How Margin Risk Can Devastate a Brokerage Account.
WAAAAY BACK in January of 2018, I blogged about how trading on margin, even in a prolonged bull market, can have devastating results if (when) the markets dramatically decline. See, “Investing On Margin—Will Your Chickens Come Home to Roost?” I was concerned for those investors for which margin investing might be unsuitable, as the outcome can be devastating. Certainly, there are generations of new investors with a great deal of investment dollars that only began investing real money during this bull market; meaning they have never faced a down market and the margin calls that come with. This may be a rude awakening.
With the recent Coronavirus Correction (headed toward recession), it is likely that many investors that were investing using margin have suffered significant losses, AND had to sell other securities in order to cover margin calls. In my January 2018 post, I noted that at the end of November 2017, FINRA reported there was more than $627 Billion in margin debit balances in retail customer accounts, compared to $553 Billion at the beginning of 2017, more than a 13% increase in borrowing to invest in stocks (Note: A margin debit balance represents the amount of money the investor owes the brokerage firm). Two years later, at the height of the bull market, FINRA reported there was $561 Billion in margin debit balances in retail customer accounts, a ~10% decline from the same statistic from two years before. Overall, 2019 showed somewhat lower levels of margin than 2018 and 2017, so based on this alone, it would appear that borrowing to invest leveled out at the “end” of the recent bull market. However, if one were to look at the margin debit levels in 2010-2012/13, margin balances have doubled! Clearly, investors wanted to leverage their accounts by purchasing securities using margin debt. But, as the analogy for this post goes, your chickens may come home to roost amid this market correction!