Rare September Surge Has XLV Call Buyers Buzzing

The Health Care Select Sector SPDR Fund hit a record high earlier

Karee Venema
Sep 12, 2017 at 3:55 PM
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September is historically been a weak month for the Health Care Select Sector SPDR Fund (XLV). According to data from Schaeffer's Quantitative Analyst Chris Prybal, the fund has averaged a 1.7% loss in September since its inception. Nevertheless, XLV is bucking this bearish trend so far this month -- thanks in part to a big surge for Pfizer -- up 2.4% since its Aug. 31 close to trade at $93.25, and earlier hitting a record high of $83.36. Options traders, meanwhile, think the shares could run even higher by year's end.

Nearly 28,000 calls have changed hands today -- eight times what's typically seen, and volume pacing in the 91st annual percentile. Most of the action has centered on the December series, where it looks like one trader may have sold to close December 83 calls and used the funds to initiate new long positions at the December 87 call. If this is the case, the trader thinks XLV will rally past $87 by the close on Friday, Dec. 15 -- when the options expire.

This accelerated call buying echoes a recent trend in XLV's options pits. At the International Securities Exchange (ISE), Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE), and NASDAQ OMX PHLX (PHLX), the fund's 10-day call/put volume ratio of 1.52 ranks in the 73rd annual percentile, meaning long calls have been initiated relative to puts at a quicker-than-usual clip. 

However, this call buying coincides with a recent uptick in XLV short interest. After hitting a seven-year low in mid-July, short interest rose 19.07% in the two most recent reporting periods to 21.70 million shares. As such, short sellers could be initiating options hedges to guard against any additional upside risk. 

Regardless of the reason, speculators are currently able to purchase premium on XLV options at relatively tame levels. The fund's Schaeffer's Volatility Index (SVI) 12% ranks in the 13th annual percentile, suggesting short-term options are pricing in comparatively low volatility expectations at the moment.

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