This lesson is designed to help you learn where to look for margin amounts held by Interactive Brokers
when you buy and sell futures contracts.
Let’s first distinguish between two types of margin definitions facing investors. Many markets and
exchanges are regulated and rules have been put in place to ensure markets trade smoothly at all times.
These rules cover how investors must finance their positions.
In the securities market, when buying stocks in a company, investors can typically borrow from their
broker to finance purchases or making short sales. For long stock positions, for example, an investor
may need to pay for half the value of the position and may borrow the other half from the broker. This is
known as trading on margin and creates leverage. That can benefit the client when prices move
favorably, but will magnify losses when prices move adversely.
In futures markets, brokers set aside a good faith margin amount from clients’ accounts when trading
futures. The amount is generally set by the exchange on which the futures contract trades, but the
broker reserves the right to hold more of the client’s funds, but never less than the exchange set
minimum. Margin can be set at 5-15% of the notional value the futures contract represents and this
amount will depend on how volatile its price has proved in the past. And so with a small sum held in
margin, the client is leveraging an amount of money in the futures market, similar to the way clients can
do so using securities-based margin.
Let’s look at the description displayed for the crude oil futures contract – ticker CL. Enter the ticker,
select the expiration and hit enter. Click-right and from the Financial Information expansion menu select
Towards the bottom of the box there are two margin requirements displayed – Intraday and Overnight.
The initial will show what is required to put on the position, whereas the maintenance margin will show
what is needed to maintain the position.
To transmit an order to buy or sell this contract during regular trading hours, a customer must have the
intraday initial margin available in their account. Once the customer owns the position, the requirement
to maintain the position will drop to the intraday maintenance margin. Once the intraday end time
approaches and the client chooses to maintain the position overnight, the margin requirement will
increase to the overnight maintenance. Note that there are different intraday end times for different
futures contracts, which can be seen on our website. If the account has the required maintenance
margin then the position will remain open. If, however, the account does not have the required
overnight amount, the contract will be forced closed.
Using the ‘Check Margin’ feature in TWS it is possible to see the impact of a proposed futures trade
before submitting to the exchange. This is demonstrated by loading a trade to buy or sell a single
contract. Here, I’ll continue with the crude oil futures symbol and using a market order for one contract.
Next, locate and click the Advanced button to the right of the input fields. Click on the Check Margin
button to pop-up an Order Preview ticket. To the left you can see the consideration of the trade along
with commission payable to IB. To the right is a margin matrix displaying the projected change in your
equity and margin requirements BEFORE and AFTER the trade executes.
Let’s do that one more time with another contract. Click on the ticker and enter the quantity and price if
necessary. Use the Advanced button to access the Check Margin button – click it to create an Order
Preview window to display projected margin and equity with loan values.
And you may also access margin requirements by simply clicking right on any futures symbol as we
showed you in an earlier video.
Choose Financial Information and Description to see a concise display including margin,
Choose Financial Information and Details to view using the Securities and Contract Search page and then
locate the margin information.
Finally, in order to see margin held and available funds in your account, within the Portfolio Monitor
click the Account button. Here you will see Balances, Margin Requirements and funds Available for trading. Earlier we noted that margin is treated differently for securities and commodities. Notice that the Total column is comprised of Securities and Commodities, which are listed separately. Be careful to keep an eye on the value of your account available for trading futures.
Disclosure: Interactive Brokers
The analysis in this material is provided for information only and is not and should not be construed as an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to buy any security. To the extent that this material discusses general market activity, industry or sector trends or other broad-based economic or political conditions, it should not be construed as research or investment advice. To the extent that it includes references to specific securities, commodities, currencies, or other instruments, those references do not constitute a recommendation by IBKR to buy, sell or hold such investments. This material does not and is not intended to take into account the particular financial conditions, investment objectives or requirements of individual customers. Before acting on this material, you should consider whether it is suitable for your particular circumstances and, as necessary, seek professional advice.
The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interactive Brokers, its affiliates, or its employees.
Disclosure: Futures Trading
Futures are not suitable for all investors. The amount you may lose may be greater than your initial investment. Before trading futures, please read the CFTC Risk Disclosure. A copy and additional information are available at ibkr.com.