Margin is one of the most important concepts of Forex trading. However, a lot of people don't understand its significance, or simply misunderstand the term. A Forex margin is basically a good faith deposit that is needed to maintain open positions. A margin is not a fee or a transaction cost, but instead, a portion of your account equity set aside and assigned as a margin deposit.
All currency trading is done in pairs. Unlike the stock market, where you can buy or sell a single stock, you have to buy one currency and sell another currency in the forex market. Next, nearly all currencies are priced out to the fourth decimal point. A pip or percentage in point is the smallest increment of trade. One pip typically equals 1/100 of 1 percent.
Trading on margin is extremely popular among retail Forex traders. It allows you to open a much larger position than your initial trading account would otherwise allow, by allocating only a small portion of your trading account as the margin, or collateral for the trade. Trading on margin also carries certain risks, as both your profits and losses are magnified.
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.
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Margin calls are mechanisms put in place by your Forex broker in order to keep your used margin secure. Remember, your used margin is allocated by your broker as the collateral for funds borrowed from your broker. A margin call happens when your free margin falls to zero, and all you have left in your trading account is your used, or required margin. When this happens, your broker will automatically close all open positions at current market rates.
Not all securities can be bought on margin. Buying on margin is a double-edged sword that can translate into bigger gains or bigger losses. In volatile markets, investors who borrowed from their brokers may need to provide additional cash if the price of a stock drops too much for those who bought on margin or rallies too much for those who shorted a stock. In such cases, brokers are also allowed to liquidate a position, even without informing the investor. Real-time position monitoring is a crucial tool when buying on margin or shorting a stock.
Just like securities, commodities have required initial and maintenance margins. These are typically set by the individual exchanges as a percentage of the current value of a futures contract, based on the volatility and price of the contract. The initial margin requirement for a futures contract is the amount of money you must put up as collateral to open position on the contract. To be able to buy a futures contract, you must meet the initial margin requirement, which means that you must deposit or already have that amount of money in your account.
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For securities, the definition of margin includes three important concepts: the Margin Loan, the Margin Deposit and the Margin Requirement. The Margin Loan is the amount of money that an investor borrows from his broker to buy securities. The Margin Deposit is the amount of equity contributed by the investor toward the purchase of securities in a margin account. The Margin Requirement is the minimum amount that a customer must deposit and it is commonly expressed as a percent of the current market value. The Margin Deposit can be greater than or equal to the Margin Requirement. We can express this as an equation: