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Editor's note: As a special feature for April, offers a series reviewing the first-quarter performance of mutual funds and ETFs. This is the first installment.

As the stock market rounded 2007's first corner, open-end mutual funds focusing on Asian investments dominated the lead pack.

But Asia is a big place and, as can be seen in our leaders and laggards list for the quarter, you have to be careful when picking funds that invest in that region. Underscoring the need for caution in choosing Asian funds is that the

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Matthews Korea Fund (MAKOX) and the

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Eaton Vance Greater India Fund (ETGIX) tumbled to the roster of 10 market laggards for the quarter.

Leveraged, "inverse" and institutional funds were excluded from the leaders and laggards lists.

Three of the four non-U.S. equity funds in the top-performer list reflect an Asian focus in their respective names, including two China funds and one Japanese small-cap offering. The No. 2 performer for the quarter, the

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Wasatch International Opportunity Fund (WAIOX), is broadly diversified worldwide, but with 54% of its holdings in Asia.

A specialized Asian fund, the


Cohen & Steers Asia Pacific Realty Fund (APFAX), is among the Asian entries on the leaders list.

Aside from Asia, the only other category with more than one representative on the winners' roster is energy/natural resources, with two funds. Leading the pack is the

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Guinness Atkinson Alternate Energy Fund (GAAEX). Its position as top performer for the quarter is a possible indication of the legitimacy of alternate energy as a serious investment sector.

In addition to the two Asian funds on the list of 10 laggards, there are two health care/biotechnology funds and, reflecting the lending industry's subprime mortgage woes, two financial services funds.

Of the six funds on the winner's list with grades from Ratings, three are in the buy domain with marks in the A and B ranges, including the

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Fidelity Advantage Utilities Fund (FUGAX), with the highest possible grade of A-plus. Two of the leaders are rated as hold recommendations with grades in the C range, with one fund tagged with a sell recommendation and a D-minus grade.

At the opposite end of the scale, the best the laggards could produce were two funds with Ratings grades in the C-range (hold recommendations). Of the group's eight sell-recommended funds, three hold the lowest possible grades of E-minus.

Richard Widows is a financial analyst for Ratings. Prior to joining, Widows was senior product manager for quantitative analytics at Thomson Financial. After receiving an M.B.A. from Santa Clara University in California, his career included development of investment information systems at data firms, including the Lipper division of Reuters. His international experience includes assignments in the U.K. and East Asia.