Spread bets and CFDs are complex instruments and come with a high risk of losing money rapidly due to leverage. 71% of retail investor accounts lose money when spread betting and/or trading CFDs with this provider. You should consider whether you understand how spread bets and CFDs work and whether you can afford to take the high risk of losing your money.

Leverage in trading: how does it work?

Leverage is the use of a smaller amount of capital to gain exposure to larger trading positions, also known as margin trading. Leverage can be used across a variety of financial markets, such as forex, indices, stocks, commodities, treasuries and exchange-traded funds (ETFs). As an example, leveraged stock trading is an appealing choice for investors that don’t want to pay the full value of the share upfront or take ownership of the asset. In this article, we will explain what leverage is, how it's calculated and how you can use it to gain enhanced trading exposure across 11,000+ instruments on our trading platform.

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What is leverage in trading?

So, what does leverage mean? Leverage is the ratio applied to the margin amount to establish how big a trade is going to be placed. Understanding margin and leverage and the difference between the two can sometimes cause confusion. It is important to realise that margin is the amount of capital that is required to open a trade. Learn more about margin accounts.

A leverage of 10:1 means that to open and maintain a position, the necessary margin required is one tenth of the transaction size. So, a trader would require £1,000 to enter a trade for £10,000. The margin amount refers to the percentage of the overall cost of the trade that is required to open the position. So, if a trader wanted to make a £10,000 trade on a financial asset that had a leverage of 10:1, the margin requirement would be £1,000.

Leverage can sound like a very appealing aspect of trading, as winnings can be immensely multiplied. But leverage is a double-edged sword – it is important to remember that losses can also be multiplied just as easily.

It is important for all traders to bear in mind the risks involved in leveraged trading. Many traders see their margin wiped out incredibly quickly because of a leverage that is too high. Novice traders should be especially careful when practising margin trading. It is best to be more prudent and use a lower leverage. A lower leverage means that traders are less likely to wipe out all of their capital if they make mistakes.

How does leverage trading work?

To start trading on leverage, it is advisable that a trader starts with a leverage that is lower than their maximum leverage allowance. This enables traders to keep their positions open for the full size, even if they are experiencing negative returns.

Leveraged trading is more likely to be adopted by those trading short-term price movements. It would be much less suitable to anyone investing long-term, for example over multiple years or even decades. In this instance, a ‘buy and hold’ approach would be more suitable.

Example of leverage in stock trading

For example, let’s say a trader has a maximum leverage of 5:1 and opens a position on Apple shares​ with that leverage on a $10,000 account. The trader now has a position size with an asset value of $50,000, which has given them trading exposure to 5 times as many shares when compared with if they had purchased the assets outright without leveraging their starting capital of $10,000. To maintain this leveraged position in Apple stock, the value of the trader’s account would need to stay above the maintenance margin requirement of 50%, or 5,000 in this example. Read more about maintenance margin and margin calls.

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What are leveraged products?

Leveraged products are derivative instruments that are worth more on the market than the deposit that was initially placed by an investor. The two significant leveraged products that we offer are spread betting​ and contracts for difference (CFDs​). When trading with leverage on either of these products, an investor can place a bet using a reasonably small margin on which way their chosen market will move. The investor technically does not own the underlying asset, but their profits or losses will correlate with the performance of the market.

The key difference between spread betting and CFD trading​ is that the former is exempt from capital gains tax (CGT), while the latter requires you to pay this tax*. CFD traders will also have to pay a commission charge in addition to the spread when trading shares. To calculate your profits or losses, you must find the difference between the price at which you entered and the price at which you exited. For spread betting, this figure should then be multiplied by the stake, and for CFDs, it should be multiplied by the number of CFD units. Both are at risk of financial loss, but equally, financial gain if the market moves in a favourable direction. Spread betting is only available to customers residing in the UK or Ireland, whereas CFDs can be used globally. Read more about our CFD commission rates​ here, along with our article on CFD meaning​.

