Short-term performance doesn't seem to mean everything to investors in exchange-traded funds, at least so far in 2009. That is an indication from a trend in the dollar volume of trading in January.

Investors weren't turning over shares in less-conventional "short" and "inverse" ETFs at nearly the same pace as they were in late 2008, even though the

S&P 500

tumbled more than 8% last month. The more common "long" ETFs held their own -- or even gained in investor interest -- during January.

This incipient phenomenon could be a faint signal that investors are starting to look forward to more stable economic times rather than at spurts in past performance.

For example, while average daily volume of trading in the popular

SPDR S&P 500 ETF

(SPY) - Get Report

climbed from an average of $28.1 billion in December to $29.6 billion in January, turnover in the

ProShares Ultra Short S&P 500

(SDS) - Get Report

shrank from $5.4 billion per day to $3.5 billion.

This disparity in relative investor interest came despite a vault of 14.24% in SDS in January and a setback of 8.21% in SPY.

SPY'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

.

Similarly, trading volume in the

PowerShares QQQ

(QQQQ)

rose from a daily average of $3.9 billion in December to $4.1 billion in January, while volume in the

ProShares Ultra Short QQQ

(QID) - Get Report

crumbled from December's average daily rate of $2.8 billion to $1.3 billion in January.

The divergence in their trading volumes occurred even though QID held on to a gain of 0.87% in January while QQQQ skid 2.29%.

QQQQ holds the 100 largest Nasdaq-listed stocks, which, in addition to Microsoft, include

Apple

(AAPL) - Get Report

,

Qualcomm

(QCOM) - Get Report

and

Google

(GOOG) - Get Report

.

While January volume in the venerable

Diamonds Trust

(DIA) - Get Report

eased from a daily average of $3.3 billion in December to $2.9 billion in January, turnover in the

ProShares Ultra Short Dow 30

(DXD) - Get Report

shriveled from $1.1 billion to $695 million over the same stretch.

The loss of investor interest in DXD came despite a rise in value of 16.34% in January, a sharp contrast from DIA's decline of 8.35%.

In December, DXD was 18th on the list of the most popular ETFs, as measured by average dollar volume of daily trading. For the first month of 2009, the shrinkage of investor interest has pushed it off the accompanying list of the 20 most popular ETFs.

Last month's list of the 20 most popular ETFs can be seen

here

.

The adjoining table shows that with international ETFs, a comprehensive worldwide fund held its own, while narrower, geographically "specific" entries suffered losses in investor interest.

The broadly diversified "mainstream"

iShares MSCI EAFE

(EFA) - Get Report

eased from a daily average turnover of $1.6 billion in December to $1.4 billion last month. But the less-diversified

iShares MSCI Emerging Markets

(EEM) - Get Report

shrank from an average of $3.6 billion per day in December to January's pace of slightly less than $2 billion. Similarly, the

iShares FTSE/Xinhua China 25

(FXI) - Get Report

retrogressed from $1.6 billion to $1 billion.

EEM and FXI suffered outsized drops in January turnover despite the fact that each outperformed the broad-based EFA.

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.