Mastering CFDs

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CFD leverage and margin

6-minute read

Leverage is a key feature of contract for difference (CFD) trading – enabling you to open positions by paying a fraction of their full value, known as your margin. Let’s take a look at how leverage works in CFDs.

What is leverage in CFD trading

In CFD trading, leverage is the ability to trade without paying for the full value of your position upfront. Instead, you only have to pay a deposit called your margin.

While leverage is a powerful benefit, it will also increase your risk. So, before you start trading on margin, it’s a good idea to learn how it works – and how to manage risk using stop losses.

How leverage works in CFDs

Leverage works in CFDs because you never own the asset you’re buying and selling. You’re only speculating on price movements, which means you don’t have to pay for the full value of your chosen asset outright.

Say, for example, that you want to trade 10 US 500 CFDs when the S&P 500 is at 4500. The full value of your position is (10 * 4500) $45,000, but you won’t need that much in your account to execute your trade. You’ll just need to put down your margin.

Your profit or loss, though, will still be based on the full $45,000. You’ll make $10 for every point that the S&P moves up, and lose $10 for every point it moves down.

Benefits of leverage

Trading on leverage means you can gain the same amount of market exposure by depositing just a small fraction of the total value of your trade. This can be useful to CFD traders because it means that they can put their money to use elsewhere.

In our example above, you might only have to pay 5% of $45,000, or $2250, to open your position. That frees up the remaining $42,750.

Another key benefit of leverage is that it helps magnify your returns, which is great news if the market moves in the direction that you expect. However, this comes with the downside that leverage will also magnify your losses – in exactly the same way as your gains.

There is the potential to lose part and more of your investment if you do not manage your risk efficiently. Remember, with leveraged trading your capital is at risk.

CFD leverage example: stock trading vs CFDs

To see how leveraged CFDs work in practice, let’s take a look at an example.

You want to trade 1000 shares in company XYZ, which has a current stock price of $25. You could invest in XYZ using a stock broker, or you could buy 100 XYZ CFDs.

Either way, the total size of your position would be (25 * 100) $2500.

Graphic showing CFD leverage example

XYZ’s margin requirement is 30%. So by using CFDs, you only have to deposit $750 to execute your trade.

By trading on leverage, you’ve freed up additional funds to use elsewhere.

How leverage can magnify profits

Company XYZ’s stock price rallies after strong earnings, increasing to $26 – so you decide to close out your trade.

With both a traditional stock broker and CFD trading, you would have made a return of (26-25 * 1000) $100. However, the return on your CFD would be 13.3%, compared to just 4% on your investment.

Why? Because you only deposited $750 to open the CFD position.

Graphic showing example of how leverage magnifies profits 

How leverage can magnify losses

That’s how leverage works with a profitable position – but the same will apply if you close out at a loss.

Suppose your trade on XYZ was unsuccessful and you decide to close with a $100 loss. In this scenario, the return on your CFD deposit would be -13.3%, because you’ve lost $100 when you deposited $750.

The return on your stock trade, meanwhile, would be -4%. Using leverage has magnified your losses.

Graphic showing example of how leverage magnifies losses 

What is CFD margin

CFD margin is the deposit that you’ll need to have in your account to trade a contract for difference. You’ll also see it referred to as a market’s margin factor or margin requirement.

Margin factors vary across markets, and are usually given as a percentage. The percentage tells you how much of your position’s full value you’ll need to deposit. Generally speaking, the higher the requirement, the more volatile or illiquid the market.

To see the margin requirement for any market, head over to the Market 360 tab on your trading platform.

Margin calls and close out levels

To keep a leveraged trade open, you’ll need to ensure that you have the required funds in your account to cover your margin at all times – especially if your position is at a loss.

Say, for instance, that you’ve only deposited the required $750 to buy your XYZ CFDs. If XYZ’s stock price drops and your position sits at -$50, then you’ll only have $700 equity in your account, which isn’t enough to cover your margin requirement.

This situation is called a margin call, and means your position is at risk of being closed or liquidated. closes out positions after funds have dropped below 50% of the trade's margin requirement.

To avoid liquidation, you should always ensure you have sufficient funds in your account to cover your maximum loss for the period that you decide to hold open your trade.

Graphic showing margin call 

How do I calculate my required margin

To calculate your required margin on any position, you need to know its total size and margin requirement. If, for example, you want to buy 5 UK 100 CFDs at 6800 and the UK 100 has a margin factor of 15%:

However, you don’t need to calculate any of this manually – whenever you open a position on the platform, you’ll see how much you’ll need in your account displayed in the deal ticket.

Keeping positions open

When you have multiple positions open at once, keeping track of your total margin requirement can be tricky. But again, you don’t need to calculate anything yourself. Instead, you can use the Margin Indicator on the platform.

The Margin Indicator is always displayed at the top of the platform, or in the dropdown from the top of the mobile app. It tells you how much equity you have in your account, compared to your total margin requirement.

What should you do if you are close to a liquidation?

If you are getting close to a liquidation, you have three potential options:

  1. Close out your trade, realize the loss and reduce your overall margin requirement
  2. Partially close out your trades in order to reduce the size of your positions to free up some equity in your account
  3. Add additional funds to your account. You’ll need to cover the shortfall in margin, and may want to consider additional funds to sustain any further losses

The costs of leveraged trading

As well as margin, there are other costs you’ll have to pay to cover a leveraged CFD trade. Chief of these is overnight financing.

When you trade on leverage, your provider is essentially lending you the funds to cover the full size of your position. Overnight financing is the cost of keeping this loan open for more than a single trading day.

Find out more about the costs of CFD trading.

Three ways to manage CFD risks

1. Use margin sensibly

It’s usually a good idea to be prudent when sizing CFD positions, instead of using up all the free equity in your account as margin. As we’ve already covered, you could quickly find yourself close to a liquidation otherwise.

Many traders limit themselves to only risking 1% or 2% of their total funds on an individual opportunity. That way, you can sustain multiple losses without running the risk of a margin call.

2. Use stop orders

Stop orders will automatically close out a trade if it hits a certain level of loss – which can help limit your risk on any given position. You can add them via the deal ticket, or to an existing trade.

When placing a stop order, it is important to note that the price at which your position is closed could be different from where you placed your order, if the market gaps. Gaps can occur when there is significant market volatility and prices change rapidly, or when markets reopen after being closed (such as after the weekend) meaning that closing prices can differ from the trigger prices that have been set.

3. Use CFDs to hedge

As CFDs allow you to short sell and potentially profit from falling market prices, they are sometimes used as a hedging tool by investors as insurance to offset losses made in their portfolios.

For example, if you have a long-term portfolio, but feel that there is a short-term risk to the value of your investments, you could use CFDs to mitigate a short-term loss by hedging your position.

This way, if the value of your portfolio does fall, the profit in the CFDs would help you offset these losses, enabling you to retain your portfolio without incurring any significant loss to its overall value.

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