Reserve Funds investors still waiting for their money

This isn't good:

At least 400,000 people, and perhaps as many as a million, can't get access to their savings, a problem that has quietly persisted in spite of widely publicized federal efforts to restore confidence in money-fund investments.

Some of these customers -- who, like most Americans, assumed their money funds were as safe and accessible as bank accounts -- are getting desperate.

"Longer term, I just don't know how we'll deal with it," said John Oakes, a retired engineer in Austin, Tex., who can't tap $20,000 in a Reserve account to pay his mother's nursing home bill. "They say we may get some money this week, but we don't know if we'll get 100 percent, 90 percent or 30 percent."

Sandra and Lawton Dews, a retired couple in North Myrtle Beach, S.C., had more than $250,000 -- 35 percent of their retirement assets --invested in the Reserve US Government Fund.

"They even bragged that you could sleep at night if you invested in their funds," Mrs. Dews said. "In the past month and a half, we don't sleep at all."

Her insomnia began soon after Sept. 15, when the Reserve Fund was hit by a wave of redemptions, apparently because its largest fund had a stake in notes backed by the newly bankrupt Lehman Brothers.

The next day, its $62 billion Primary Fund and two small offshore funds "broke the buck," incurring losses that pushed their per-share price below a dollar.

Only one other money fund, a small bank fund, had ever broken the buck, and the announcement on Sept. 16 sent tremors from Wall Street to Washington. It ultimately played a role in persuading the Treasury to set up a temporary insurance program for money market funds.

And the Reserve Fund had seemed the least likely candidate for trouble, given its long and stable history -- its founder, the legendary Henry B. R. Brown, had invented money market funds.

Initially, the company simply announced that it would delay redemptions from the Primary Fund for up to seven days, as allowed by law. Customers were somewhat reassured, but anyone trying to get additional information was met with busy phone lines and unanswered e-mail.

The news occasionally posted on the fund's Web site got steadily worse. On Sept. 18, investors in a host of other Reserve money funds learned that their money would be tied up for as long as a week; that delay later became open-ended. On Sept. 19, the fund delayed redemptions from both the Primary Fund and the US Government Fund indefinitely.

Since then, investors have been on a roller coaster of broken promises, with the company repeatedly blaming its record-keeping systems for delays.

That sounds kind of suspicious; one can see the record system being overloaded by the volume of redemptins, but for over a month?  Can any of my readers comment?