How do you calculate margin requirements on futures and futures options?


Futures options, as well as futures margins, are governed by the exchange through a calculation algorithm known as SPAN margining.  For information on SPAN and how it works, please research the exchange web site for the CME Group,  From their web site you can run a search for SPAN, which will take you to a wealth of information on the subject and how it works.  The Standard Portfolio Analysis of Risk system is a highly sophisticated methodology that calculates performance bond requirements by analyzing the “what-ifs” of virtually any market scenario.


In general, this is how SPAN works:

SPAN evaluates overall portfolio risk by calculating the worst possible loss that a portfolio of derivative and physical instruments might reasonably incur over a specified time period (typically one trading day.) This is done by computing the gains and losses that the portfolio would incur under different market conditions.  At the core of the methodology is the SPAN risk array, a set of numeric values that indicate how a particular contract will gain or lose value under various conditions. Each condition is called a risk scenario. The numeric value for each risk scenario represents the gain or loss that that particular contract will experience for a particular combination of price (or underlying price) change, volatility change, and decrease in time to expiration. 

The SPAN margin files are sent to IBKR at specific intervals throughout the day by the exchange and are plugged into a SPAN margin calculator.  All futures options will continue to be calculated as having risk until they are expired out of the account or are closed.  The fact that they might be out-of-the-money does not matter.  All scenarios must take into account what could happen in extreme market volatility, and as such the margin impact of these futures options will be considered until the option position ceases to exist.  The SPAN margin requirements are compared against IBKR's pre-defined extreme market move scenarios and the greater of the two are utilized as margin requirement.

When I sell stock, how much does it increase SMA?


When an account holder sells a marginable security, it will typically increase their SMA by 50% of the value of the security sold.

Is there a way in TWS that I can prevent myself from making trades that cause my cash balance to go negative?


There isn’t a function in TWS that prevents account holders with margin accounts from making trades that cause their cash balance to become negative, which would then incur interest charges for a margin loan.  Traders would want to ensure that their cash balance always remained positive or open a cash account.  Negative cash balances are disallowed in cash accounts and orders that would cause the cash balance to go negative should be rejected by the system.

Why did I receive a notice that the financial capacity in my account is less than 10% above the current margin requirement when my stock positions are fully-paid?


IBKR will issue a warning message to any margin account approaching a maintenance margin deficiency (and therefore potential forced liquidation of positions).  This message is generated when the Equity with Loan Value (ELV for a stock account = Cash + Stock + Bond + Mutual Fund + Non-US Options) is less than or equal to the Maintenance Margin Requirement * 110%.  The warning message reads as follows: 

ALERT: The financial capacity in this account is less than 10% above the current margin requirement.  To avoid a possible liquidation, please monitor the account to ensure that there is positive excess liquidity.

An account which hold stock positions that are full-paid (i.e. no cash debit) remains susceptible to liquidation if the account falls into deficit and the loan value of the stock is insufficient to cover the debit.  This is often the case, for example, when a margin account holds positions subject to 100% margin and a cash balance of $0.  In the event the account is assessed a fee, such as commission, monthly minimum activity or market data subscription, a negative cash balance would result and IBKR would not be able to extend loan value against these securities to support the debit balance. The account would therefore be subject to a liquidation in an amount sufficient to cover any cash deficit.

Accordingly, the recipient of this warning message may wish to maintain a cash balance in an amount sufficient to cover any potential charges to the account and to avoid a forced liquidation.

Options Assignment Prior to Expiration

An American-Style option seller (writer) may be assigned an exercise at any time until the option expires. This means that the option writer is subject to being assigned at any time after he or she has written the option until the option expires or until the option contract writer closes out his or her position by buying it back to close. Early exercise happens when the owner of a call or put invokes his or her rights before expiration. As the option seller, you have no control over assignment, and it is impossible to know exactly when this could happen. Generally, assignment risk becomes greater closer to expiration, however even with that being said, assignment can still happen at any time when trading American-Style Options.

