In the futures market, margin has a definition distinct from its definition in the stock market, where margin is the use of borrowed money to purchase securities. In the futures market, margin refers to the initial deposit of “good faith” made into an account in order to enter into a futures contract. This margin is referred to as good faith because it is this money that is used to debit any day-to-day losses. When you open a futures contract, the futures exchange will state a minimum amount of money that you must deposit into your account. This original deposit of money is called the initial margin. When your contract is liquidated, you will be refunded the initial margin plus or minus any gains or losses that occur over the span of the futures contract. In other words, the amount in your margin account changes daily as the market fluctuates in relation to your futures contract. The minimum-level margin is determined by the futures exchange and is usually 5 per cent to 10 per cent of the futures contract. These predetermined initial margin amounts are continuously under review: At times of high market volatility, initial margin requirements can be raised. The initial margin is the minimum amount required to enter into a new futures contract, but the maintenance margin is the lowest amount an account can reach before needing to be replenished. For example, if your margin account drops to a certain level because of a series of daily losses, brokers are required to make a margin call and request that you make an additional deposit into your account to bring the margin back up to the initial amount. Let’s say that you had to deposit an initial margin of Rs 1,000 on a contract and the maintenance margin level is Rs 500. A series of losses dropped the value of your account to Rs 400. This would then prompt the broker to make a margin call to you, requesting a deposit of at least an additional Rs 600 to bring the account back up to the initial margin level of Rs 1,000.

Word of caution: When a margin call is made, the funds usually have to be delivered immediately. If they are not, the brokerage can have the right to liquidate your position completely in order to make up for any losses it may have incurred on your behalf.

(This article was published on February 9, 2013)
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