What is Leverage in Forex?

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Contributor, Benzinga
March 21, 2024
verified by Jay and Julie Hawk

The foreign exchange or forex market has become increasingly well-known for offering lucrative trading opportunities to financial market speculators seeking returns on their FX trading capital. 

Despite that increasing popularity, only some people have a substantial amount of risk capital to start trading currencies with. The solution to this situation is leverage — a powerful tool that lets you control forex trading positions worth more than your actual trading account balance. 

In this article, Benzinga will help you understand the ins and outs of using leverage when trading forex, shedding light on concepts like margin, calculation methods, associated risks and much more.

Disclosure: CFDs are complex instruments and come with a high risk of losing money rapidly due to leverage. 69% of retail investor accounts lose money when trading CFDs with this provider. You should consider whether you understand how CFDs work and whether you can afford to take the high risk of losing your money.

What is Leverage?

Leverage refers to a process forex traders can use to amplify their trading gains with a smaller deposit than without leverage. The ratio between a trader’s capital control on funds invested in a position and the total position size controlled defines the level of leverage employed. For example, if a forex trader uses $1,000 of their trading capital to control a position of $100,000, then they are using a 100:1 leverage ratio.

Leverage offers several advantages to retail forex traders who cannot afford to make a sizable capital contribution to their trading accounts. By using leverage effectively, traders with even modest accounts can potentially generate impressive returns from forex trading. 

Still, traders learning how to trade forex successfully need to keep in mind that increased rewards from using leverage come hand-in-hand with heightened risk exposure, making leverage akin to a two-edged sword since it can amplify profits and losses equally.

What is Margin?

In retail forex trading, margin constitutes collateral deposited as security with an online forex broker against possible losses incurred during trading activities. It represents the portion of a trader’s risk capital that is set aside to collateralize and maintain their open positions.

When applied correctly, margin provides a credit line depending on the leverage ratio a broker permits a trader to use. It also serves as a risk management mechanism to protect the broker from incurring losses from a client’s poor trading decisions.

Margin Requirement in Forex Trading

Retail forex brokers operating online generally establish individual margin requirements that specify the minimum trading account deposit necessary to hold a particular position size. 

While generally fixed per currency pair, these prerequisites can vary depending upon various factors such as a currency pair’s market volatility levels, liquidity conditions and regulatory stipulations.

Differing market circumstances among the various currency pairs can result in varying margin requirements and hence leverage ratios. To illustrate this, consider two scenarios where trading in different currency pairs can involve having to satisfy different margin deposit requirements and be subject to different maximum leverage ratios.

Scenario A: Low Volatility Environment

Assuming that USD/JPY is presently exhibiting low volatility market conditions, an online forex broker might set a 2% margin requirement per standard lot of $100,000 traded, which corresponds to a 50:1 leverage ratio. Hence, a trader must possess $2,000 in their trading account to initiate a position in a single lot of USD/JPY.

Scenario B: High Volatility Environment

If GPY/JPY were instead exhibiting high volatility market conditions, the online forex broker might instead set a 5% margin requirement per standard lot of GBP 100,000 traded, which corresponds to a 20:1 leverage ratio. A trader would need to deposit GBP 5,000 in their trading account to take a position in a single lot of GBP/JPY.

How Leverage Allows Traders to Control a Larger Position with a Smaller Amount of Capital

Leverage allows traders to control larger position sizes with a smaller amount of capital required. To better understand the relationship between leverage and position sizes, you can follow these calculation steps:

  1. Determine the desired position size (e.g., 1 standard lot = $100,000).
  2. Compute the margin you will need to hold that position by referring to your broker’s margin requirements. 
  3. Divide the total value of the intended position by the needed margin using this way to calculate leverage ratios:   Total Value / Required Margin = Leverage Ratio

Applying this method lets you gauge the appropriate leverage level tailored to your preferred trading strategy and available risk capital resources. The following section will offer two hypothetical trading scenarios involving leveraged versus unleveraged forex transactions for your review.

Leverage Example: Unleveraged FX vs. Leveraged FX

This section offers two hypothetical trading scenarios involving leveraged versus unleveraged forex transactions for your consideration so that you can better understand how leverage works in practice. 

Unleveraged Example

Suppose a trader wants to buy 1 micro lot of USD/JPY without leverage. With a current account balance standing at $10,000, they open a position worth exactly that sum. If the currency pair appreciates by 1%, the trader would earn a net profit of $100. Should USD/JPY depreciate by 1%, then the trader would suffer an equivalent loss of $100.

Leveraged Example

If the same trader opted to use a 100:1 leverage ratio, then they could initiate a $1 million position in USD/JPY by using their entire account balance as margin. A 1% favorable move would now produce considerably higher profits of $10,000, although the risk to their account would be that unfavorable market shifts can lead to equally dramatic losses due to the use of leverage. While the potential rewards are impressive if they correctly call the market, they can also sustain the loss of their entire trading capital if their view turns out to be wrong.

Maximum Leverage Allowed for Retail Traders

Regulatory bodies impose strict limits on retail clients' access to excessive leverage. Typically, these leverage ratio caps range between 30:1 and 500:1. While higher ratios enable greater earnings potential, they also heighten your exposure to catastrophic losses. Thus, cautious consideration should determine the ideal leverage level for your individual needs as a trader.

