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These Stock Funds Rose in the Worst of Times

In a month when stocks fell enough to qualify as a bad full year, a handful of equity mutual funds made headway against the torrent of selling, half of them foreign-focused.

Now, investors have to decide if the gains, during a month when the benchmark S&P 500 tumbled more than 10%, were harbingers of incipient reversals or dead-cat bounces after drops from lofty peaks.

The 10 stock funds populating the adjoining table represent February's best stock-fund performers, excluding the ubiquitous leveraged and "inverse" participants that routinely cluster at both extremities of the performance array.

The foreign-focused entries may have simply enjoyed rebounds after brutal falls. Even after their one-month gains, the three Russian funds, the China play and the international small-cap portfolio remain below water by as much as 81% for the most recent 12 months.

The two Russian funds with sufficient histories for evaluation from Ratings -- the ING Russia Fund (LETRX) and World Funds Third Millennium Russia Fund (TMRFX) -- receive the lowest possible grade of E-minus from Ratings, classifying them as "sell" recommendations. The Oppenheimer International Small Company Fund (OSMAX) is also an E-minus, while the Oberweis China Opportunities Fund (OBCHX) rates a D-plus, also equivalent to a "sell" recommendation.

The Tocqueville Gold Fund (TGLDX) has international holdings in its precious metals portfolio. Along with the Fidelity Select Telecom Portfolio (FSTCX), the funds are graded by Ratings in the "C" range, making them "hold" recommendations.

The only member of the group with positive results for the latest 12 months is a hedge-fund lookalike, the Virtus Market Neutral Fund (EMNAX), which has eked by with a gain of 0.10% for the period. Its steady performance in the face of recent market turbulence earns it the highest possible grade of A-plus, equivalent to a "buy" recommendation, from Ratings.

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