Why is the system of trading on margin practised in futures markets?

by Jennifer

In the complex and dynamic world of financial markets, the practice of trading on margin plays a pivotal role, particularly in the context of futures trading. Understanding why margin trading is prevalent in futures markets is essential for both novice and experienced traders seeking to navigate the intricacies of these derivative markets.

The Nature of Futures Markets

Futures markets are dynamic and multifaceted arenas where participants engage in the buying and selling of standardized contracts, known as futures contracts. These contracts obligate the parties involved to transact a specified quantity of an underlying asset at a predetermined price on a future date. The underlying assets can vary widely, including commodities, financial instruments, stock market indices, and currency pairs. Futures markets serve multiple purposes, acting as a mechanism for price discovery, risk management, and speculation.


The Role of Leverage in Futures Trading

Leverage is a key characteristic of futures trading and is closely tied to the practice of trading on margin. Leverage allows traders to control a larger position with a relatively small amount of capital. In essence, it amplifies both potential profits and potential losses. The use of leverage is fundamental to the appeal of futures trading, as it enables market participants to gain exposure to larger contract sizes without having to fully fund the entire value of the contract.


Reasons for Margin Trading in Futures Markets

Amplifying Returns: One of the primary reasons traders engage in margin trading in futures markets is the potential for amplified returns. By utilizing leverage, traders can control larger positions than their initial capital would allow, magnifying the impact of price movements on their overall portfolio.

Cost Efficiency: Trading on margin in futures markets is cost-effective compared to fully financing the entire position. The margin requirement is a fraction of the total contract value, allowing traders to allocate their capital more efficiently and trade larger positions.

Enhanced Market Access: Margin trading provides broader market access, enabling traders with limited capital to participate in futures markets that may otherwise be financially out of reach. This inclusivity democratizes market participation and fosters a more diverse range of market participants.

Risk Management: While margin trading introduces risks, it also serves as a risk management tool. By requiring an initial margin deposit, exchanges and brokers ensure that traders have a financial stake in their positions. This acts as a safeguard against excessive risk-taking and encourages responsible trading practices.

Liquidity and Market Efficiency: Margin trading contributes to market liquidity by attracting a larger pool of participants. Increased liquidity enhances market efficiency, reducing bid-ask spreads and facilitating smoother price discovery.

Mechanics of Margin Trading in Futures

Understanding the mechanics of margin trading in futures is crucial for traders to make informed decisions. The process involves the following key elements:

Initial Margin: When a trader enters a futures position, they are required to deposit an initial margin with their broker. The initial margin is a percentage of the total contract value and serves as a security deposit, ensuring that the trader has the financial capacity to fulfill their obligations.

Maintenance Margin: In addition to the initial margin, there is a maintenance margin requirement. If the value of the trader’s account falls below the maintenance margin level due to adverse price movements, a margin call may be issued. The trader must then either deposit additional funds or close out part of their position to bring the account back to the required level.

Leverage Ratio: The leverage ratio is the relationship between the total contract value and the margin required. It determines the degree of leverage applied to the position. For example, a leverage ratio of 10:1 means that for every $1,000 in margin, the trader controls a position worth $10,000.

Variation Margin: As futures prices fluctuate, the value of the trader’s position changes. To account for these fluctuations, exchanges use a mechanism called variation margin. If the market moves against the trader, they may need to deposit additional funds to cover the variation margin.

Benefits of Margin Trading in Futures Markets

Capital Efficiency: Trading on margin allows traders to deploy their capital more efficiently, enabling them to take larger positions with a smaller amount of initial capital. This capital efficiency is particularly advantageous for those seeking exposure to diverse asset classes.

Diversification: Margin trading facilitates portfolio diversification by allowing traders to spread their capital across multiple positions. Diversification can help mitigate risk by reducing the impact of adverse price movements in a single asset.

Increased Market Participation: The lower capital requirements associated with margin trading open up futures markets to a broader range of participants. This inclusivity enhances market liquidity and contributes to the overall vibrancy of the marketplace.

Risk Management: While margin trading introduces the potential for losses, it also serves as a risk management tool. The initial margin requirement ensures that traders have a financial stake in their positions, discouraging excessive risk-taking.

Risks and Challenges of Margin Trading in Futures

Leverage-Induced Losses: The amplified nature of leverage means that losses can escalate quickly. Traders can lose more than their initial margin deposit if the market moves against their position. It is crucial for traders to implement effective risk management strategies.

Margin Calls: Market fluctuations can lead to margin calls, requiring traders to deposit additional funds to cover potential losses. Failure to meet margin calls may result in the liquidation of positions at unfavorable prices.

Market Volatility: Futures markets are known for their volatility, and leveraged positions can be particularly sensitive to price swings. High volatility increases the likelihood of significant variations in account values.

Interest Costs: Trading on margin may involve borrowing funds, leading to interest costs. Traders should consider the impact of interest expenses on their overall trading profitability.

Regulatory Oversight of Margin Trading

To ensure the stability and integrity of futures markets, regulatory authorities impose rules and regulations governing margin trading. In the United States, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) oversees futures markets, and the National Futures Association (NFA) sets regulatory standards for brokers. These regulations include minimum margin requirements, position limits, and other safeguards to protect market participants and maintain market stability.


In conclusion, the practice of trading on margin in futures markets is deeply ingrained in the fabric of financial markets. Leveraging capital to gain exposure to larger positions provides traders with opportunities for amplified returns, cost efficiency, and enhanced market access. However, it is imperative for traders to approach margin trading with a clear understanding of its mechanics, risks, and regulatory implications.

While margin trading introduces the potential for significant losses, it also serves as a risk management tool and contributes to market liquidity and efficiency. Traders should exercise discipline, implement robust risk management strategies, and stay informed about market conditions. Ultimately, the judicious use of margin in futures trading can empower market participants to navigate the complexities of financial markets and potentially achieve their trading objectives.

You May Also Like


Bnher is a comprehensive futures portal. The main columns include futures market, futures exchanges, futures varieties, futures basic knowledge and other columns.

[Contact us: [email protected]]

© 2023 Copyright – Futures Market, Investment, Trading & News