Short Put

When selling a put, the seller has the obligation to buy the underlying stock or asset at a given price (Strike Price) within a specified window of time (Expiration date). If the strike price of the option is below the current market price of the stock, the option holder does not gain value putting the stock to the seller because the market value is greater than the strike price. Conversely, If the strike price of the option is above the current market price of the stock, the option seller will be at assignment risk.

Short Call
Selling a call gives the right to the call owner to buy or “call” stock away from the seller within a given time frame. If the market price of the stock is below the strike price of the option, the call holder has no advantage to call stock away at higher than market value. If the market value of the stock is greater than the strike price, the option holder can call away the stock at a lower than market value price. Short calls are at assignment risk when they are in the money or if there is a dividend coming up and the extrinsic value of the short call is less than the dividend.

What happens to these options?
If a short call is assigned, the short call holder will be assigned short shares of stock. For example, if the stock of ABC company is trading at $55 and a short call at the $50 strike is assigned, the short call would be converted to short shares of stock at $50. The account holder could then decide to close the short position by purchasing the stock back at the market price of $55. The net loss would be $500 for the 100 shares, less credit received from selling the call initially.

If a short put is assigned, the short put holder would now be long shares of stock at the put strike price. For example, with the stock of XYZ trading at $90, the short put seller is assigned shares of stock at the strike of $96. The put seller is responsible for buying shares of stock above the market price at their strike of $96. Assuming, the account holder closes the long stock position at $90, the net loss would be $600 for 100 shares, less credit received from selling the put originally.

Margin Deficit from the option assignment
If the assignment takes place prior to expiration and the stock position results in a margin deficit, then consistent with our margin policy accounts are subject to automated liquidation in order to bring the account into margin compliance. Liquidations are not confined to only shares that resulted from the option position. 

Additionally, for accounts that are assigned on the short leg of an option spread, IBKR will NOT act to exercise a long option held in the account.  IBKR cannot presume the intentions of the long option holder, and the exercise of the long option prior to expiration will forfeit the time value of the option, which could be realized via the sale of the option.

Post Expiration Exposure, Corporate Action and Ex-Dividend Events
Interactive Brokers has proactive steps to mitigate risk, based upon certain expiration or corporate action related events. For more information about our expiration policy, please review the Knowledge Base Article "Expiration & Corporate Action Related Liquidations".

Account holders should refer to the Characteristics and Risks of Standardized Options disclosure document which is provided by IBKR to every option eligible client at the point of application and which clearly spells out the risks of assignment. This document is also available online at the OCC's web site.

What happens to the USD equity option that I am long at expiration?


There are two scenarios which could occur if a long option is taken to expiration.  If the option is out-of-the-money at expiration and you do not choose to exercise it, the option will expire worthless, and your losses will consist of the premium that was paid to acquire the option.  If the option is in-the-money at expiration by 0.01 or more, it will be automatically exercised on your behalf (unless you previously chose to lapse the option) by the Options Clearing Corporation (OCC).  The OCC processes monthly expiration options on the third Saturday of the month, or the day after Friday expiration.  The resulting long or short position will be put into the account, effective on the Friday trade date.  If the account has sufficient margin to satisfy the requirement on the resulting position, it will then be up to the account holder to decide what they want to do with the position.  If the resulting position causes a margin deficit, the account will be subject to liquidation at a time which is defined by the holdings within the account.  Please be aware that any positions could be liquidated as a result of the account being in margin violation—the liquidation is not confined to only the shares that resulted from the option position.  For example, if the account holds currency, futures, future options positions or and non-USD product, the account may begin to liquidate to meet the margin deficit as soon as a corresponding market opens.


Account holders should refer to the Characteristics and Risks of Standardized Options disclosure document which is provided by IBKR to every option eligible client at the point of application and which clearly spells out the risks of assignment.  This document is also available online at OCC's web site.

Why was I liquidated?


The majority of all liquidations occur due to margin violations.  There are two main types of margin violations that apply to margins accounts, Maintenance Margin and Reg. T Margin.

