Exchange traded funds that invest in gold miner stocks are down for the year amid volatile action even though bullion ETFs have advanced and remain near record highs.

Market Vectors Gold Miners ETF (NYSEArca: GDX) is off 15.8% so far in 2011, according to Morningstar. The $6.3 billion fund’s top stock holdings include Barrick Gold, Goldcorp and Newmont Mining. The ETF charges an expense ratio of 0.53%.

ETFs that hold gold bullion have fared better in the first half of the year. SPDR Gold Shares (NYSEArca: GLD) is up roughly 7%. [Gold and Miner ETFs Part Ways]

Some gold miners are boosting their dividends as they compete with bullion ETFs for investors’ cash. [Gold Miners Hike Dividends]

“One can speculate endlessly for the reasons [for the divergence], but it looks … that there is a paired trade going on, of long bullion and short miners,” blog Jesse’s Cafe Americain said Friday. “If this is true, if gold breaks out and the stock market recovers somewhat, the miners will play catch up. But if the stock market falls apart, the miners are much more vulnerable to a sell-off than bullion.”

Market Vectors Gold Miners ETF