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US prime money fund assets consolidate post-reform, says Fitch

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Vanguard and Charles Schwab are set to exert greater influence as prime money fund investors after significant market share gains following the introduction of money market fund reforms, says Fitch Ratings.

The two fund managers are likely to have greater say on market access and issuer terms among prime money fund managers, although the balance of power in the short-term markets overall has shifted away from prime money funds.
 
As of end-October, Vanguard and Charles Schwab controlled 31 per cent and 16 per cent of prime money fund assets respectively, up from 11 per cent and 5 per cent a year earlier according to data from Crane. More than USD1 trillion left prime money market funds – mostly into government funds – in the lead-up to the introduction of new SEC rules on 14 October.
 
Vanguard and Schwab's funds saw substantially less outflows than peers during this period. Other top 20 managers lost an average of 86 per cent of prime assets to outflows, conversions or sales in the year leading up to end-October while Vanguard and Schwab saw declines of only 18 per cent and 10 per cent, respectively. Vanguard and Schwab's relative stability is likely due to their mostly retail client base and distribution models.
 
Notably, retail prime funds were exempt from one a key reform that required institutional funds to maintain a floating net asset value, and retail investors are generally less focused on the new prime fund liquidity rules that led institutional investors to leave these funds.
 
The combination of the overall contraction in the prime fund market with Vanguard and Schwab retaining the majority of their assets has led to substantially greater concentration in the sector. The top four managers – Vanguard, Schwab, Fidelity and BlackRock – now control 72 per cent of prime assets versus only 49 per cent pre-reform for the top four.
 
Fitch believes that there will be winners and losers as the balance of power in short-term markets moves away from prime money funds to investors such as short-term bond funds, separate accounts, and corporates.
 
Vanguard and Schwab fared the best among managers of prime money funds, with close to 50 per cent market share. The two market leaders will be in a stronger position to influence terms and market access for short-term debt issuers like banks, corporates, and asset-backed commercial paper conduits that remain reliant on funding from money market funds.
 
However, the shift may reverse later on if assets come back to other prime funds and rebalance the market, Fitch says.

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