Gold miner stocks and exchange traded funds are beginning to show improvements as gold prices inch back to $1,800 an ounce once again. Investors, though, may find that small-cap or “junior” gold miners could outperform their larger counterparts.

Market Vectors Gold Miners ETF (NYSEArca: GDX) is up 9.0% year-to-date while the Market Vectors Junior Gold Miners ETF (NYSEArca: GDXJ) has jumped 17.4%. [Gold Miner ETFs Ride Bullion Toward $1,800]

However, miner stocks followed gold prices sharply lower Wednesday after Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke cooled hopes the central bank will engage in more quantitative easing to assist the economy. [Gold, Miner ETFs Tumble]

Investors should focus on small-cap miners since they have a greater likelihood of growth and leverage to gold, especially since large producers have not historically outperformed gold consistently, writes Jordan Roy-Byrne, proprietor of Trendsman Research, for ETF Daily News.

“Small caps will work their way back to the high before the end of the summer,” Roy-Byrne said in the article. “It will take the time to overcome resistance but the trend will remain higher. The bottom line is small-cap gold stocks have completed a textbook breakout and retest.”

So far, the combination of rising gold prices and improvements in miners’ low valuations is boosting the momentum in gold stocks, Roy-Byrne added. Gold companies are seeing record profits as gold prices have hit their all-time highs, but the leveraged small caps have been trading near their lows relative to gold – they are currently lagging behind the historical price ratio relative to physical gold.

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