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I have seen in various places that a margin call requires restoring an account up to

  1. The initial margin level (or having this done for you) or
  2. The maintenance margin level.

As best as I can tell, trading on a future's exchange always requires restoring to the initial margin level, while buying and selling stocks on margin through a broker requires restoring to the maintenance margin level. But I have not seen this distinction made clearly or definitively. I have also seen in one place the words "initial margin call" and "maintenance margin call" making me think that either type of requirement might appear in the same context.

Is what I surmised correct, that

1) above always happens when trading futures and
2) always happens when trading stocks?

If so, why is there a stricter requirement for futures margin accounts? Are these just very different uses of the word "margin"? Does it have something to do with the marking-to-market of futures accounts? Does the requirement depend on the type of account, or the class of asset?

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Initial Margins and Maintenance margins can be used for both stocks as well as futures. It depends on which broker you use and what services they offer. The initial Margin is used to cover the purchase, the maintenance margin is used to ask additional funds in case the value of the underlying equity changes drastically before settlement.

You can start with the investopedia article on initial margin and Maintenance margin

  • Yes, this is all background to my question. My question is not "what are initial and maintenance margins and what is a margin call". It is "why are there differing requirements for how to fulfill a margin call? -- sometimes you must add funds to reach the initial margin level, while in other cases you only need to add funds to reach the maintenance margin level." What are the circumstances leading to one versus the other. – Barry Aug 6 '15 at 16:02
  • @Barry each brokerage firm has its own policy. – oldergod Nov 4 '15 at 13:55
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I believe the reasons:

  1. stock exchanges (NYSE, etc.) are Self Regulatory Organizations (SRO) authorized to establish their own requirements but ultimate regulatory authority is the US Federal Reserve and the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC), which make rules for securities trading.
  2. futures exchanges have SRO's also, (CME, etc.) also make their own rules, and are governed by the Commodity Futures Trading Exchange Commission (CFTC). Futures are not securities.
  3. If you think about it, margin requires someone to loan you stock, futures trading is rules for an event that doesn't exist yet.
  4. and lastly, practically speaking, futures are inherently more volatile than securities, hence the more stringent margin rules.

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