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Money-Market Fund Flight From French Banks Reverses in January

U.S. money-market funds more than doubled their short-term loans to French banks in January, ending six months during which they reduced funding.

The funds owned $8.6 billion of French bank certificates of deposit, time deposits, commercial paper and repurchase agreements on Jan. 31, up from $3.2 billion in December, according to reports from the eight largest prime U.S. funds compiled and published in today’s Bloomberg Risk newsletter. At the end of 2010, the equivalent figure was $78 billion.

French banks have had to increase their deposit base to secure funding after the sovereign-debt crisis spread last year, spurring concern about the solvency of European financial institutions. The revival of U.S. money fund investing followed the European Central Bank’s decision to provide three-year funding for banks in December, allaying some of those concerns.

“There definitely was a shift in sentiment around the second week in January,” said Deborah Cunningham, head of money market funds for Pittsburgh-based Federated Investors Inc. The ECB’s loans and a reversal of “year-end window dressing” in December played the biggest role, she said.

Federated manages $245 billion in U.S.-registered money funds, according to research firm Crane Data LLC.

Societe Generale

The largest beneficiary among the French banks was Societe Generale SA, which increased funding more than 10-fold to $3.4 billion in January. BNP Paribas SA and Credit Agricole SA attracted 50 percent and 43 percent more funding from the U.S. money markets, according to a Bloomberg survey.

Officials for all three banks declined to comment.

The funds cut investments in Swedish and Japanese banks, each of which suffered a $9.7 billion reduction over the month. Swiss banks had 5 percent less funding, though banks from all three countries have retained their haven appeal, with money-market funding surpassing 2010 levels.

The ECB provided 489 billion euros ($651 billion) to European banks through a three-year refinancing operation in December and plans to offer a further series of loans at the end of February.

The survey included the eight largest prime money-market funds: Fidelity Cash Reserves, JPMorgan Prime Money Market Fund, Vanguard Prime Money Market Fund, Fidelity Institutional Prime Money Market Portfolio, BlackRock TempFund, Wells Fargo Advantage Heritage Money Markets Fund and Federated Prime Obligations Fund. Together, they manage $597 billion.

‘More Confidence’

“There are thousands of banks across Europe and we only invest in a small number that we believe to be among the strongest institutions representing minimal risk,” Adam Banker, a spokesman for Fidelity Investments, said in an e-mail.

John Woerth, a spokesman for Vanguard Group Inc., said the firm’s money funds don’t own any French bank debt. Officials for JPMorgan and BlackRock declined to comment. A spokesmen for Wells Fargo didn’t respond to a request for comment.

ECB lending “gave market participants a lot more confidence that liquidity was in that marketplace,” said Cunningham at Federated.

Cunningham said higher short-term interest rates and slightly better economic data also helped encourage money funds to lend more to banks in France and other European countries where they had previously pulled back. Annualized rates for overnight lending to European banks were about 0.18 percent to 0.23 percent in mid-January after dropping to as low as 0.01 just before the end of 2011, Cunningham said.

The lending figures include repurchase agreements, which are backed by collateral such as government debt. Collateral-based repo investments make up a larger part of European overall funding, showing that counterparty risk remains a concern for the funds.

European repo deals amounted to $42.8 billion in January, making up 28 percent of European bank securities held at the funds, up from 21 percent in 2010. French bank repo funding was also 28 percent of the total in January, compared with 6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2010.

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