What is the difference between leverage and margin?

By Nicola Sargeant AAA
A:

In financial terms, leverage is reinvesting debt in an effort to earn greater return than the cost of interest. When a firm uses a considerable proportion of debt to finance its investments, it is considered highly leveraged. In this situation, both gains and losses are amplified. Margin is a form of debt or borrowed money that is used to invest in other financial instruments. It is often used as collateral to the holder of a position in securities, options or futures contracts to cover the credit risk of his or her counterparty. The concept of leverage and margin are interconnected because you can use a margin to create leverage.

Leverage allows a firm to invest in assets that have the potential to generate high returns. Unfortunately, a leveraged firm brings about additional risk because if the investment does not provide the returns expected, the firm still has to pay back the debt and interest. When a firm is leveraged it ultimately means that it depends somewhat on debt to finance its investments. A leveraged firm does have its advantages, however. For example, it can increase shareholders' return on investment by giving the company the ability to take on more high return yielding projects and there is also a tax advantage that is related with borrowing.

A margin is collateral such as cash or securities that is deposited into an account to cover credit risk that the other investor must take on when they have a position in a security, option or futures contract. The margin account is used to cushion any losses that may occur from fluctuations in prices. It helps to decrease default risk because it constantly monitors and ensures that the investors are able to honor the contract. A margin is also considered borrowed money that is used to buy securities. This can be a practical way of obtaining funds in order to invest in a profitable investment.

A margin account allows you to borrow money from a broker for a fixed interest rate to purchase securities, options or futures contracts in the anticipation of receiving substantially high returns. Some stocks or securities are not permitted to be margined - this is usually due to their volatility and the desire of brokers to refrain from lending out money when there is a high potential for default. It is important when deciding to borrow money that a thorough investigation be done to make certain that the investment is reliable and not excessively risky. This is because an inability to pay back the principal and interest of a loan could result in bankruptcy.

For further reading, see The Advantages of SPAN Margin, How Does Your Margin Grow? and Getting Started in Foreign Exchange Futures.

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