Although many will suggest that you can trade with the minimum margin requirement we do not necessarily recommend it.
Let’s say that you are about to start trading an S&P 500 futures daytrading system. Let’s say that the exchange minimum margin requirement is $25,000 and the system drawdown is $25,000.
Let us further assume that you want to get started using the absolute minimum account size. Since we are talking about a daytrading system, many of you may be able to trade for half of the required margin or $12,500.
The lure of starting with the smallest amount of capital possible is obvious. We feel that we are getting more bang for our buck. If the system makes $100,000 profit by the end of the year we feel great because we made 800% on our initial investment of $12,500.
If we initially funded our account with $50,000 we would have made 200% on our initial investment of $50,000. Although we made the same amount of net profit we may feel better about using the smaller amount because the return on investment is greater.
In reality trading these two examples can look quite a bit different. If we fund an account with $12,500 and immediately go into a $10,000 drawdown we will not be able to trade the system any more until sufficient funds are added.
In many cases funds are not added and the trader is left with a loss in his account and the words in his mouth, “This system doesn’t work”. If we initially fund our account with, say, $50,000 we can withstand a $10,000 or even a $25,000 drawdown and still have sufficient funds in the account to trade another day.
Properly funding an account is similar to using stops. We use stops because we do not know if our next trade will be a winner or loser. We properly fund an account because we don’t know if a trading system will enter a drawdown period 2 days, 2 months, or 2 years from now. In both cases it makes sense to control our risk.
In some respects a trading system is similar to an automobile. It needs sufficient fuel in order to continue to move forward. If you knew exactly how much gas you needed to put in your car to make a typical 200 mile highway trip would you put only that much in? What happens to you if there is 10 miles of backed-up construction traffic and you find yourself inching along and burning more fuel than expected?
Properly funding your account puts you on the road to successful trading.