CFD margin and leverage explained

Leverage is a key feature of contract for difference (CFD) trading – enabling you to open positions by paying a fraction of their full value, known as your margin. Let’s take a look at how leverage works in CFDs.

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What is leverage in CFD trading?

Leverage is the ability to trade without paying for the full value of your position upfront. Instead, you only need to invest a smaller amount of money - called your margin - to trade a position higher in value.  

While leverage can effectively benefit your trade if it goes in your favour, it will also increase your risk. So, before you start trading on margin, it’s a good idea to learn how it works – and how to manage risk using stop losses.

Want an introduction to CFDs? Take a look at the what is CFD trading page.

How leverage works in CFD trading

You’re only speculating on price movements, which means you don’t have to pay for the full value of your chosen asset outright.

Say, for example, that you want to trade 10 Australia 200 CFDs (our market for the ASX200) when the index is at 7000. The full value of your position is (10 * 7,000) $70,000, but you won’t need that much in your account to execute your trade. You’ll just need to put down your margin.

Your profit or loss, though, will still be based on the full $70,000. You’ll make $10 for every point that the Australia 200 moves up, and lose $10 for every point it moves down.

Benefits of using leverage in CFD trading

Trading on leverage means you can gain the same amount of market exposure by depositing just a small fraction of the total value of your trade. This can be useful to CFD traders because it means that they can put their money to use elsewhere.

In our example above, you might only have to pay 5% of $70,000, or $3,500, to open your position. That frees up the remaining $66,500.

Another key benefit of leverage is that it helps magnify your returns, which is great news if the market moves in the direction that you expect. However, this comes with the downside that leverage will also magnify your losses – in exactly the same way as your gains.

CFD leverage example: share trading vs CFDs

To see how leveraged CFDs work in practice, let’s take a look at an example.

You want to trade 1,000 shares in company XYZ, which has a current share price of $2.50. You could invest in XYZ using share dealing, or you could buy 1,000 XYZ CFDs.

Either way, the total size of your position would be (2.50 * 1,000) $2,500.

CFD leverage

XYZ’s margin requirement is 20%. So by using CFDs and not physical share dealing, you only have to deposit $500 to execute your trade.

By trading on leverage, you’ve freed up additional funds to use elsewhere.

How does leverage affect profit?

Now let’s say that company XYZ’s share price rallies after strong earnings, increasing to $2.60 – so you decide to close out your trade.

With both share dealing and CFD trading, you would have made a return of (2.60 -2.50 * 1,000) $100. However, the return on your CFD would be 20%, compared to just 4% on your investment.

Why? Because you only deposited $500 to open the CFD position. 

How does leverage affect losses?

That’s how leverage works with a profitable position – but the same will apply if you close out at a loss. Suppose your trade on XYZ was unsuccessful and you decide to close with a $100 loss. In this scenario, the return on your CFD deposit would be -20%, because you’ve lost $100 when you deposited $500. The return on your share trade, meanwhile, would be -4%. Using leverage has magnified your losses.

How can leverage magnify losses

What is CFD margin?

Margin is the amount required that you'll need to have in your account to trade or maintain a contract for difference. 

Margin requirements vary across markets, and are always given as a percentage. The percentage tells you how much of your position’s full value you’ll need to deposit. Generally speaking, the higher the requirement, the more volatile or illiquid the market.

To see the margin requirement for any City Index market, head over to the ‘Market 360’ tab on your trading platform.

Margin calls and close out levels

To keep a leveraged trade open, you’ll need to ensure that you have the required funds in your account to cover your margin at all times – especially if your position makes a loss.

To assist in monitoring your margin level, we summarise your net equity together with your margin requirements in your daily statement and within your account details on the trading platform. City Index closes positions after funds have dropped below 50% of the trade's margin requirement.

To avoid margin calls, you should always ensure you have sufficient funds in your account. It is very important you are aware of your net equity balance and the margin requirement for your open position(s). The margin level indicator will inform you whether you are approaching the margin close out level, while the available to trade will indicate the excess funds available. 

