The Short-Term Target for Financial Select Sector SPDR ETF (XLF) Put Traders

The Financial Select Sector SPDR ETF (XLF) has averaged a loss in February since its inception in late 1998

Feb 1, 2017 at 2:49 PM
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Bank stocks have been some of the biggest benefactors of the so-called "Trump rally," as evidenced by the price action in the Financial Select Sector SPDR ETF (XLF). Since its Nov. 8 close at $19.99, the exchange-traded fund (ETF) has rallied 16.7%, taking out historical resistance at the round $20 level and tagging an eight-year high of $23.87 along the way. More recently, the shares were getting a lift from solid economic data -- trading up 0.1% at $23.33 after the Fed stood pat on interest rates, riding atop support from their 50-day moving average. However, XLF is staring down historical headwinds, and it appears one options trader today may be bracing for a near-term retreat.

Taking a quick step back, Schaeffer's Quantitative Analyst Chris Prybal recently ran the numbers on the best and worst ETFs in historically bearish February. While gold and retail stocks tend to outperform in the shortest month of the year, financial shares have historically struggled. In fact, since its inception in December 1998, XLF has averaged a loss of 1.7% in February -- including last year's 2.9% monthly decline.

Meanwhile, in the options pits, total XLF volume is running at 1.8 times the average intraday rate -- with 329,252 contracts traded versus an expected amount of 179,000. Calls are outpacing puts due to heavy activity at XLF's weekly 2/3 23.50-strike and January 2018 24-strike calls, which appear to be tied to shares. Nevertheless, it looks like one bearish speculator expects history to repeat itself.

Drilling down, two massive blocks totaling 34,951 contracts traded at XLF's weekly 3/3 22.50-strike put earlier for $0.15 apiece. These blocks crossed at the same time, suggesting they could be related. If these puts were bought to open, it means the trader paid $524,265 (number of contracts * premium paid * 100 shares per contract) to bet on a move south of $22.50 by expiration at the close on Friday, March 3. Profit will begin to accumulate on a drop below breakeven at $22.35 (strike less premium paid), while losses are limited to the initial cash outlay. Given the ETF's solid gains in recent months, it's possible this action is at the hands of a shareholder protecting paper profits.

Regardless, a broader scope reveals the 22.50 strike was popular among put players on Tuesday, as well. However, it looks as if one speculator bet on this level to hold as support over the next several weeks. Specifically, data from the major options exchanges confirms that a 32,500-contract block of February 22.50 puts was sold to open for $292,500 (number of contracts * $0.09 premium received * 100 shares per contract). This is the most the Financial Select Sector SPDR ETF (XLF) trader stands to gain, should the puts expire out of the money. Losses, meanwhile, can be quite substantial on a move south of $22.50.

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