After moving steadily upward for almost a year, a sudden jolt of reality rocked the stock market at the end of February. A big hit to the Shanghai market spread throughout the world's bourses and did not spare the U.S. securities markets.

But even with the late-month downdraft, some equity funds achieved solid gains during February. Even though Asia was blamed by many as the catalyst that triggered the wave of selling, three Asian open-end mutual funds made their way to the list of 10 leading performers.

Included among those funds is the


Advisors Inner Circle Japan Small Company Fund(JSCFX), which climbed 6.79% during the month to capture the top performance spot.

As the price of crude oil reversed its downward course from the prior few months, three energy and natural-resources funds also found their way on to the leader board.

Logically, major users of fuel would be expected to perform inversely with providers of energy. Perhaps because of investor gravitation toward conservative, defensive sectors, three utility funds kept the energy funds company on the top-10 performers list.

For Asian funds in February, location within the continent was critical. While three East Asian funds made the winners' list, South Asia was not a place to have fund investments -- two Indian funds were among the poorest performers for the month.

Below is a list of the leaders and laggards among open-end equity mutual funds as rated by Ratings. Note: Leveraged and "inverse" funds were not included in the leaders and laggards lists, as the proliferation of such funds would otherwise guarantee dominance of the lists to the exclusion to funds which excel or fail because of portfolio performance. In addition, institutional funds with initial investment minimums of more than $25,000 were excluded.

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.