Big Bank ETF Enters March Expiration on Shaky Ground

Financial fund XLF stopped just short of a 20% comeback from its December lows

by Bernie Schaeffer

Published on Mar 12, 2019 at 9:01 AM

The Financial Select Sector SPDR Fund (XLF) began last week's trading in less-than-robust form by immediately backing down from resistance at its 200-day moving average, after having run up to test this overhead trendline a couple of times during the final week of February. Granted, XLF wasn't alone in pulling back last week, as the broader equities market declined across the board to start the final stretch of 2019's first quarter -- but we assure you, the technical roadblocks that lie ahead for the big bank exchange-traded fund (ETF) are worth calling out here.

Even the most cursory comparison between XLF and a sampling of other closely watched broad-market and sector benchmarks confirms that XLF is one of a very few underperforming vehicles that has yet to notch a single daily close above its 200-day moving average since heavy selling first began to grip the stock market in early October. The S&P 500 Index (SPX), Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJI), Technology Select Sector SPDR Fund (XLK), and Consumer Staples Select Sector SPDR Fund (XLP) all rebounded back above their 200-day trendlines following the Christmas Eve bottom -- and while the SPDR S&P Retail ETF (XRT) has yet to reclaim the moving average in 2019, even XRT spent some time in November exploring the air above its 200-day.

Plus, per the accompanying chart, the 320-day moving average is also a force to be reckoned with. This trendline was solid support in June-July 2018, but quickly switched roles to act as firm resistance following a breach by XLF in early October (the shares peaked at their 320-day in early November and again in early December). So even if XLF were to hurdle past its 200-day, this longer-term trendline would be looming just beyond.

Even more troubling for XLF is the fact that its March 1 year-to-date high close -- the one that directly preceded last week's 200-day retreat -- occurred at $26.69, almost exactly level with the $26.64 level that marks a 10% correction from its March 2018 closing high, which assumes some fresh year-over-year relevance this month.

And while we're on the topic of round-number percentage returns, that March 1 close at $26.69 carried XLF to a gain of 19.6% from its Dec. 24 low close at $22.31. In other words -- almost out of bear-market territory, but not quite.

That said, XLF could find a bit of an options-related foothold this expiration week, as it's now trading near $25.29 (home to a 50% retracement of the decline off that year-ago high to its December low) as well as heavy put open interest in the March series, with a glut of roughly 115,000 contracts at the 25-strike put. But there's a caveat here -- quite a lot of the open interest at this strike was buyer-initiated, which means it could have a magnetic effect on XLF if selling continues. (And the same can be said of the nearly 96,000 contracts in open interest at the deeper out-of-the-money March 23 put strike.)

XLF for CotW March 8

Subscribers to Bernie Schaeffer's Chart of the Week received this commentary on Sunday, March 10.

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