Due in large part to the current COVID-19 pandemic, March of 2020 was one of the most volatile months for financial markets since the market crash of 1929 and the financial crisis of 2008. During periods of extreme market volatility, securities prices can fluctuate wildly, triggering margin calls and the liquidation of securities in investor’s investment margin accounts, at substantial and unrecoverable losses to investors. Margin accounts can be very risky and are not suitable for everyone.
In margin accounts, investors borrow money to purchase securities and that loan is collateralized with the cash and securities in the account. As with all loans, when an investor buys security on margin he or she will have to pay back the money borrowed plus interest and commissions. An investment strategy or portfolio that includes trading on margin exposes an investor to increased risks, added costs, and losses greater than the amount of the investor’s initial investment.
The use of securities to collateralize margin loans in a margin account exposes investors to leverage, which increases the risks in an account. One of the biggest risks from buying on margin and leveraging your portfolio is that the investor can lose significantly more money that he or she initially invested. For instance, a loss of 50% or more from securities purchased on margin is equivalent to a loss 100% or even more to an investor. An investor stands to lose all of the money he or she invested, plus interest for borrowing money, plus the commissions paid to the brokerage firm for the purchase or sale of the underlying securities. Trading on margin exposes an investor to significant risk when the brokerage firm or financial advisor forces a sellout of a stock in the account (without notice to or approval by the investor) to meet a margin call after the price of the stock has plummeted. In that scenario, the investor has lost out on the chance to recoup his or her losses if or when the market bounces back.