Two of the most popular sessions at our 2016 Money Fund Symposium in Philadelphia last week were "Major Money Fund Issues 2016" and "Senior Portfolio Manager Perspectives," which featured some of the leading authorities from some of the largest players in the money fund industry. During the first session, panelists were asked about the questions they're getting most frequently of late. Fitch Ratings' Ian Rasmussen replied, "The questions usually fall within 3 main categories: They want to know about liquidity, they want to know about asset flows, and they want to know about yield." Indeed, these three topics dominated not just the conversations in these sessions, but the entire conference. (Note: Next year's Money Fund Symposium is scheduled for June 21-23 in Atlanta. Mark your calendars and watch for details late this fall. Also, see our "Money Fund Symposium 2016 Download Center" page for recordings and Powerpoints from the show.)

In the "Major Issues" session, Crane Data's Peter Crane asked, "How much is going to flow out of Prime?" Federated Investors' Deborah Cunningham said that, to date, there hasn't been a lot of movement by investors -- but she expects that to pick up over the next few months. She explained, "As we flipped the calendar into June we started to see some customers start to take action -- not many, but a few. We saw a few customers choose to leave prime and go into Govies. Government funds are actually picking up a lot of assets that are not necessarily coming from our prime funds, or others' Prime funds. I think they are coming from other market vehicles that are no longer as attractive or no longer open to them in the form they were before.... I would expect that in July we'll see a little pick up, then a lull in August, and then September [is] where everybody is making sure they're positioned properly."

Cunningham added, "Customers want to see what other customers are doing, and there is some herd mentality, if you will, to this industry. I think that will, to some degree, at least initially, solidify in people's mind where they want to be on October 14. It doesn't necessarily solidify where they want to be on October 17. `But on October 14 when the change occurs, they often want to be with others that are similar to themselves."

Panelist John Donohue of JP Morgan Asset Management concurs with the estimates floated by others that between $400 and $500 billion will move out of Prime by reform implementation. He stated, "But as long as we get through day one, the real thing is what happens on days 2, 3, and beyond. The opportunity for us is to work with them [clients] to segment their cash ... do an asset allocation around that liquidity, and hopefully they can decide what levers they want to pull to put the cash across a full spectrum of liquidity type solutions -- everything from a Govie fund to a Short Duration bond fund."

Regarding flows into Government funds, Cunningham said, "There are 4 main categories of Government funds -- Treasury only, Treasury with Repo, Government only, and Government with Repo. The Government with repo product is the one that's gaining the most." She also said it helps to have some yield now in Government funds, after having been near zero or 1 basis point for so long. "No more zero. That happened pretty much immediately with Fed lift off."

As for the trend of sweep funds going Government, she said it's an easy choice right now because Government funds have no fees and gates and they are actually earning a little yield. "But if we start to see spreads between Prime and Govie -- now about 20 basis points -- go to 30, 40, 50 basis points, there will be some solutions to figure out how to deal with the gates and fees side of that equation for even the sweep options."

On the yield differential between Prime and Government funds, Donohue explained, "The conundrum right now is, we keep talking about that yield differential between Prime and Govie being more attractive than ever at between 20-40 basis points. But over the next couple of months, that yield is going to compress. If you look at maturity profiles right now, all of the large players have anywhere from 95-100% of their fund maturing at the end of September in anticipation of large outflows. And given that the Fed is in the market giving a natural floor on Govie funds, that spread is going to collapse right on top of each other."

He added, "Some clients are going to look at that yield differential and say, 'Let me take a wait and see approach and just go into Govie <b:>`_.' So, we're going to spend a lot of time working with clients, telling them, 'If you're comfortable in Prime, stay in it, because that yield differential is going to snap back very quickly.' But that's the risk to the overall industry and the challenge we're all going to be facing."

That led to a discussion of liquidity. Said Cunningham, "For our institutional Prime funds, weekly liquid assets at this point are about 50%, and our WAMs are 35 days or less depending on the products." Rasmussen said that is on par with the trends across the industry. (Note: Our MFI Daily currently shows Prime Inst MMFs with 49.4% in WLA, or weekly liquid assets.) Added Rasmussen, "What we're concerned about are the outliers. There are certain funds that aren't building the same type of liquidity that we have seen across the industry.... Investors want to see a higher cushion." Donohue added, "Everyone is going to err on the side of having more than enough liquidity to meet even their worst case redemption analysis."

