Margin Requirement on Leveraged ETF Products

Leveraged Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) are a subset of general ETFs and are intended to generate performance in multiples of that of the underlying index or benchmark (e.g. 200%, 300% or greater). In addition certain of these ETFs seek to a generate performance which is not only a multiple of but also the inverse of the underlying index or benchmark (e.g., a short ETF). To accomplish this, these leveraged funds typically include among their holdings derivative instruments such as options, futures or swaps which are intended to provide the desired leverage and/or inverse performance. 

Exchange margin rules seek to recognize the additional leverage and risk associated with these instruments by establishing a margin rate which is commensurate with that level of leverage (but not to exceed 100% of the ETF value). Thus, for example, whereas the base strategy-based maintenance margin requirement for a non-leveraged long ETF is set at 25% and a short non-leveraged ETF at 30%, examples of the maintenance margin change for leveraged ETFs are as follows:

1. Long an ETF having a 200% leverage factor: 50% (= 2 x 25%) 

2. Short an ETF having a 300% leverage factor: 90% (= 3 x 30%) 

A similar scaling in margin is also in effect for options. For example, the Reg. T maintenance margin requirement for a non-leveraged, short broad based ETF index option is 100% of the option premium plus 15% of the ETF market value, less any out-of-the-money amount (to a minimum of 10% of ETF market value in the case of calls and 10% of the option strike price in the case of puts). In the case where the option underlying is a leveraged ETF, however, the 15% rate is increased by the leverage factor of the ETF. 

In the case of portfolio margin accounts, the effect is similar, with the scan ranges by which the leveraged ETF positions are stress tested increasing by the ETF leverage factor.  See NASD Rule 2520 and NYSE Rule 431 for further details.

What is SMA and how does it work?


SMA refers to the Special Memorandum Account which represents neither equity nor cash but rather a line of credit created when the market value of securities in a Reg. T margin account increase in value.  For example, assume the market value of securities purchased at a cost of $10,000 on margin (at 50%) increase in value to $12,000.  This $2,000 increase in market value would create SMA of $1,000, which provides the account holder the ability to either: 1) buy additional securities valued at $2,000 (assuming a 50% margin rate) without depositing up additional funds; or 2) withdraw $2,000 in cash, which may be financed by increasing the debit balance if the account holds no cash. 

It should be noted that while an increase in market value over original cost creates SMA, a subsequent decline in market value has no effect on SMA.  SMA will only decline if used to purchase securities or withdraw cash and the only restriction with respect to its use is that the additional purchases or withdrawals do not bring the account below the maintenance margin requirement. SMA will also increase on a dollar for dollar basis in the event of cash deposits or dividends.

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