Leverage ratios in the financial markets

Leverage currency trading

Forex trading​ is the buying and selling of foreign currencies across the global market. Forex leverage ratios start relatively high compared to other markets at around 30:1, meaning that there is a high opportunity for profit or loss, depending on how you look at it. However, this can also depend on the type of trader, whether retail or professional, as professional traders are able to use a much higher leverage of up to 500:1.

Leverage for indices

Indices​ represent the overall price performance of a group of assets from a particular exchange. Commonly traded indices include the FTSE 100, S&P 500 and the Dow Jones 30. Indices tend to have quite low margin rates and therefore high leverage ratios of approximately 20:1.

Leveraged stock trading

Another market with a relatively low leverage ratio is share trading, where we offer spread betting and CFD trading prices on more than 9000 international shares and ETFs within the stock market. Leverage ratios starts from 5:1 or a 20% margin rate for major international stocks such as Apple, Tesla and Amazon. This applies to the lowest tier of between 0-13,600 units. When you open a position above this amount, the margin rate will increase, subsequently decreasing the leverage ratio that you can trade with.

Cryptocurrency leverage trading

Bitcoin, ethereum and litecoin are all well-known cryptocurrencies across the globe. Cryptocurrencies​ are particularly volatile and can drop at any point; therefore, investors are advised to take caution when using leverage as part of their trading strategy, as this could lead to significant losses. Our average leverage ratio for trading cryptocurrencies starts at 2:1, which is much lower than other financial markets, due to the substantial risks.

Leverage ratio formula

An important aspect in using leverage is understanding how to calculate the ratio. The following leverage ratio formula is commonly used and easy to remember:

L = A / E

where L is leverage, E is the margin amount (equity) and A is the asset amount.

Therefore, dividing the asset amount by the margin amount gives the ratio of leverage.

How do you calculate leverage ratios?

It is also possible to start with the margin amount and apply a leverage ratio to determine the position size. In this instance, the formula would be A = E.L. Therefore, multiplying the margin amount by the leverage ratio will give the asset size of a trader’s position.

Most traders distribute risks across different markets, meaning they are not putting all their capital into one trade. This is done by opening various positions in different markets. When this is the case, there may be the need to do calculations to determine net asset value or the accumulative value of a trader’s positions. Thanks to platform technology that most brokers will offer, it is easier to monitor all parameters and open or close individual positions as needed. More importantly, it can help a trader work out if positions fit within their total leverage amounts, which should be less than the maximum leverage allowed by the broker.

Leverage trading platform

As discussed, we have differing leverage ratios and margin rates for each type of financial market and asset. All products are available on our award-winning trading platform​**, Next Generation, where you can put into place risk management tools, such as stop-loss and take profit orders. Familiarise yourself with our platform now by creating a live account, or practise first with virtual funds on a demo account, which is included for free upon registering. Take a look at our extensive list of charting features​ here.

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Spread betting leverage

Spread betting is the most popular product on our platform, which you can use to trade an endless array of financial assets. As discussed, you must use leverage when spread betting our products, which can bring risks. This is why we offer you the chance to familiarise yourself with the platform on our demo account before depositing real funds. Below, we explore the risks of spread betting leverage in more detail.

Risks of leverage

The most important thing to understand when talking about leverage is the risk involved. Risk is inherent to any type of trading, however, leverage can cause both magnified profits and losses. It would be prudent for traders to pay particular attention to choosing how much leverage they will use. The leverage ratio should be determined in advance of trading. It is very tempting to trade in a larger size than what was originally determined if you have a streak of winning trades.

Doubling your risk on a one-off basis could benefit a trader if they happen to get that one-off trade right. But get it wrong and a trader could end up facing a much larger loss than usual. To help reduce risks in trading, you should plan out your trading strategy​ in advance.

