Brokerage firms, along with related stock exchange traded fund, could finally be turning around as trading activity in the fixed-income space touched its highest level this year.

The iShares US Broker-Dealers ETF (NYSEArca: IAI), which tracks U.S. investment banks, discount brokerages and stock exchanges, has underperformed the broader market for most of the year, rising 3.4% year-to-date, compared to 6.4% gain in the S&P 500 Financial Index and 8.1% increase in the S&P 500.

However, things are looking up as trading activity picks up. In the bond market, trading volume across almost every fixed-income category increased, with an average daily trading volume up 11% in September month-over-month, its highest level this year, reports John Carney for the Wall Street Journal.

The improved trading activity is good news for brokers, including Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS) and J.P. Morgan Chase (NYSE JPM), where firms have trudged through disappointing earnings for several quarters, partly due to a decline in their fixed-income, currency and commodity units.

Goldman Sachs is the largest holding in IAI at 9.8% of the fund, followed by Morgan Stanley (NYSE: MS) 8.7% and Charles Schwab (NYSE: SCHW) 7.6%. IAI also includes some other investment services firms, including the CME Group (NYSE: CME) 7.3% and Intercontinental Exhange (NYSE: ICE) 6.6%.

Fueling a rise in trading activity, the diverging central bank policies are creating opportunities in the fixed-income market – the U.S. is signalling an end to its loose monetary policies, whereas the European Central Bank, People’s Bank of China and Bank of Japan are moving toward more easing.

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