'Cubes' Drops Into 'Also Ran' Territory

The much-beloved PowerShares QQQ exchange traded fund fades in popularity.
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If there is one thing worse than always being in second place, it is consistently ranking second only to slide into "also ran" territory.

That sums up what happened in December to the

PowerShares QQQ

(QQQQ)

exchange-traded fund in

TheStreet.com

Ratings' monthly ranking of the 20 most popular ETFs.

The tech-heavy QQQQ, nicknamed the "Cubes" by traders, tracks the Nasdaq-100 Index, which comprises 100 of the largest non-financial companies that trade on the

Nasdaq Stock Market

.

Since time immemorial, the Cubes have monopolized the second spot in ETF trading to the hugely popular

SPRD S&P 500 ETF

(SPY) - Get Report

, nicknamed "Spider." But in the December tally of average ETF daily dollar value of turnover, QQQQ tumbled from its seemingly perpetual second position to fifth on the list, as can be seen in the accompanying table.

Even though QQQQ advanced 2.28% in December, prolonged atrophy in the tech sector caused its average daily dollar volume of trading to shrivel from $6.38 billion in November to $3.91 billion in the year's final month.

QQQQ's top holdings include

Microsoft

(MSFT) - Get Report

,

Apple

(AAPL) - Get Report

,

Qualcom

(QCOM) - Get Report

and

Google

(GOOG) - Get Report

.

A leveraged version of the Cubes, the

ProShares Ultra QQQ

(QLD) - Get Report

, fared just as poorly. It skidded from 12th spot in the November rankings to 16th in December.

Even a "leveraged-inverse" version of the Nasdaq-100 couldn't attract additional investor interest. The

ProShares Ultra Short QQQ

(QID) - Get Report

slipped from sixth-most-popular in November to eighth.

Rejuvenated interest in the long-suffering mid-cap sector propelled the

SPDR Mid Cap 400

(MDY) - Get Report

from 19th position in November to second place last month. The ETF's average daily dollar volume vaulted from $1.07 billion to $6.06 billion.

Three ETFs appear on the December roster that were not there before. The

ProShares Ultra Short Dow 30

(DXD) - Get Report

moved from 21st place to 18th, the

iShares S&P 500

(IVV) - Get Report

advanced from 22nd to 19th and the

iShares MSCI Brazil

(EWZ) - Get Report

climbed from 23rd to 20th.

Displaced from the November top-20 were the

HOLDRs Oil Services

(OIH) - Get Report

, which tumbled from 17th to 21st place, and the

ProShares Ultra Short Russell 2000

(TWM) - Get Report

, which skidded from 18th to 24th.

Also absent from the November list was the

ProShares Ultra Financial

(UGY)

, which sank from 20th position to 22nd spot.

UGY provides a striking example of the perils of leverage, as it crumbled 85.23% in value during 2008, with 65.46% of its negative return coming in the year's final quarter.

As has been the case since the birth of ETFs, the SPDR S&P 500 remained the most popular vehicle in that category, despite a shrinkage of average daily dollar volume of trading from $42.99 billion in November to $28.14 billion last month. Its daily average turnover in the volatile month of October was $53.4 billion.

The Spider's top holdings include blue chips

Exxon Mobil

(XOM) - Get Report

,

General Electric

(GE) - Get Report

,

AT&T

(T) - Get Report

and

Microsoft

(MSFT) - Get Report

.

The November list of the 20 most-popular ETFs can be seen

here

.

Those uncertain as to whether they should choose an ETF or a traditional open-end mutual fund may find guidance

here

.

Richard Widows is a senior financial analyst for TheStreet.com Ratings. Prior to joining TheStreet.com, Widows was senior product manager for quantitative analytics at Thomson Financial. After receiving an M.B.A. from Santa Clara University in California, his career included development of investment information systems at data firms, including the Lipper division of Reuters. His international experience includes assignments in the U.K. and East Asia.