WASHINGTON — The Federal Reserve said late Wednesday night that it would offer emergency loans to money market mutual funds, its latest in a series of steps to keep the financial system functioning and prop up the economy as it spirals toward recession during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Fed said in a release that it would establish a so-called Money Market Mutual Fund Liquidity Facility, which would be backed by $10 billion from the Treasury Department. That program joins a similar lending one for banks, established this week.
The Fed is trying to protect the financial system and insulate the broader economy, for which short-term pain could turn into long-term suffering if credit crunches prevent companies from getting the cash they need to function, forcing them to lay off workers, delay payments to vendors and shutter plants.
Companies and investors are already seeing the chilling effects on economic activity from the virus, as well as from the government mandates that have tried to slow its spread. Sectors like tourism, travel, retail and dining have shut down or slowed significantly in large patches of the country, forcing Congress and the Trump administration to contemplate aid to workers and bailouts for businesses on an unprecedented scale.
Money market mutual funds are the vehicles that millions of Americans use to save money that can be readily tapped. Their total value is about $3.8 trillion, according to the latest data from the Investment Company Institute.
With its move late Wednesday, the Fed was trying to prevent a recurrence of events that happened in September 2008, when a major money market fund, the Reserve Primary Fund, suffered huge losses on short-term Lehman Brothers debt and “broke the buck,” meaning its value fell below the customary $1 per share.
That event, shortly after Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy protection, accelerated the freeze-up of credit across the economy and deepened the financial crisis.
This week, the Fed reintroduced a program to support the commercial paper market, short-term debt that large companies use to finance their operations. The support for money markets is the flip side of that program; money market funds invest in commercial paper.
That program is intended to ensure companies can keep getting the dollars they need to operate, while the new program is focused on ensuring investors in money market funds can be confident their money is safe.
It is the latest in a series of steps that amount to recreating the Fed’s response to the 2008 global financial crisis. The central bank has, since Sunday, also moved its main interest rate target to near-zero, reopened a program of buying vast sums of bonds and encouraged banks to use emergency loans.