Forex margin is a good faith deposit that a trader puts up as collateral to initiate a trade. Essentially, it is the minimum amount that a trader needs in the trading account to open a new position. This is usually communicated as a percentage of the notional value (trade size) of the forex trade. The difference between the deposit and the full value of the trade is “borrowed” from the broker.
The "philosophy" of the forex trading system, as with the rest of the QuantStart site, is to try and mimic real-life trading as much as possible in our backtesting. This means including the details that are often excluded from more "research oriented" backtesting situations. Latency, server outages, automation, monitoring, realistic transaction costs will all be included within the models to give us a good idea of how well a strategy is likely to perform.
Brokers use margin levels in an attempt to detect whether FX traders can take any new positions or not. Different brokers have varying limits for the margin level, but most will set this limit at 100%. This limit is called a margin call level. Technically, a 100% margin call level means that when your account margin level reaches 100%, you can still close your positions, but you cannot take any new positions.
Margins are a hotly debated topic. Some traders argue that too much margin is very dangerous, however it all depends on trading style and the amount of trading experience one has. If you are going to trade on a margin account, it is important that you know what your broker's policies are on margin accounts, and that you fully understand and are comfortable with the risks involved. Be careful to avoid a Forex margin call.
Once an investor has started buying a stock on margin, the NYSE and FINRA require that a minimum amount of equity be maintained in the investor's margin account. These rules require investors to have at least 25% of the total market value of the securities they own in their margin account. This is called the maintenance margin. For market participants identified as pattern day traders, the maintenance margin requirement is a minimum of $25,000 (or 25% of the total market value of the securities, whichever is higher).
Imagine that you have $10,000 on your account account, and you have a losing position with a margin evaluated at $1,000. If your position goes against you, and it goes to a $9,000 loss, the equity will be $1,000 (i.e $10,000 - $9,000), which equals the margin. Thus, the margin level will be 100%. Again, if the margin level reaches the rate of 100%, you can't take any new positions, unless the market suddenly turns around and your equity level turns out to be greater than the margin.
Risk Management - Many "research" backtests completely ignore risk management. Unfortunately this is generally necessary for brevity in describing the rules of a strategy. In reality we -must- use a risk overlay when trading, otherwise it is extremely likely that we will suffer a substantial loss at some stage. This is not to say that risk management can prevent this entirely, but it certainly makes it less likely!
Multiple Currency Pairs - Similarly we need to support the major currency pairs beyond "Cable" (GBP/USD). There are two aspects to this. The first is to correctly handle the calculations when neither the base or quote of a currency pair is equal to the account denomination currency. The second aspect is to support multiple positions so that we can trade a portfolio of currency pairs.