3 Bank Stocks for Bearish Options Buyers

Financial stocks Bank of America Corp (NYSE:BAC), PNC Financial Services Group Inc (NYSE:PNC), and Citigroup Inc (NYSE:C) could be due for a pullback

Feb 21, 2017 at 3:08 PM
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While bank stocks are largely higher today, a handful of stocks could be due for a breather, if recent history is any indicator. According to Schaeffer's Senior Quantitative Analyst Rocky White, the 25 stocks below have performed the worst during Presidents Day week, when counting stocks with at least an eight-year history, that are trading above $7, and average at least a million shares traded per day. As you can see, banks tend to get crushed, with Bank of America Corp (NYSE:BAC), PNC Financial Services Group Inc (NYSE:PNC), and Citigroup Inc (NYSE:C) on the list. Below, we'll take a look at how BAC, PNC, and C shares are performing, and examine the surging optimism among options traders.

Bank stocks BAC PNC C Presidents Day week

BAC Touches New Eight-Year High

BAC has ended this week higher just 20% of the time going back eight years, averaging a one-week loss of 3.72%. Today, however, the shares of BAC are up 0.9% at $24.75, and earlier peaked at $24.78 -- a fresh eight-year high. Since its pre-election close of $17 on Nov. 7, BAC has rocketed nearly 46% higher, and now sports a 14-day Relative Strength Index (RSI) of 68 -- dangerously close to overbought territory.

Amid the stock's advance, short sellers have hit the exits. Just 1% of BAC's float is now dedicated to short interest, which would take just over a day of trading to buy back, at the stock's average daily volume. That doesn't leave much fuel for a short squeeze to drive BAC even higher.

In the options pits, traders have been upping the bullish ante amid heightened expectations for a March rate hike from the Fed -- and subsequent rally for BAC. Data from the International Securities Exchange (ISE), Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE), and NASDAQ OMX PHLX (PHLX) indicates 4.31 BAC calls were bought to open for every put during the past two weeks. This ratio is higher than 76% of all others from the past year, suggesting options buyers are much more call-heavy than usual. What's more, peak call open interest now sits at the overhead March 25 strike, with more than 171,000 contracts outstanding -- a potential options-related speed bump in the near term.

Now is a good time to play with Bank of America Corp (NYSE:BAC) options, though. The stock's Schaeffer's Volatility Index (SVI) of 22% is in the 9th percentile of its annual range, pointing to attractive short-term premiums, while its Schaeffer's Volatility Scorecard (SVS) of 93 indicates BAC has tended to make outsized moves on the charts during the past year, relative to what the options market has priced in.

PNC Shorts Run for the Hills

PNC has ended Presidents Day week higher just 20% of the time, averaging a one-week loss of 2.56%. However, as with BAC, PNC shares are higher today, last seen with a gain of 0.2% at $127.10 -- within a point of record-high territory. Since its Nov. 7 close of $96.64, PNC has soared nearly 32%, and the stock now sports a hefty 14-day RSI of 69.

Shorts have also been running for the exits, with PNC short interest dropping nearly 37% during the past two reporting periods. Now, just over 1% of the stock's float is sold short. At PNC's average daily trading volume, it would take a meager two sessions to repurchase these pessimistic positions.

Meanwhile, options traders have been rolling the dice on more upside. The stock's 10-day call/put volume ratio of 1.07 on the ISE, CBOE, and PHLX is higher than 80% of all other readings from the past 12 months. As with BAC, though, now is a great time to buy PNC Financial Services Group Inc (NYSE:PNC) options premium, based on the stock's SVI of 18% -- in the 15th percentile of its annual range -- and lofty SVS of 80.

Citigroup Tests Familiar Resistance

Finally, C has ended Presidents Day week in the red 70% of the time, averaging a steep loss of 4.46%. The shares are up 0.5% at $60.46 today, enjoying sector tailwinds, though the $61-$62 neighborhood has been a headache for C on several occasions since mid-2015, and stifled the stock's late 2016/early 2017 momentum.

C short interest plummeted 39.4% during the past two reporting periods, and now accounts for a scant 0.72% of the stock's float. It would take these bears not even one full session to buy back their bets, leaving little gas in the tank for a short squeeze to propel the stock north of familiar resistance.

And as with its aforementioned peers, C has seen bullish options activity escalate in recent weeks. The stock's 10-day ISE/CBOE/PHLX call/put volume ratio of 2.89 indicates nearly three calls bought to open for every put in the past 10 sessions. This ratio is higher than 87% of all others from the past 52 weeks, pointing to a much healthier-than-usual appetite for long calls over puts.

Assuming Citigroup Inc (NYSE:C) shares once again run out of steam around $62, now could be an opportune time to buy short-term puts. The stock's SVI of 20% is 6 percentage points off an annual low, while its SVS of 84 indicates C has exceeded options traders' volatility expectations over the past year.

How to Play a Pullback

In conclusion, bank stocks have been on a tear since the presidential election, and as traders anticipate higher interest rates ahead. However, with several bank stocks approaching overbought territory -- not to mention bearish seasonality -- and with optimism nearing extremes, one could argue that there's little cash on the sidelines to fuel much higher highs. For traders who want to bet on (or hedge against) a short-term pullback, BAC, PNC, and C options are attractive right now, or speculators could consider near-term puts on the broader Financial Select Sector SPDR Fund (XLF), which is trading near a key level.

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