With stocks near all-time highs, investors are taking on record levels of margin debt, something that could accelerate a decline if the market turns south.
Margin levels, or the amount borrowed to purchase securities, climbed to a new record of $401 billion in September, according to NYSE Euronext data released this week. The monthly increase of 4.78 percent was also the largest gain since January. The NYSE figures represent the margin accounts of member firms.
"Investors love going on margin in a rising market environment, but when the market declines, it can be extremely painful" says Paul Hickey, co-founder of Bespoke Investment Group. "Don't forget that if you go on margin you also have to pay interest on that loan, and some brokers charge pretty high rates, so you are already starting in the hole."