XLF Call Options Active as Rate-Hike Expectations Rise

It looks like one speculator extended a bullish position on XLF, rolling thousands of call options

Andrea Kramer
Aug 15, 2017 at 2:44 PM
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Relatively upbeat economic data today has boosted expectations for a December rate hike from the Fed to above 50%, per CME Group's FedWatch tool. As such, bank and credit card stocks are getting a lift, and one options trader is extending a bullish position on the Financial Select Sector SPDR Fund (XLF). Below, we'll break down the massive roll in the financial exchange-traded fund's (ETF) options pits, and why XLF's near-term options could be a bargain.

XLF calls are crossing the tape at twice the average intraday pace, with roughly 96,000 traded so far, compared to 30,000 puts. Most of the action has transpired at the August 25 and October 26 calls, with simultaneous blocks of 38,000 contracts traded this morning. According to Trade-Alert, the speculator likely sold to close the August 25 calls ahead of Friday's expiration, and used the proceeds to buy to open October 26 calls, which will move into the money if XLF shares topple $26 -- territory not charted since the financial crisis -- by October options expiration.

XLF has rallied nearly 29% in the past year, touching a nine-year high of $25.59 -- and temporarily barreling past congestion in the $25-$25.50 area -- just last week. At last check, the shares were 0.3% higher at $25.16.

Still, many bank stocks remain underloved, and today's appetite for XLF calls marks a change of pace for the ETF. On the International Securities Exchange (ISE), Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE), and NASDAQ OMX PHLX (PHLX), the fund's 10-day put/call volume ratio of 1.26 is in the 72nd percentile of its annual range, pointing to accelerated put buying over call buying during the past two weeks.

Whether bullish or bearish, though, XLF's near-term options look like a relative bargain for buyers. The ETF's Schaeffer's Volatility Index (SVI) of 13% is in just the third percentile of its annual range, suggesting near-term options traders are pricing in relatively low volatility expectations -- translating into attractive premiums. Plus, the fund's Schaeffer's Volatility Scorecard (SVS) of 73 indicates XLF has tended to exceed options traders' volatility expectations during the past year.

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