if scenarios." More importantly, fund holdings are updated twice a month. For Qualcomm, an ICD customer, "that's been a game-changer," says Post. "When we first started getting the data, we'd be getting data on holdings from July--and it was September or October!"
BNY Mellon's Transparency Report is available on Liquidity Direct, its portal for institutional investors. The report lets investors see what's inside the funds. It's currently available for 10 large money funds, but BNY Mellon plans to expand it to all of the funds on the portal. Each month, funds send a file with their holdings to the bank, which scrubs the information and puts it into a form in which clients can pose queries.
Data on money funds are notoriously murky, requiring lots of cleaning before they can be aggregated, says Lance Pan of Capital Advisors Group, but the offerings from ICD and BNY Mellon are an important advance. "Since Lehman, funds have gotten the message," Pan says. "They have to release their holdings, or else see their assets dwindle."