Few non-leveraged sub-industry exchange traded funds have spent the past two years getting smacked around the way the Market Vectors Rare Earth/Strategic Metals ETF (NYSEArca: REMX) has.

Once a shining stars, REMX and the rare earths sector started falling on hard times in late 2011 after China’s strict import quotas forced prices for the metals higher, prompting consumers of rare earths to look for alternatives. The 17 rare earths metals, which are not really all that rare, are used to produced an array of products for consumer and military use, including night-vision goggles, tablets, smartphones and electric cars. [Rare Earths ETF Falls as Companies Slash Spending]

With the exception of a few sporadic rallies here and there this year, REMX has endured a dismal year with a 34.1% loss and a reverse split. [Rare Earths ETF Rallies in May]

Whether it is brief rally before another decline remains to be seen, but REMX may be giving investors reasons to at least consider the ETF heading into 2014. Since Dec. 15, the ETF has risen 1.6% Last Friday, Molycorp (NYSE: MCP), the largest U.S.-based rare earths producer and one of the group’s marquee names, surged 15% on volume that was better than triple the daily average. The stock is the sixth-largest holding in REMX with a weight of 5.7%.

There may be other reasons for rare earths optimism.

“We may be on the verge of a repeat of a rare earth crisis which started in the summer of 2010. That is when China cut off rare earth exports when Japan detained a Chinese fishing boat in disputed territory. This sparked a mania in the rare earth mining sector in the West as end users realized the need for a secure supply for these critical elements needed for high tech industries,” writes analyst Jeb Handwerger.