One of this year’s most often cited factoid is that the Russell 2000, the benchmark small-cap index, has been a laggard relative to other major U.S. indices. For example, the iShares Russell 2000 ETF (NYSEArca: IWM) is up barely 1% year-to-date compared to an 8.4% gain for the SPDR S&P 500 ETF (NYSEArca: SPY) and a 13% pop for the PowerShares QQQ (NasdaqGM: QQQ).

Evidence is mounting that small-caps are awakening from their long slumber. IWM, the largest small-cap ETF, is up 4.3% since the start of this month and the charts point to further upside.

“Last week’s rally cleared the downtrend line of the pullback, forcing the 10-day MA and 20-day EMA to turn up. The 20-day EMA is still below the 50-day MA, and the 50-day MA has yet to turn up, so there is still plenty of work ahead,” said Deron Wagner of Morpheus Trading Group of IWM.

Still, investors are displaying caution when it comes to small-cap ETFs. Last week, nearly $1.1 billion was pulled from IWM and since the start of third quarter, only two ETFs have bled more assets than the $2.2 billion lost by IWM. [Small-Cap ETF Waits on New Highs]

The tale of the tape for IWM could boil down to technicals. On the upside, the ETF has reclaimed its 50-day moving average and resides more than 2% above its 200-day line.

Some traders are taking things up a few notches by making bullish bets on the Direxion Daily Small Cap Bull 3X Shares (NYSEArca: TNA). Over the past month, there has been positive creation activity in TNA, according to Direxion data.

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