How to calculate CFD margins?

To calculate your initial required margin on any position, you need to know its total size and margin requirement. Let’s say, for example, that you want to buy 25 Australia 200 CFDs at 7,000 and the Australia 200 has a margin factor of 5%:

  • The total size of your position is (25 * 7,000) $175,000
  • 5% of 175,000 is $8750
  • You need $8,750 in your account as margin

However, you don’t need to calculate any of this manually – whenever you open a position in the City Index platform, you’ll see how much you’ll need in your account displayed on the deal ticket.

Keeping a CFD position open

When you have multiple positions open at once, keeping track of your total margin requirement can be tricky. But again, you don’t need to calculate anything yourself. Instead, you can use the Margin Indicator on the City Index platform.

The Margin Indicator is always displayed at the top of the City Index platform, or in the dropdown from the top of the mobile app. It tells you how much equity you have in your account, compared to your total margin requirement.

  • If the indicator is greater than 100%, then you have the funds required to keep your positions open
  • If it falls below 100%, you are at risk of your trade falling further and automatically being closed out
  • Should it fall below 50%, you no longer have enough funds in your account to cover your total margin. A warning symbol will be displayed next to the indicator if it drops below 80%

What do you do when you get a margin call?

If you are on margin call, you have three potential options:

  1. Close out your trade, realise the loss and reduce your overall margin requirement
  2. Reduce the size of your positions to free up some equity in your account
  3. Add additional funds to your account. You’ll need to cover the shortfall in margin, and may want to consider additional funds to sustain any further losses

The costs of leveraged trading

As well as margin, there are other costs you’ll have to pay to cover a leveraged CFD trade. Chief of these is overnight financing.

When you trade on leverage, your provider is essentially lending you the funds to cover the full size of your position. Overnight financing is the cost of keeping this loan open for more than a single trading day.

Find out more about the costs of CFD trading.

Three ways to manage CFD trading risks

1. Use margin sensibly

It's usually a good idea to be prudent when sizing CFD positions instead of using up all the free equity in your account as margin, otherwise you could quickly find yourself on a margin call.

Many traders limit themselves to only risking 1% or 2% of their total funds on an individual opportunity. That way, you can sustain multiple losses without running the risk of a margin call.

2. Use stop loss orders

Stop-loss orders will automatically close out a trade if it hits a certain level of loss – which can help limit your risk on any given position. You can add them via the deal ticket, or to an existing trade.

When placing a stop-loss order, it is important to note that the price at which your position is closed could be different from where you placed your stop, if the market gaps. Gaps occur when there is significant market volatility and prices change rapidly, meaning that closing prices can differ from the trigger prices that have been set.

To remove the risk of gaps negatively affecting your stops, you can use a guaranteed stop loss. These will always trigger at the price you set, even in highly volatile markets. If a guaranteed stop is triggered, you’ll pay a small premium.

Find out more about the risks of CFD trading.

3. Hedging with CFDs

As CFDs allow you to short sell and potentially profit from falling market prices, they are sometimes used as a hedging tool by investors as 'insurance' to offset losses made in their portfolios.

For example, if you have a long-term portfolio, but feel that there is a short-term risk to the value of your investments, you could use CFDs to mitigate a short-term loss by 'hedging' your position.

This way, if the value of your portfolio does fall, the profit in the CFDs would help you offset these losses, enabling you to retain your portfolio without incurring any significant loss to its overall value.

CFD margin and leverage FAQs

What are City Index's margins?

City Index’s margins on CFDs range from 3.33% for most forex pairs to 10% for selected commodities and 50% for cryptocurrencies, with the latter representing much more volatile and less liquid markets. For a full breakdown of margins, spreads and full pricing information, please visit our pricing and charges section,

What markets can I trade using leverage?

You can trade with leverage across a wide range of markets with City Index, from shares and commodities to indices and cryptocurrencies, as well as bonds and interest rates. Our pricing and charges section breaks down everything you need to know.