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Cash for Gold: Futures Exchange Hikes Collateral

Gold fell 1.4% to $1,760 an ounce Thursday afternoon after the world’s largest exchange for bets on the metal said it will require larger cash deposits from traders.

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CME Group, whose trading volume reached an all-time high Wednesday, said in a press release the measure was part of a “normal review of market volatility to ensure adequate collateral coverage.” One interpretation of that is that gold and other assets have traded so frantically of late that the exchange is worried about the possibility of some customers being wiped out. When that happens, customers can end up owing money, and their losses can become losses for the exchange.

Like margin accounts for stocks and bonds, futures accounts come with two broad collateral requirements. There’s an initial requirement, which customers must meet before they place new trades, and a maintenance requirement, which comes into play if trades move against customers. If gold’s price was to fall sharply, for example, some traders would have to deposit cash or securities to meet their maintenance requirements, or else unwind their gold trades, possibly putting more downward pressure on the metal.

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CME Group said it will increase initial and maintenance requirements for bets on certain foreign currencies, stock indices and Treasury bonds effective after the close of trading Thursday. Among the affected products are those linked to the S&P SmallCap 600 index, the Mexican peso and interest rates on Treasury bonds. The exchange also tightened requirements on numerous gold products. For example, maintenance deposits for Comex 100 gold futures will rise to $5,500 per contract from $4,500 per contract.

Many investors view gold as protection against rising consumer prices and unstable currency values. Aided by the rise of exchange-traded gold funds, which make investing in gold easy, the metal has multiplied more than six times in price in a decade. Gains have accelerated in recent weeks, but higher margin requirements will force some traders to be more cautious with the amount of leverage they use.

Although the new requirements pressured gold Thursday, leverage is likely less important to traders than broader sentiment favoring the metal.

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