The national credit crunch is starting to hit Silicon Valley start-ups. We’ve heard that venture-backed companies with Comerica money market accounts have had their accounts frozen, and when we asked Comerica spokesperson Sara Snyder, she didn’t deny it.
Snyder didn’t explicitly confirm anything either, but pointed to this New York Times article about problems in the auction-rate note market (where Comerica has invested its money market accounts) and said, “At Comerica, we are working with customers on a case-by-case basis to assist them with their liquidity needs.”
[Update: Snyder has sent us a statement from Comerica Securities President Ross Rogers with more clarification. Looks like what we initially heard was wrong — startups with Comerica are affected, but not through their money market accounts, just direct investments in auction rate securities.]
Venture Wire is reporting on an informal survey of 60 venture-backed start-ups that found that 20 percent of them had money in auction-rate notes.
Those notes, according to the New York Times, make up a $330 billion market that recently came to a virtual standstill. They represent debt from city governments and other tax-exempt organizations, and the rates are reset at auctions every week.
In mid-February, the demand for those notes completely dried up. In an account of his own problems with auction-rate notes, VC Fred Wilson says the trouble can be traced back to the subprime mortgage crisis, which is hurting the bond insurers who usually improve the credit quality and ratings of the notes.
It’s already widely known that the bursting of the subprime bubble is ravaging Wall Street (see, for example, this piece about problems in the buyout industry), but this is one of the first times we’ve seen the direct harm to start-ups.
Snyder said that for privacy reasons, she couldn’t give us any details about the specific companies affected.
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