What Is It?
The money market deals in fixed-income securities, not unlike the bond market. The major difference is that the money market deals in short-term debt and monetary instruments. In other words, money market instruments are forms of debt that mature in less than one year and are very liquid.

That sounds simple enough, so why don't more brokers offer you the ability to buy money market securities? The reason is that money market securities trade in very high denominations, giving the average investor limited access to them. The easiest way for retail investors to gain access is through money market mutual funds or a money market bank account. These accounts and funds pool together the assets of thousands of investors to buy money market securities.

Some investors also purchase Treasury bills (T-bills) and other money market instruments directly from Federal Reserve Banks or through other large financial institutions with direct access to these markets. There are several different instruments in the money market: certificates of deposit, T-bills, commercial paper, banker's acceptances and more.

Objectives and Risks
Institutional investors have used the money market as a safe haven for quite some time. The emergence of money market mutual funds has allowed individual investors to take part in the money market's rates of return, which are higher than those of a savings account or other low-risk investments. The performance of a money market fund depends heavily on the interest rate situation; the best time to put your money in money market funds is when interest rates are peaking.

Money market funds are low-risk investments because they invest in short-term government treasuries such as T-bills and in highly regarded corporations. The one downside of money market funds is that they are not covered by the same federal securities insurance that covers bank accounts, although some funds pursue insurance through private companies.

How To Buy or Sell It

Today, money market funds can be purchased through just about any bank or broker. If you are looking to invest directly in the money market, then you may need to get a full-service brokerage, although you can sometimes buy directly from the government. Minimum investment in a money market fund is usually around $500-$1,000, while investing directly in the money market can cost you anywhere from $1,000-$10,000 to start. (For an in-depth look at the money market, see our Money Market Tutorial.)



Strengths
  • Gains on money market funds are usually tax exempt because they invest mainly in government securities. However, any dividends are taxable.
  • Because they are a good low-risk investment, money market funds are widely used defensive investments when the stock markets are declining.

  • Weaknesses
  • Although returns on a money market fund are higher than those on a savings account, they are still much lower than returns on equities or bonds.
  • Some money market securities are very costly (easily in the $100,000 range), which makes it difficult for individual investors to purchase them.

  • Three Main Uses
  • Income Protection
  • Capital Appreciation
  • Tax-Exempt Savings

  • Next: 20 Investments: Mortgage-Backed Securities »



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