Donohue discussed the two major elements of the October reforms: fees & gates, and the floating NAV. "The gates and fees are something clients are very concerned about. It's important for everyone to educate our clients, our collective client base, on what that actually means. I believe there's a very little probability of that, but when and if it does happen, maybe it's not the worst thing that could happen. If there were gates and fees back in 2008, maybe Reserve would have survived it, and we wouldn't all be here right now."

On FNAVs, he added, "Once clients get comfortable with the FNAV concept, I personally believe they are going to look at the Ultra-Short bond fund space." Donohue continued, "If you accept the floating NAV, you go a step out of money market funds, and maybe the NAV is a little more volatile, but still very low, and you get a very attractive return, historically, versus what you have gotten. And prime funds are going to hold a ton of liquidity, so that will cause yields to not be as high as they otherwise may be. This is why I think the Ultra-Short space is the opportunity coming out of reform."

Many of the same themes were explored in the "Senior Portfolio Manager" session, moderated by Barclays' Stewart Cutler and featuring Kevin Gaffney of Fidelity Investments; Laurie Brignac of Invesco; and Peter Yi of Northern Trust Asset Management. Cutler began the conversation with the overarching trend in the industry the past two years. "Since the beginning of 2015, Prime portfolios, which had been a little over $1.4 trillion, have slid down towards about $1.1 trillion and Government funds have increased from approximately $1 trillion to $1.4 trillion."

As the reform deadline approaches, panelists discussed how they are positioning their portfolios for the likelihood of Prime outflows. All three said they were being cautious and conservative with their Prime funds, bringing in their durations, shortening WAMs, shortening WALs, and running higher weekly liquid assets. Brignac said the WLA of her funds is in the mid-40% range, which is on par with the industry average for institutional prime funds." Later in the session, Brignac said she expects those weekly liquid asset averages to go even higher. "I would think it would be closer to 60% to 70% in September."

An audience member asked, "If WLA is at 70% in September, what does that mean for the yield differential?" Answered Yi, "That's the predicament we're in. We're going to be part of this unilateral liquidity in these next few months, and it's going to destroy where yields potentially could be. We, like many in this room, believe there will be a meaningful spread between credit strategy and Government strategy. But the next 3 months, it's going to be hard to see."

Fidelity's Gaffney was asked about communicating with clients. "They know the deadline is in October, and they know they have until then to make a decision. One of the reasons why it's difficult to pin down the number of how much is going to be moving out of institutional Prime is a lot of these institutional investors have not made that decision yet. They are still thinking about their alternatives: What other options are out there? What the funds are going to look like in October? [And, what will be] the spreads between Prime and Government funds? So there are a lot of variables to think about."

On the floating NAV, Yi said, "I don't think a variable NAV is going to move very often -- when it does, it's going to be pretty small. Interest rate movements, movements from the Fed, getting caught off-sides from the Fed. You'll see some movement in the NAV, but we don't think it's going to be meaningful. Now, if there's a credit event -- an impaired asset, a distressed asset, that’s where you're going to see movements that are meaningful -- even in a constant NAV. We need to step a step back sometimes and say, 'What are the big factors that are going to move an NAV?' ... It always ends up being a credit event."

On new product launches, Brignac said one of the outcomes of reforms is that it has "changed the cash discussion that we're having with clients. We're talking about bucketing different types of cash, what is the right vehicle -- and it's going to be different for different clients. The panel yesterday was talking about ultra-short bond funds, and this is a strategy that's gaining a lot of traction and a lot of attention. Initially, a lot of clients will hit that 'easy' button and probably just move into Government funds. But I think we'll see a lot more pickup in some of these other products going into next year."

Finally, Yi added, "Ultra-Short is the real opportunity here. We have the full product suite within the money market fund space. But outside of that, we think there will be a lot of new flavors, depending on where there is investor need. We have an ultra-short fixed income business that's really been growing exponentially in this low interest rate environment... It's a great opportunity to talk about cash segmentation strategies, and we think that's resonated very well."

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