What is Margin Trading?

What is Margin Trading?
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Margin trading is a method of trading assets using funds provided by a third party. When compared to regular trading accounts, margin accounts allow traders to access greater sums of capital, allowing them to leverage their positions. Essentially, margin trading amplifies trading results so that traders are able to realize larger profits on successful trades. This ability to expand trading results makes margin trading especially popular in low-volatility markets, particularly the international Forex market. Still, margin trading is also used in stock, commodity, and cryptocurrency markets.

In traditional markets, the borrowed funds are usually provided by an investment broker. In cryptocurrency trading, however, funds are often provided by other traders, who earn interest based on market demand for margin funds. Although less common, some cryptocurrency exchanges also provide margin funds to their users.

How does margin trading work?

When a margin trade is initiated, the trader will be required to commit a percentage of the total order value. This initial investment is known as the margin, and it is closely related to the concept of leverage. In other words, margin trading accounts are used to create leveraged trading, and the leverage describes the ratio of borrowed funds to the margin. For example, to open a $100,000 trade at a leverage of 10:1, a trader would need to commit $10,000 of their capital.

Naturally, different trading platforms and markets offer a distinct set of rules and leverage rates. In the stock market, for example, 2:1 is a typical ratio, while futures contracts are often traded at a 15:1 leverage. In regards to Forex brokerages, margin trades are frequently leveraged at a 50:1 ratio, but 100:1 and 200:1 are also used in some cases. When it comes to cryptocurrency markets, the ratios are typically ranging from 2:1 to 100:1, and the trading community often uses the ‘x’ terminology (2x, 5x, 10x, 50x, and so forth).

Margin trading can be used to open both long and short positions. A long position reflects an assumption that the price of the asset will go up, while a short position reflects the opposite. While the margin position is open, the trader’s assets act as collateral for the borrowed funds. This is critical for traders to understand, as most brokerages reserve the right to force the sale of these assets in case the market moves against their position (above or below a certain threshold).

For instance, if a trader opens a long leveraged position, they could be margin called when the price drops significantly. A margin call occurs when a trader is required to deposit more funds into their margin account in order to reach the minimum margin trading requirements. If the trader fails to do so, their holdings are automatically liquidated to cover their losses. Typically, this occurs when the total value of all of the equities in a margin account, also known as the liquidation margin, drops below the total margin requirements of that particular exchange or broker.

Advantages and disadvantages

The most obvious advantage of margin trading is the fact that it can result in larger profits due to the greater relative value of the trading positions. Other than that, margin trading can be useful for diversification, as traders can open several positions with relatively small amounts of investment capital. Finally, having a margin account may make it easier for traders to open positions quickly without having to shift large sums of money to their accounts.

For all its upsides, margin trading does have the obvious disadvantage of increasing losses in the same way that it can increase gains. Unlike the regular spot trading, margin trading introduces the possibility of losses that exceed a trader's initial investment and, as such, is considered a high-risk trading method. Depending on the amount of leverage involved in a trade, even a small drop in the market price may cause substantial losses for traders. For this reason, it's important that investors who decide to utilize margin trading employ proper risk management strategies and make use of risk mitigation tools, such as stop-limit orders.

Margin trading in cryptocurrency markets

Trading on margin is inherently riskier than regular trading, but when it comes to cryptocurrencies, the risks are even higher. Owing to the high levels of volatility, typical to these markets, cryptocurrency margin traders should be especially careful. While hedging and risk management strategies may come handy, margin trading is certainly not suitable for beginners. 

Being able to analyze charts, identify trends, and determine entry and exit points won't eliminate the risks involved with margin trading, but it may help to better anticipate risks and trade more effectively. So before leveraging their cryptocurrency trades, users are recommended first to develop a keen understanding of technical analysis and to acquire an extensive spot trading experience.

Margin funding

For investors who do not have the risk tolerance to engage in margin trading themselves, there is another way to profit from the leveraged trading methods. Some trading platforms and cryptocurrency exchanges offer a feature known as margin funding, where users can commit their money to fund the margin trades of other users.

Usually, the process follows specific terms and yields dynamic interest rates. If a trader accepts the terms and takes the offer, the funds' provider is entitled to repayment of the loan with the agreed upon interest. Although the mechanisms may differ from exchange to exchange, the risks of providing margin funds are relatively low, owing to the fact that leveraged positions can be forcibly liquidated to prevent excessive losses. Still, margin funding requires users to keep their funds in the exchange wallet. So, it is important to consider the risks involved and to understand how the feature works on their exchange of choice.

Closing thoughts

Certainly, margin trading is a useful tool for those looking to amplify profits of their successful trades. If used properly, the leveraged trading provided by margin accounts can aid in both profitability and portfolio diversification.

As mentioned, however, this method of trading can also amplify losses and involves much higher risks. So, it should only be used by highly skilled traders. As it relates to cryptocurrency, margin trading should be approached even more carefully due to the high levels of market volatility.