Options Traders Place Monster Bets on XLF, Bank of America Stock

Financial Select Sector SPDR Fund and Bank of America Corp are sharply lower, as financial stocks slide

Mar 21, 2017 at 12:59 PM
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Bank stocks are on track for their worst day since mid-January, amid concerns that President Donald Trump's policy changes could be delayed (subscription required). The selling pressure is evident in shares of the Financial Select Sector SPDR Fund (XLF), down 2% at $23.79, as well as in component stock Bank of America Corp (NYSE:BAC), down 5.5% at $23.10. Below, we'll take a closer look at how options traders are responding to the sell-off in XLF and BAC shares.

XLF Options Trader Bets $1.4 Million

At last check, the XLF June 26 call has seen the largest trade within the entire options market. Specifically, Trade-Alert confirms a block of 79,942 contracts was purchased at the out-of-the-money strike, for a total cash outlay of more than $1.4 million ($0.18 premium paid * number of contracts * 100 shares per contract). The options trader's goal is for the exchange-traded fund (ETF) to muscle atop breakeven at $26.18 (strike plus premium paid) -- and into eight-year-high territory -- by June expiration, which encompasses the next expected Fed rate hike in mid-June. If, however, XLF remains below $26 through expiration, the speculator risks losing the entirety of her initial bet.

Taking a step back, due to the aforementioned activity, the ETF's call options are crossing at triple the expected intraday clip. Not to mention, total intraday options volume ranks just 2 percentage points from a 52-week peak. At the same time, XLF's 30-day at-the-money implied volatility touched an annual low earlier, but has since rocketed higher.

Technically speaking, XLF is now trading back in an area of notable congestion in the $24 region, but is attempting to find support at its 80-day trendline, which hasn't been breached on a daily closing basis since late September. On the other hand, an increasing number of short sellers have been wagering on extended losses for the shares. The Financial Select Sector SPDR Fund (XLF) saw short interest spike 50% in the two most recent reporting periods. Perhaps today's out-of-the-money call buyer is a short seller seeking an options hedge.

Options Trader Pays $3.7 Million to Play BAC Stock

Turning our attention elsewhere, the second biggest block today was BAC's June 26 call, where a lot of 72,103 contracts was freshly purchased, per Trade-Alert. Based on the price of $0.52 per contract, the options trader laid out a total sum exceeding $3.7 million, which represents his maximum potential risk. Notably, BAC stock hasn't hovered above $26 since late 2008, in the midst of the financial crisis, though again the June-dated calls encompass the Fed's June meeting. However, the shares have been on the mend, advancing nearly 67% over the past 12 months.

Bullish BAC options traders are likely counting on support from the stock's own 80-day moving average, which has limited losses so far. During the last two weeks at the International Securities Exchange (ISE), Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE), and NASDAQ OMX PHLX (PHLX), speculators have bought to open four times as many Bank of America Corp (NYSE:BAC) calls as puts, hinting at a bigger-than-usual bullish bias toward the financial stock. It's more of the same today, with BAC call options outstripping puts, and trading at nearly three times the anticipated rate for this point in the session.

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