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number cruncher

What are we looking for?

The biggest gainers among exchange-traded funds in the latest quarter. This shows which sectors have momentum or may be ripe for profit-taking.

The screen

We looked for the 15 top performers for the three months ended Dec. 31. Leverage ETFs were excluded.

What did we find?

A feast of commodity funds.

HBP Comex Silver ETF was the big gainer with a 40.7-per-cent return as the price of silver rallied to 30-year highs. This ETF, which surged 77.2 per cent last year, tracks silver futures on the Comex division of the New York Mercantile Exchange, and hedges its U.S. currency back to Canadian dollars.

BMO S&P/TSX Equal Weight Global Base Metals ETF , also hedged to Canadian dollars, was the second-best performer with a 30.7-per-cent gain. "The rally has continued, especially in copper, as emerging markets continue their growth and demand for base metals is high," said Kevin Gopaul, chief investment officer of BMO ETFs at Bank of Montreal.

One surprise winner was BMO Junior Gas ETF , which rose nearly 23 per cent even though gas prices remain depressed. "There is speculation that we are close to a bottom in natural gas prices, and that has been lifting the names," Mr. Gopaul suggested. "But there is also seasonality too as we enter the cold months when people do expect natural gas prices to rise… If investors believe what the market is telling them now, then the junior gas ETF is a way to play the market."

BMO Junior Gas ETF is invested in 36 companies that earn more than half of their revenues from natural gas production. Sixty-six per cent of the assets are U.S. names, while the balance are Canadian firms. During the quarter, U.S.-based Cheniere Energy Inc. surged 119 per cent and Approach Resources Inc., 107 per cent. Canadian-based Paramount Resources Ltd. rose 56 per cent in the quarter.

BMO Junior Oil ETF and BMO Junior Gold ETF climbed nearly 25 per cent and 18 per cent, respectively, on the back of rising commodity prices. Takeover speculation has also been a catalyst, Mr. Gopaul said. "A lot of juniors have been acquired in the last six months."