In addition to a margin deficit, liquidations may occur as a result of post expiration exposure or various other account-specific reasons which may be dependent upon the account type as well as the specific holdings within the account.  For a detailed list of Risk Management algorithms applied to ensure account compliance and which may result in account liquidations, please review IB's website, under Trading - Margins.



1.  Maintenance Margin violation:  In an account, the Equity with Loan Value (ELV) must always be greater than the Current Maintenance Margin Requirement (MMR) on the positions that are being held in the account.  The difference between ELV and MMR is Current Excess Liquidity; therefore an easier way for some people to monitor their account is to remember that the Current Excess Liquidity in their account must always be positive.  If the Current Excess Liquidity in an account goes negative, this is a maintenance margin violation. 

2.  Reg T violation:  In the Balances section of the Account Window there is a figure titled Special Memorandum Account (SMA).  The U.S. Fed has an enforcement period for this account; 15:50-16:15 EST each trading day.  During this 25 minute window, the SMA balance must be positive.  If the SMA is negative at any point between 15:50 and 17:20 EST, this constitutes a Reg T margin violation. 

In the event of a margin violation, the account is subject to automatic liquidation on a real-time basis.  Liquidations are accomplished with market orders, and any/all positions in the account can be liquidated.

What is the exchange minimum margin requirement on SSF positions?


In the case of a long or short SSF, the exchange margin requirement is equal 20% of the underlying value of the contract (initial and maintenance margin)

In the case of a hedged position (e.g., High or Low Synthetic strategy) in which a clilent is long (short) a security futures contract and short (long) the underlying security, the required maintenance margin would be equal to 5% of the instrument having the higher current market value.

Can I convert a long cash balance to a non-base currency or trade a position denominated in a non-base currency in my cash account?


Yes, albeit, with certain limitations.  IBKR provides cash accounts the ability to trade products denominated in a currency other than the designated base currency of the account as long as the account is classified as a multi-currency cash account (i.e., maintains Forex trading permissions).  To trade a security denominated in a non-base currency, the account holder must either first deposit the appropriate currency into their account or perform a currency conversion via the IdealPro venue.  Regardless of the method selected, one needs to ensure that a sufficient balance of the appropriate currency exists in order to cover the purchase price of the applicable security including commissions prior to submitting the order or it will be rejected. This implies that IdealPro currency conversions must settle prior to the converted funds being available for a subsequent transaction (e.g., if you are converting USD into EUR for the purpose of purchasing a EUR denominated stock, you would not be able to enter the stock order until the conversion trade had settled two business days later).

Individuals trading futures in a cash account should note that futures variation is settled in cash and any variation which serves to generate a cash deficit in any given currency type (i.e. variation exceeds available cash margin) will result in a forced position liquidation in an amount sufficient to eliminate the cash deficit.

Finally, note that cash accounts are restricted from holding a short balance in any non-base currency as this would constitute a margin loan.  In addition, clients of IB India are not allowed to maintain a multi-currency cash account and may only maintain assets which are denominated in INR.

What happens if the net liquidating equity in my Portfolio Margining account falls below USD 100,000?


Portfolio Margining accounts reporting net liquidating equity below USD 100,000 are limited to entering trades which serve solely to reduce the margin requirement until such time as either: 1) the equity increases to above 100,000 or 2) the account holder requests a downgrade to Reg T style margining through Client Portal (select the Settings, Account Settings, Configure and Account Type menu options).

If a Portfolio Margining eligible account reporting net liquidating equity below USD 100,000 enters an order which, if executed, would serve to increase the margin requirement, the following TWS message will be displayed: "Your order is not accepted, margin requirement increase not allowed. Equity with loan value is less than 100,000.00 USD." 


Please note that requests to downgrade to Reg. T will become effective the following business day if submitted prior to 4:00 ET.  Also note that as the Reg. T margining methodology generally affords less leverage than does Portfolio Margining, requesting a downgrade may lead to the automatic liquidation of positions in your account in order to comply with Reg. T.  You will receive a warning message if that is the case at the time you request the downgrade.

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