Wall Street Secrets Revealed #5 - Timing The Next Market Crash Using Margin Debt As An Indicator

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Buying on margin is basically getting a loan from your firm to buy securities. When you buy securities on margin, you must repay both the amount you borrowed and interest, even if you lose money on your investment. Buying margin refers to borrowing from a brokerage firm (through a margin account) to make an investment.

Margin debt allows investors to make investments with their brokers' money. But they can also add to your losses, and in some cases, a brokerage firm can sell your securities without notification or even sue if you do not fulfill a margin call. For these reasons, margin debt is generally for more sophisticated investors.

When purchasing securities through a broker, investors have the option of using a cash account and covering the entire cost of the investment themselves or using a margin account. The portion the investor borrows is known as margin debt and the portion they fund themselves is the margin.

Example

Bill wants to buy 1,000 shares of Apple stock for $100 per share. He doesn't want to put down the entire $100,000 at this time. His broker is willing to lend him 50% of the initial investment. He deposits $50,000 in initial margin, while taking on $50,000 in margin debt. The 1,000 shares of Apple he then purchases act as collateral for this loan.

Scenario 1

Apple's share price rises to $150. Bill's 1,000 shares are now worth $150,000: $50,000 of that is margin debt and $100,000 is equity. If Bill sells the shares, he receives $100,000 after repaying his broker, his return on investment (ROI) would be:

ROI = ($100,000 from selling shares – $50,000 initial investment) ÷ $50,000 initial investment = 100%.

NOTE: If Bill had purchased the stock using a cash account, he would have had to cover the initial investment of $100,000, his ROI would be:

ROI = ($150,000 from selling shares – $100,000 initial investment) ÷ $100,000 initial investment = 50%.

NOTE: In both cases his profit was $50,000, but the margin account freed up capital for Bill to invest in other opportunities.

Scenario 2

Apple drops to $60. Bill's margin debt remains at $50,000, but his equity has dropped to $10,000: the value of the stock (1,000 × $60 = $60,000) minus his margin debt. There is a maintenance margin requirement of 25%, meaning Bill's equity must be above that ratio in the margin account.

Falling below the maintenance margin requirement triggers a margin call, unless Bill deposits $5,000 in cash to bring his margin up to 25% of the securities' $60,000 value, the broker can sell his stock until his account complies with the rules.

According to FINRA's latest margin statistics, borrowing by investors in January 2018 stood at an all-time high of $665.4 billion. Some market watchers use margin debt as an indicator to anticipate market downturns. So it wasn’t any surprise to these market watchers that the Markets fell by 10% and entered correction territory in February.

History tends to repeat itself. The precursor to the 2000-2002 and 2007-2009 bear markets was margin debt shooting up, peaking and then dropping. When it began to peak and drop, the S&P 500 followed soon after.

Source

As you can see from the chart, when the red line (margin debt) starts to make lower highs, the S&P 5000 soon followed afterwards. For those who can't follow the Markets everyday, just following a few indicators may save you 25%-50% of your account(s).

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This post is my personal opinion. I’m not a financial advisor, this isn't financial advise. Do your own research before making investment decisions.

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Good post, thanks. I wonder how similar it is to monitoring all kinds of debt, especially defaults on debts.

I sometimes use a similar kind of indication, wait until at least 85% of the market is long (or short) in something and then take the opposite position. The natural reasoning being that if everyone is long on something, then there are no more buyers left to push the price up any more.

From what you describe it sounds similar, if debt is at an all time high and no more credit can be given, a correction must be due.

Interesting though on other forms of debt correlations to the stock market. I would think mortgage and car loan defaults might be a good indicator.

Yes, if there is no more credit, there is no more gas fueling the fire.

Thanks for the comment.

An additional note is that along with the riskbof this strategy comes costs. The broker/dealer will charge you an interest in the margin. Therefore, you must consider that this will reduce your returns whether you have gains or losses. It also makes the amount average cost of your investment increase over time which would require a higher price to breakeven. The Fed has facilitated this risk taking strategy as they have maintained interest rates lower but this can unwind as you mention given the expected continued rise in interest rates. Great post!

Thanks and great comment. Everything will cost more, credit cards, school loans, etc. and I don't think people realize this yet because we have been near 0% for year....there will be a lot of pain within the coming 12-18 months.

Thank you for the information and warning.

I hope we can work together. vote my blog and direct me reply @zuhrafriska

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