Volatility Expectations Soar as Bank Stocks Sink

Option payers are paying up to play sinking XLF, DB, GS, BAC, and CS

Feb 9, 2016 at 2:48 PM
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Bank stocks are taking a beating again today, with the Financial Select Sector SPDR ETF (XLF) in territory not charted since the late-August swoon. In fact, the exchange-traded fund (ETF) is on pace for its lowest close since October 2013. What's more, it looks like short-term options traders are paying up to place bets on XLF, along with financial heavyweights Deutsche Bank AG (USA) (NYSE:DB), Goldman Sachs Group Inc (NYSE:GS), Bank of America Corp (NYSE:BAC), and Credit Suisse Group AG (ADR) (NYSE:CS).

First, a primer on the Schaeffer's Volatility Index (SVI). In the simplest terms, SVI tells us if traders are overpaying or underpaying for a stock's front-month options, from a historical perspective. The SVI averages the implied volatility of front-month options that are at the money. Then, by using a percentile rank, we can determine if those options are seemingly cheap or expensive, from a volatility perspective. It just so happens that the XLF, DB, GS, BAC, and CS all sport lofty SVIs at the moment.

Germany-based DB is in the headlines today, with the shares down 0.9% -- just after touching an all-time low of $14.78 -- even after CEO John Cryan said the firm's finances were "rock-solid," and German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said he has "no concerns" about the bank. In fact, European banks have been mired in red ink in 2016, leading the major indexes to new lows -- and Germany's DAX into bear-market territory. Year-to-date, DB is down more than 35%.

On the International Securities Exchange (ISE), Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE), and NASDAQ OMX PHLX (PHLX), it's no surprise to find option buyers placing bearish bets at a rapid-fire rate. DB's 10-day put/call volume ratio on the exchanges sits at a lofty 14.05 -- higher than 99% of all other readings from the past year. What's more, put open interest on the financial stock is at an annual high of more than 111,000 contracts (while call open interest is near an annual low), and its SVI is perched at a 52-week high of 83%.

GS is down 0.1% at $149.17, and tapped a two-year low of $145.10 earlier. The blue chip currently sports the worst year-to-date loss among all Dow components, down more than 17%. Today, CEO Lloyd Blankfein said the U.S. bank is considering more cost-cutting efforts to offset DB's impact on the global banking sector, sinking oil prices, and broad-market weakness. 

Goldman's short-term options players are more put-heavy than usual at the moment. The stock's Schaeffer's put/call open interest ratio (SOIR) sits at 1.29 -- higher than 90% of all other readings from the past year. Plus, the equity's SVI is also at an annual high, at 46%, suggesting historically inflated near-term volatility expectations.

BAC has given up 0.2% to sit at $12.24, and earlier touched its own two-year low of $11.96. The equity has shed more than a quarter of its value in 2016, and its 50-day ISE/CBOE/PHLX put/call volume ratio stands at a 12-month peak of 0.35. In other words, option buyers have initiated bearish bets over bullish at a much faster-than-usual clip during the past 10 weeks. Plus, BAC's SVI is also at an annual high, at 55%.

Finally, Switzerland-based CS is down a whopping 6.4% at $13.52, and just off a 13-year low of $13.25. The banking stock has dropped a cool 38% in 2016, and now sports a 50-day ISE/CBOE/PHLX put/call volume ratio of 4.15 -- in the 82nd percentile of its annual range. As with its peers, CS' SVI has soared to an annual high of 53%.

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