An urgent call reached Ronald O’Hanley, State Street Corp.’s chief executive, as he sat in his office in downtown Boston. It was 8 a.m. on Monday, March 16.

A senior deputy told him corporate treasurers and pension managers, panicked by the growing economic damage from the Covid-19 pandemic, were pulling billions of dollars from certain money-market funds. This was forcing the funds to try to sell some of the bonds they held.

But…

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