Maximum leverage ratios can directly influence your trading strategies. Low-risk trading approaches often thrive within more conservative leverage frameworks, while more aggressive trading tactics may require greater leverage. 

Each forex trader must strike a delicate balance with the use of leverage that is tailored to their unique preferences, risk tolerance, strategy and expertise.

Risks of Using Leverage

Despite providing numerous advantages, the use of leverage carries inherent dangers that cannot be overstated, especially for novice traders who may not have yet developed a successful trading plan. Chief among these concerns is that leverage exacerbates your trading losses.

Inexperienced traders are notably vulnerable to mismanaging highly leveraged trading accounts, which often makes their sustainable success as forex traders rather elusive. Furthermore, economic and geopolitical events can sometimes yield unforeseen market consequences, thereby causing severe losses to the leveraged accounts of poorly prepared traders positioned on the wrong side of the market.

Compare High Leverage Forex Brokers

When evaluating prospective high-leverage forex brokers, several critical aspects warrant thorough examination. You will want to make sure that any online broker you are considering partnering with has suitable regulation and licensing, offers affordable dealing spreads and commissions, has your required platform functionality and currency pairs and provides good customer service and the educational resources you require. 

Benzinga has taken the guesswork out of this process for you by creating the following chart comparing top online forex brokers that offer advantageous leverage options.

  • Forex.com
    Best For:
    Fast Execution and High-Volume Traders in the U.S
    securely through Forex.com's website

    CFDs are complex instruments and come with a high risk of losing money rapidly due to leverage. 69% to 77.7% of retail investor accounts lose money when trading CFDs with this provider. You should consider whether you understand how CFDs work, and whether you can afford to take the high risk of losing your money.

    The products and services available to you at FOREX.com will depend on your location and on which of its regulated entities holds your account

  • Plus500 Forex
    Best For:
    Forex and CFD Trading for Mobile Users
    securely through Plus500 Forex's website
  • IG Markets
    Best For:
    Fast Execution for U.S. Traders
    securely through IG Markets's website

    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 trading spread bets and 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.

  • RoboForex Forex Broker
    Best For:
    Best for CFDs
    securely through RoboForex Forex Broker's website

Conclusion: Use Leverage Wisely When Trading Forex

Benzinga covers key concepts here related to leverage in forex, breaking down how leverage functions in using margin. The discussion highlights the significance of being mindful when using high leverage, especially for newcomers. Choosing reputable forex brokers to partner with based on the amount of leverage they offer clients makes a difference in your success as a forex trader.

Successful forex trading relies on various skills, including technical analysis abilities, fundamental market analysis, emotional stability, risk and money management and the use of proven trading strategies. Grasping the importance of leverage and using it prudently can play a vital part in reaching consistent profitability as a forex trader. Applying this knowledge wisely sets you apart from novices who often dive headfirst into the treacherous situation of using high leverage ratios without proper preparation and end up blowing up their trading account.

While there are pros and cons associated with using leverage, with the main benefit derived from the smaller deposit required to hold a particular position, approaching it thoughtfully generally pays off. You stand a better chance of success if you adopt a measured attitude, acknowledge possible drawbacks and exercise restraint when it comes to using leverage. Success doesn't happen overnight, but persistent efforts combined with smart trading decisions can pay off handsomely when trading forex.

By internalizing the fundamental ideas presented here, you will find yourself better equipped to deal appropriately with the many details involved in running a profitable forex trading business. Remember to practice prudent capital control measures and to keep refining your trading techniques and strategies as you develop a trading plan. Work on developing patience and maintaining discipline since these qualities tend to foster long-term survival in the competitive and risky world of speculative online forex trading.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q

What is a good leverage for forex?

A

A universally applicable good leverage figure for forex trading does not exist since optimal ratios depend largely on an individual trader’s experience level, strategy and tolerance for risk. Generally speaking, however, novices should start live trading using lower leverage values like 10 or 20 to 1 before gradually progressing towards more ambitious leverage ratio multipliers once their familiarity with trading increases and their trading strategy has been properly refined.

 

Q

What does 1 to 500 leverage mean in forex?

A

When trading forex, a 500:1 leverage ratio implies that every dollar placed on margin in a trading account with an online broker allows the trader to hold and control a trading position valued at five hundred times that amount. In other words, using 500:1 leverage means putting up a $100 margin stake lets a retail forex trader control a $50,000 position in a currency pair.

Q

What is the best leverage for $10?

A

 If you only have risk capital of $10 to use to trade forex with, then you do not have much money to lose. To make your time spent trading and analyzing the forex market worthwhile, you could use a very high leverage ratio like 500 or 1,000 to 1 when taking a high probability trade using your $10 as collateral. If you use a broker that offers zero balance protection, your maximum risk would be that your tiny $10 account balance could go to zero if your broker automatically stops you out of your position, while your upside on the trade could be substantial.

 

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About Jay and Julie Hawk

Jay and Julie Hawk are the married co-founders of TheFXperts, a provider of financial writing services particularly renowned for its coverage of forex-related topics. With over 40 years of collective trading expertise and more than 15 years of collaborative writing experience, the Hawks specialize in crafting insightful financial content on trading strategies, market analysis and online trading for a broad audience. While their prolific writing career includes seven books and contributions to numerous financial websites and newswires, much of their recent work was published at Benzinga.