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Equities were able to stop some of the bleeding experienced earlier in the year, but they're still struggling to make any meaningful progress. The major indices were relatively flat overall, but the range of returns depending on which sector or theme you're looking at was wide. On top of that, volatility remains elevated. That means investors are experiencing a wild ride with little in the way of returns to show for it.

One sector continues to stand out as it has all year - energy. Oil prices continue to push higher and higher as supplies remain tight and demand rises ahead of the summer travel season. The catalysts for a potential turnaround - a conclusion to the Russia/Ukraine conflict or a substantial supply increase from OPEC - don't appear to be on the table. Perhaps a pause in the energy sector rally is overdue, but it's been the one place where investors have yet to pull back on buying interest.

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There are just a few spots on this list that don't belong to oil, energy or clean energy themed funds. Latin America is having another run and building on gains captured over the past six months, but that's about it for ETFs gaining more than 10%. Market leadership remains very narrow here, but this energy rally does look a bit long in the tooth.

Here's the list of the best performing ETFs for May 2022.

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In a month where energy dominated, it's the iShares MSCI Chile ETF (ECH) and its gain of nearly 20% that was the biggest winner. What's making Chile such a strong performer? It's one of the few central banks that's taking an ultra-aggressive approach to containing inflation. Its target rate has risen from 0.5% to 8.25% in just a year and is set to go even higher. Inflation is still over 10% there, but the market has generally rewarded those markets that have been aggressive. Brazil is another and has seen similarly strong returns. The First Trust Latin America AlphaDEX ETF (FLN) sneaks in at the bottom of this list.

Pure oil, gas and natural gas futures-based funds continue to post big gains. Among the funds - the United States Gasoline ETF (UGA), the First Trust Natural Gas ETF (FCG), the United States Natural Gas ETF (UNG), the United States Brent Oil ETF (BNO), the United States Oil ETF (USO) and the United States 12 Month Natural Gas ETF (UNL). They all gained more than 10% in May as energy demand remains strong.

Clean energy has seen mixed performance following a stellar 2020. The Global X Lithium & Battery Tech ETF (LIT) was able to extend its rally into 2021, making it one of the sectors better performers. 2022 has been a rough ride, but it rebounded in May as investors reconsider fossil fuel alternatives in light of high prices. The Global X Solar ETF (RAYS) and the Invesco Solar ETF (TAN) rallied for similar reasons.

Usually, it's the more specialized oil & energy ETFs that are either top or bottom performers, but even plain vanilla strategies were able to generate big gains. The Energy Select Sector SPDR ETF (XLE), the Vanguard Energy ETF (VDE) and the Fidelity MSCI Energy ETF (FENY) - three funds with a combined $53 billion in assets - all gained 15-16%.

Other ETFs worth noting:

The SonicShares Global Shipping ETF (BOAT) is the only non-Latin America, non-energy fund on the May top performer list. The catalyst for its strong returns probably needs no explanation. As supply chains, especially from China, remain tight, shipping costs have gone through the roof. This could be a trend that doesn't let up for a while.

The presence of the Invesco S&P 500 Equal Weight Energy ETF (RYE) and the John Hancock Multifactor Energy ETF (JHME) proved that above average returns could be had with alternative strategies. RYE is fairly self-explanatory. JHME targets companies with attractive relative value and healthy profitability measures for inclusion.

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