A Closer Look at XLF as Bank Earnings Roll In

The Financial Select Sector SPDR Fund has been in an uptrend since November's U.S. presidential election

Jul 14, 2017 at 10:55 AM
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Bank stocks are in focus today, after JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, and Wells Fargo kicked off second-quarter earnings season by releasing their quarterly results ahead of the open. Despite the banks turning in earnings beats, the financial shares are trading lower today -- and weighing on the Financial Select Sector SPDR Fund (XLF). At last check, XLF was down 1.1% at $24.76. With plenty more high-profile bank earnings on tap -- Bank of America and Goldman Sachs are due to report next week -- here's a closer look at XLF as the financial sector remains in focus.

Taking a quick step back, despite today's negative price action, the banking sector has been strong in 2017. According to data from Schaeffer's Senior Quantitative Analyst Rocky White, 82% of the 38 stocks we track under our "banks" umbrella are currently trading north of their 80-day moving average, boasting a collective 52-week gain of 42.4%, as of Wednesday's close.

XLF, specifically, has surged more than 29% over the past 12 months, with most of the gains coming after President Donald Trump's surprise win in the November election -- stoking expectations for decreased regulations within the sector. In fact, from its Nov. 8 close at $19.99 to its March 2 nine-year peak at $25.30, XLF shares surged nearly 27%.

While the exchange-traded fund (ETF) proceeded to pull back from this notable milestone, it found a foothold in the $23 region -- home to a 38.2% Fibonacci retracement of its post-election surge. And following several tests of this level, the fund resumed its longer-term uptrend. Today's retreat is finding support at XLF's rising 20-day moving average, currently located near the fund's former highs in the $24.50-$24.60 neighborhood. 

xlf daily chart july 14

XLF Options Traders Bought Calls Ahead of Bank Earnings

XLF options traders, meanwhile, have taken a glass-half-full approach in recent weeks. At the International Securities Exchange (ISE), Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE), and NASDAQ OMX PHLX (PHLX), speculative players have bought to open 212,761 calls in the past 10 days, compared to 66,938 puts. The resultant call/put volume ratio of 3.18 ranks in the 93rd annual percentile, meaning long calls have been initiated relative to puts at a near-annual-high clip.

Drilling down, XLF's July 24 strike is home to peak call open interest, with 232,442 contracts outstanding. Data from the major options exchanges confirms the bulk of the activity at this strike has been of the buy-to-open kind, meaning options traders have been betting the ETF will be settle north of $24 at next Friday's close, when the front-month options expire.

Today, XLF put volume is modestly accelerated, with roughly 24,000 puts on the tape -- 1.2 times the expected intraday rate -- compared to 22,000 calls. Most active is the June 2018 24-strike put due to a 10,000-contract block that traded earlier. While it's unclear exactly what's happening here, options traders appear to be selling to close their now in-the-money weekly 7/14 25-strike puts ahead of tonight's expiration.

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