Amid Industry Turmoil, Regional Banking ETF Leads Unusual Options Activity

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Many investors don’t pay attention to options because they find them too confusing and there can be multiple implications from a single data point. However, traders who are looking for opportunity often like to see their thesis line up with unusual options activity. Of course, a highly volatile event — like a regional banking crisis — can really amp up the activity.

Simply put, when large traders or big investors (like hedge funds and investment firms) make their moves, they can often leave their footprints behind. Those footprints show up in the form of outsized options activity in the underlying stocks and are evident on Fintel’s Options Flow Leaderboard.

With that in mind, let’s look at seven exchange-traded funds that have shown some heavy call flow over the last week.

SPDR S&P Regional Banking ETF (KRE)

It’s been a crazy month in the stock market. The failures of SVB Financial (US:SIVB) and Signature Bank (US:SBNYcreated a panic in the regional banking space. Aside from manifesting itself within individual banking stocks, the SPDR S&P Regional Banking ETF (US:KRE) has shown extreme volatility lately.

From its March 6 high to its low a week later, the KRE ETF fell 31.1%. That’s brought out big options action, particularly on the long side.

March 17 saw three notable trades fired off in the April puts. That’s as one (or possibly several) traders sold $3.01 million of the at-the-money $43 puts, $3.4 million of the $48 puts and $3.8 million of the $49 puts.

Remember, put sales are bullish trades in the options world. There was more bullish action the day before, too.

That’s as one trader bought more than $12.1 million worth of the January 2024 $52 calls. Around the same time, someone sold almost $4 million worth of the April $48 puts.

ARK Innovation ETF (ARKK)

Known for her big calls in tech stocks, Cathie Wood’s ARK Innovation ETF (US:ARKK) has become quite popular among growth-stock investors. In that respect, they’ll appreciate the two options trades on March 13 that caught our attention.

One trader sold $1.59 million worth of the January 2024 at-the-money $38 puts and as another trader sold $2.03 million worth of the April $34 puts.

Those were followed by some bearish flow, most notably occurring on March 16 when someone bought almost $1 million of the May $33 puts and $3.3 million worth of the April $37 puts.

iShares MSCI Emerging Markets ETF (EEM)

The bears were out in full force with the iShares MSCI Emerging Markets ETF (US:EEM) last week.

That’s as one firm bought $9.7 million worth of March 2024 at-the-money $38 puts. This bearish bet could be protection on a current position and doesn’t expire for roughly one year. It would be a reasonable way to protect a long position against worries over a global recession — or a global bank scare. That said, it would likely come with some upside call sales to help finance the position (which we didn’t detect).

Lastly, a truly mammoth trade stood out on the long side. That’s as one firm sold more than $75 million worth of the December deep-in-the-money $55 puts.

SPDR Gold Trust (GLD)

Given the recent uncertainty in the market, it’s no surprise to see gold prices jumping. That’s helped give the SPDR Gold Trust (US:GLD) a nice boost, as it’s up about 10% so far from this month’s low. Judging by some of last week’s options flow, traders expect more upside. The ETF is the world’s largest physically backed gold fund.

That’s as someone bought $1.85 million of the May $205 calls, while the GLD ETF was trading near $182. It’s also as one trader bought almost $4.9 million worth of the March 31 $185 calls and almost $500,000 of the March 31st $184 calls. Both trades took place on March 17.

A few hours later, another purchase of the March 31 $185 calls hit the tape, with the premium in excess of $4 million.

Consumer Discretionary Select Sector SPDR Fund (XLY)

The Consumer Discretionary Select Sector SPDR Fund (US:XLY) was one the top ETFs for options flow in recent days, but it’s only because of a few traders that so dramatically stood out.

Perhaps most notably, someone bought $9 million worth of the March $165 calls, $5.2 million of the March $160 calls and $1.38 million of the $153 calls. All of these trades took place at the same time on March 15, with XLY stock trading near $139.

Notably, someone else bought almost $2.4 million worth of the April $130 puts earlier in the session — a bearish bet.

The Energy Select Sector SPDR Fund (XLE)

Rounding out our list are a couple of energy stock ETFs, The Energy Select Sector SPDR Fund (US:XLE) leads the way. Plenty of seven-figure trades took place in the XLE ETF as oil prices are under pressure.

However, the main focus came as someone sold roughly $46 million worth of various March puts, including the following strikes: The $90, $91, $92, $95 and $100 strikes. The sales came on March 15.

One other trade stood out, as someone sold over $9 million worth of the April $80 puts on March 17, which were slightly in-the-money.

VanEck Vectors Oil Services ETF (OIH)

In regards to the VanEck Oil Services ETF (US:OIH), it sees much less volume than the XLE ETF, but it also saw some noteworthy action that vaulted the ETF toward the top of the list for unusual options flow in exchange-traded funds.

Two trades that stood out are the roughly $5.5 million of the June $295 puts that were sold on March 15, followed by the $4.2 million of June $300 puts that were sold the next day.

Both trades represent a bullish position on their own and were notably in-the-money with the OIH trading between $258 and $265 at the time of the trade.

This article originally appeared on Fintel

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