Investing Answers Building and Protecting Your Wealth through Education Publisher of The Next Banks That Could Fail
Investing Answers Building and Protecting Your Wealth through Education Publisher of The Next Banks That Could Fail


What it is:

The term margin has two main definitions. The first refers to the ratio of profit to revenue. The second refers to money borrowed from a brokerage firm in order to leverage an investment.

How it works (Example):

Margin as a Financial Ratio
Let's assume Company XYZ records $1 million in net income for 2008 and $10 million in sales. By using the formula described above, we can calculate that Company XYZ has a $1,000,000/$10,000,000 = 10% net profit margin. We can determine from this number that XYZ keeps 10% of the revenue
it generates or for every $1 XYZ generates in revenue, it keeps $0.10 in profit.

Borrowing Money on Margin
Let's assume you have $2,500 and Company XYZ trades at $5 a share. In a regular brokerage account, you would be able to purchase 500 shares. If XYZ were to appreciate by $10, you would make $5,000 and earn a respectable 200% gain.

But with a margin account, you could essentially borrow money from the brokerage firm and collateralize the loan with the Company XYZ shares. Margin requirements for equities are normally 2 to 1 for the average investor, meaning you purchase double what your cash balance is.

With the $2,500 from the previous example, an investor with a margin account would be able to purchase $5,000 of Company XYZ or 1,000 shares. That same $10 price move would mean you now make $10,000 and earn a 300% return.

But margin is a double-edged sword, and losses are also magnified. Additionally, if the investor's equity in the account drops past a certain point, say 25% of the total purchase amount (called the maintenance margin), the brokerage firm may make a margin call, meaning that within a few days you must deposit more cash or sell some of the shares to offset all or part of the difference between the actual stock price and the maintenance margin.

Why it Matters:

Financial Ratio
Margins measure efficiency. The higher the operating margin, the more profitable per dollar received a company's core business is.

Several things can affect operating margin (such as pricing strategy, prices for raw materials, or labor costs), but because these items directly relate to the day-to-day decisions managers make, operating margin is also a measure of managerial flexibility and competency.

It is also important to note that some industries have higher labor or materials costs than others. This is why comparing operating margins is generally most meaningful among companies within the same industry, and the definition of a "high" or "low" ratio should be made within this context

Borrowing Money on Margin
Margin accounts allow investors to make investments with their brokers' money
. They act as leverage and can thus magnify and gains
. But they can also magnify losses, and in some cases, a brokerage firm can sell an investor's securities without notification or even sue if the investor does not fulfill a margin call. For these reasons, margin accounts are generally for more sophisticated investors who understand and can handle the risks involved.