Margin Abuse, Margin Miscalculation and Excessive Margin – South Florida FINRA Arbitration and Litigation Attorney:
“Margin” is borrowing money from your broker to buy a stock and using your investment as collateral. Investors generally use margin to increase their purchasing power so that they can own more stock without fully paying for it. But margin exposes investors to the potential for higher losses. Consequently, the use of margin is not appropriate for all investors, especially the unsophisticated or those who are risk adverse.
The Federal Reserve Board and many self-regulatory organizations (SROs), such as the NYSE and FINRA, have rules that govern margin trading. Brokerage firms can establish their own requirements as long as they are at least as restrictive as the Federal Reserve Board and SRO rules. Here are some of the key rules you should know:
Before You Trade – Minimum Margin:
Before trading on margin, FINRA, for example, requires you to deposit with your brokerage firm a minimum of $2,000 or 100 percent of the purchase price, whichever is less. This is known as the “minimum margin.” Some firms may require you to deposit more than $2,000. Therefore, it is important, before establishing a margin account with your broker/dealer, that you read and understand the margin agreement.
Amount You Can Borrow – Initial Margin:
According to Regulation T of the Federal Reserve Board, you may borrow up to 50 percent of the purchase price of securities that can be purchased on margin. This is known as the “initial margin.” Some firms require you to deposit more than 50 percent of the purchase price. Also be aware that not all securities can be purchased on margin.
Amount You Need After You Trade – Maintenance Margin:
After you buy stock on margin, FINRA requires you to keep a minimum amount of equity in your margin account. The equity in your account is the value of your securities less how much you owe to your brokerage firm. The rules require you to have at least 25 percent of the total market value of the securities in your margin account at all times. The 25 percent is called the “maintenance requirement.” In fact, many brokerage firms have higher maintenance requirements, typically between 30 to 40 percent, and sometimes higher depending on the type of stock purchased.
Here’s an example of how maintenance requirements work. Let’s say you purchase $16,000 worth of securities by borrowing $8,000 from your firm and paying $8,000 in cash or securities. If the market value of the securities drops to $12,000, the equity in your account will fall to $4,000 ($12,000 – $8,000 = $4,000). If your firm has a 25 percent maintenance requirement, you must have $3,000 in equity in your account (25 percent of $12,000 = $3,000). In this case, you do have enough equity because the $4,000 in equity in your account is greater than the $3,000 maintenance requirement.
But if your firm has a maintenance requirement of 40 percent, you would not have enough equity. The firm would require you to have $4,800 in equity (40 percent of $12,000 = $4,800). Your $4,000 in equity is less than the firm’s $4,800 maintenance requirement. As a result, the firm may issue you a “margin call,” since the equity in your account has fallen $800 below the firm’s maintenance requirement.
Please keep in mind that the above information is being provided for educational purposes only. It is not designed to be complete in all material respects. Thus, it should not be relied upon as legal or investment advice. If you have any questions concerning the contents of this post, you should consult a qualified professional.
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