U.S. small-caps and the related exchange traded funds continue lagging their large-cap counterparts and some traders are growing concerned the condition is set to worsen for smaller stocks. Year-to-date, the iShares Russell 2000 ETF (NYSE: IWM), the largest small-cap ETF, is up just 2.7 percent while the S&P 500 is higher by more than 11 percent.
Data suggest options traders are turning bearish on IWM.
“In Small-Caps, we have seen some hesitation with September downside puts being snapped up this morning, and with IWM threatening to trade at its 200 day MA for the second time in the past five sessions,” said Street One Financial Vice President Paul Weisbruch in a Thursday note. “More than $700 million has vacated IWM in the past couple sessions via redemptions, adding to the notable outflows year-to-date in the fund which total over $3.8 billion now.”
On The Other Hand...
While investors are departing IWM and options traders are turning bearish on the fund, the tale of the tape from the world of leveraged small-cap ETFs paints a different picture of traders' preferences.
For example, the Direxion Daily Small Cap Bull 3X Shares (NYSE: TNA) has recently seen inflows while its bearish counterpart, the Direxion Daily Small Cap Bear 3X Shares (NYSE: TZA) has seen outflows.
Over the past month, TNA averaged daily inflows of almost $5.2 million while daily departures from TZA have averaged just over $1.5 million, according to Direxion data. TNA attempts to deliver triple the daily returns of the Russell 2000 while TZA looks to deliver triple the daily inverse returns of that benchmark.
IWM's laggard status is somewhat surprising when considering that the ETF allocates over 32 percent of its weight to technology and healthcare stocks. Those are the ETF's second- and third-largest sector weights and two of the best-performing groups among large-caps this year.
IWM's largest sector allocation is 18 percent to financial services, indicating that smaller financials have been even less responsive to the Federal Reserve's interest rate hikes than their large-cap brethren.
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