One of the reasons why so many people are attracted to trading forex compared to other financial instruments is that with forex, you can usually get much higher leverage than you would with stocks. While many traders have heard of the word "leverage," few have a clue about what leverage is, how leverage works and how leverage can directly impact their bottom line.
Total Trading Capital
For example, if you have $10,000 in your account, and you open a $100,000 position (which is equivalent to one standard lot), you will be trading with a 10 times leverage on your account (100,000/10,000). If you trade two standard lots, which is worth $200,000 in face value with $10,000 in your account, then your leverage on the account is 20 times (200,000/10,000).
This also means that the margin-based leverage is equal to the maximum real leverage a trader can use. And since most traders do not use their entire accounts as margin for each of their trades, their real leverage tends to differ from their margin-based leverage.
Leverage in Forex Trading
In trading, we monitor the currency movements in pips, which is the smallest change in currency price, and that could be in the second or fourth decimal place of a price, depending on the currency pair. However, these movements are really just fractions of a cent. For example, when a currency pair like the GBP/USD moves 100 pips from 1.9500 to 1.9600, that is just a one cent move of the exchange rate.
This is why currency transactions must be carried out in big amounts, allowing these minute price movements to be translated into decent profits when magnified through the use of leverage. When you deal with a large amount like $100,000, small changes in the price of the currency can result in significant profits or losses.
When trading forex, you are given the freedom and flexibility to select your real leverage amount
based on your trading style, personality and money management preferences.
Risk of Excessive Real Leverage
Real leverage has the potential to enlarge your profits or losses by the same magnitude. The greater the amount of leverage on capital you apply, the higher the risk that you will assume. Note that this risk is not necessarily related to margin-based leverage although it can influence if a trader is not careful.
Let's illustrate this point with an example (See Figure 1).
Both Trader A and Trader B have a trading capital of US$10,000, and they trade with a broker that requires a 1% margin deposit. After doing some analysis, both of them agree that USD/JPY is hitting a top and should fall in value. Therefore, both of them short the USD/JPY at 120.
Trader A chooses to apply 50 times real leverage on this trade by shorting US$500,000 worth of USD/JPY (50 x $10,000) based on his $10,000 trading capital. Because USD/JPY stands at 120, one pip of USD/JPY for one standard lot is worth approximately US$8.30, so one pip of USD/JPY for five standard lots is worth approximately US$41.50. If USD/JPY rises to 121, Trader A will lose 100 pips on this trade, which is equivalent to a loss of US$4,150. This single loss will represent a whopping 41.5% of his total trading capital.
Trader B is a more careful trader and decides to apply five times real leverage on this trade by shorting US$50,000 worth of USD/JPY (5 x $10,000) based on his $10,000 trading capital. That $50,000 worth of USD/JPY equals to just one-half of one standard lot. If USD/JPY rises to 121, Trader B will lose 100 pips on this trade, which is equivalent to a loss of $415. This single loss represents 4.15% of his total trading capital.
Refer to the chart below to see how the trading accounts of these two traders compare after the 100-pip loss.