NYSE Margin Debt Hits Fresh Post-Lehman High

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NYSE Margin Debt Hits Fresh Post-Lehman High

Robert Andrew

As of the end of December, total NYSE margin debt of $276.6 billion hit a fresh post-Lehman high, as increasingly more investors continue to purchase securities on margin (i.e., debt). The $2.5 billion rise from November margin levels is the highest since September 2008, and $103 billion from the market lows of March 2009. That said, margin fever still has a way to go and it could easily reach the June 2007 all time high of $381 billion, a little over $100 billion from here. Notable is that while investors had a negative net worth for the sixth month in a row, the differential declined modestly primarily due to a jump in credit balances in margin accounts which hit $148 billion: the highest since February 2009. As historically there is a decline in credit margin balances into the new year, we expect total free credit less margin debt to increase materially in January, especially as the expected January correction (in parallel with the market activity of early 2010) has not materialized, and bullish bets have to be increasingly funded on margin. More relevantly, should short-term interest rates continue to jump (we will have more to say on the recent move in 2 Years), margin interest may soon be forced higher, making life for those who use nothing but debt to fund stock purchases a little more problematic.

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