Two factors could be taken into consideration when determining what amount of leverage to apply to a portfolio: how much risk to take per trade and how much risk to take per day. Examining this via percentages makes things easier. First, a trader can determine how much risk they are willing to take per day. This involves deciding the maximum amount that you are willing to lose. This could, for instance, be between 1% and 2%. If a trader were using 2% as maximum daily risk, it would take 50 days of bad losing trades in a row to wipe out their capital, which is hopefully extremely unlikely to happen.

A trader should also determine how many trades they want to place per day. This could be a set number or a maximum number. For example, a trader may decide that whatever the market, they will make a maximum of three trades a day. In each case, the trader can divide the percentage they are willing to risk per day by this number.

Retail leverage vs professional leverage

When trading within the financial markets, some are more volatile than others. This means that leverage may be limited to smaller multiples of capital. Leverage rates can also vary depending what type of trader you are, either retail of professional. While retail leverage rates for forex are around 30:1, they are higher for professional clients. While professional clients can access higher leverage rates, they must meet strict criteria in order to be eligible. Keeping leverage rates low for retail clients means that if the trader does lose money, it is less likely to wipe out all or a substantial amount of their capital.

Leverage risk management

A popular risk-management tool to be considered when trading with leverage is a stop loss. By implementing a stop-loss order​ to your position, you can limit your losses if your chosen market moves in an unfavourable direction. For example, a trader may choose a pre-determined figure that they do not want to surpass, meaning that your stake in the instrument will be sold at the given price. However, please note that basic stop losses are susceptible to market gapping and slippage. Guaranteed stop losses work exactly in the same way as basic stop orders, although investors can choose to pay a small fee to guarantee the closing of a trade at the exact price specified. This way, if you have used a particularly high leverage in the trade, there will be less chance of multiplying your losses, regardless of market volatility.

Read more about how to protect your money in trading with our risk management​ guide.


How does trading leverage work?

Spread betting and CFD trading are leveraged products, meaning that only a percentage of capital is necessary to open a position and get exposure to a much larger sum of money in the trade. This means profits and losses are amplified, as they are determined by the full trade value. Find out how to trade with leverage.

What is the relationship between margin and leverage?

A margin requirement is the deposit amount needed to gain full exposure to a trade, expressed as a percentage. Leverage shows a trade’s deposit ratio relative to the full trade amount. For example, a £10,000 trade with a margin requirement of 1% would require £100 to place that trade. The leverage ratio for this trade is 100:1, as the 100:1 expressed as a percentage is 1%.

What are the margin rates with CMC Markets?

The leverage rate or margin requirement varies based on the instrument (EUR/USD, UK 100, Gold) and asset class (forex, indices, commodities). We offer margin rates on forex from 3.3%, which is known as 30:1 leverage. This means you can open a position worth up to 30 times the amount of deposit you lay down. Our additional margin rates include indices at 5%, cryptocurrencies at 50%, commodities from 5%, shares at 20% and treasuries at 3.3%. See our range of financial markets for more information.

What are the risks of leverage?

When you trade with leverage, you gain full exposure to the full trade value with a small initial outlay. Therefore, your profits and your losses are amplified. This means you can lose more than your initial outlay amount and may need to add additional funds to keep your trades open. This is known as a margin call. You could also exit other positions, or reduce your exposure on other trades to keep that trade open. Find out how to manage risk when trading with leverage.

Disclaimer: CMC Markets is an execution-only service provider. The material (whether or not it states any opinions) is for general information purposes only, and does not take into account your personal circumstances or objectives. Nothing in this material is (or should be considered to be) financial, investment or other advice on which reliance should be placed. No opinion given in the material constitutes a recommendation by CMC Markets or the author that any particular investment, security, transaction or investment strategy is suitable for any specific person. The material has not been prepared in accordance with legal requirements designed to promote the independence of investment research. Although we are not specifically prevented from dealing before providing this material, we do not seek to take advantage of the material prior to its dissemination.