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Bullish, Bearish ETF Trends in 2011

Stocks in this article: GLD GDX IYT SEA FXE

The following commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet's guest contributor program, which is separate from the company's news coverage.

NEW YORK ( ETF Expert) -- Even an ardent trend-follower who diligently tracks the price of the S&P 500 must be frustrated. Granted, had he/she sold when the heralded benchmark fell below its 200-day moving average in August, he may have protected principal temporarily.

However, the strategy would have left one buying and selling for losses in October, November and December. Yikes!

Fundamental-valuation wonks have little cause for celebration, either. Some of the most remarkably profitable and successful firms from the technology, energy and industrial sectors began the year trading near decade lows for respective P/E ratios. Did it matter? Earnings may have grown at double-digit rates while prices logged -10%, -20%, even -30%.

Apparently, geopolitical concerns from the Middle East to Europe to Asia (think North Korea) have caused so much uncertainty, neither the "bull" nor the "bear" is taking charge. Instead, we've seen little more than erratic price swings.

There are, however, three ETF trends that the perma-bears may use for debate. I point them out because it is foolish to ignore these particular facts and not to make the case that stocks as an asset class are doomed.

For example, throughout the year, gold held a special place in the hearts of risk-averse investors. And for most of 2011, funds like the SPDR Gold Trust (GLD) rewarded believers in the yellow metal's superiority over fiat currency.

Granted, gold has taken a swift kick in the backside lately. Credit the flight to Treasuries, the hoarding of cash as well as profit taking by hedge funds. Even still, the precious commodity raked in double-digit percentage gains through Wednesday.

Gold's rise should have been a boon to miners big and small. Yet even the established producers in Market Vectors Gold Miners (GDX) collectively set new 52-week lows and 18% year-to-date losses. It's difficult to see the trend as anything but bearish for metal and mining production.

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