In sports parlance, the 2006 U.S. stock market would be described as a "second-half game." The stock market started the year with generally promising performance, then encountered an unsettling downdraft in the spring. But by midyear it was back on its feet and headed toward a strong finish.

But there were also laggards that couldn't put together competitive performances even with the benefit of a strong stock market tailwind.

In an effort to identify the mutual funds that tend to have the wind at their backs during periods of market strength, TheStreet.com Ratings compiled a list of leaders and laggards during 2006's second half. The list excludes leveraged and "inverse" funds as well as those with minimum initial investments of more than $10,000. To attain an even comparison of diversified equity funds, specific sector funds were also excluded.

Surprisingly, the leaders list is not dominated by volatile growth funds. Six of the top performers on the list are asset-allocation funds that combine stocks and bonds for what are intended to be steady but conservative returns. Five of them are Banc of America retirement series funds, a category that would be considered especially conservative. Seven of the leaders incorporate the word "value" in their names -- not a term that conjures up images of super-exponential growth. And three funds are of the "growth and income" classification.

Of 10 leaders with sufficient history to qualify for TheStreet.com Ratings grades, seven are in the A and B ranges that qualify as buy recommendations.

Generally speaking, the leaders tended to spread out their performance with decent gains in both the third and fourth quarters of the year, as can be derived by comparing second-quarter results with fourth-quarter postings.

This was frequently not the case with the laggards. Five of the laggards were on the list despite positive fourth quarters. However, seven of the bottom-dwellers suffered the biggest portions of their losses in the year's final quarter. Clearly, consistency -- as well as lack of overall results -- was not a characteristic of the laggards group.

All 15 of the laggards with qualifying history for TheStreet.com Ratings grades received marks in the D and E ranges, which equate with sell recommendations.

2006 Second-Half Action: Leaders and Laggards
Fund and Ticker Objective 1-Year Total Return (%) 6-Month Total Return (%) 3-Month Total Return (%) TSC Ratings Grade
Leaders
Commerce Value Fund Inst - (CFVLX) Growth & Income 30.84 24.27 15.89 A+
Federated Strategic Value A - (SVAAX) Equity Income 29.74 19.46 8.71 U
Lazard U.S. Eqty Value Prt Open - (LEVOX) Growth & Income 25.94 19.37 9.92 U
Tilson Focus Fd - (TILFX) Growth 25.68 19.29 10.69 U
TA IDEX BlackRock Large Cap Value* Growth 25.62 18.17 14.87 U
Janus Contrarian Fund - (JSVAX) Growth 24.58 18.33 12.27 B-
Old Mutual Focused Fd A - (OAFCX) Growth 22.53 18.42 8.48 A-
Longleaf Partners Small-Cap Fund - (LLSCX) Small Cap 22.33 18.47 9.27 B
Old Mutual Large Cap Fd A - (OLLLX) Growth 22.01 18.23 7.72 B
Commerce Asset Allocation Inst - (CAAIX) Asset Allocation 20.66 18.69 13.37 B-
Laggards
Ameritor Investment - (AIVTX) Growth -85.71 -66.67 -0.01 E-
MassMutual Premier Small Co Opp A - (DLBMX) Small Cap -26.39 -28.14 -26.80 E-
American Heritage Growth Fund - (AHEGX) Growth -25.00 -25.00 0 U
American Heritage Fund - (AHERX) Aggressive Growth -12.50 -12.50 -12.50 E-
Rice Hall James Small/Mid Cap Port - (RHJMX) Small Cap -11.32 -14.95 -14.37 E-
Ameritor Security Trust 1 - (ASTRX) Aggressive Growth -10.00 -12.20 0 E-
Gabelli Comstock Partners Strat A - (CPFAX) Aggressive Growth -9.04 -4.95 -2.28 E-
Gabelli Comstck Partners Cap Val A - (DRCVX) Aggressive Growth -7.90 -6.77 -3.61 E-
PIMCO StocksPLUS Tr Sh Strat A - (PSSAX) Growth & Income -6.66 -5.24 -4.57 D
STAAR Inv Trust Sm Comp Stock Fund* Small Cap -6.60 -12.24 -11.20 E
*Ticker not available
Source: TheStreet.com Ratings. Data as of 12/31/2006

Widows is a financial analyst for TheStreet.com Ratings. Prior to joining TheStreet.com, 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.

More from Mutual Funds

60 Seconds: What's the Difference Between an ETF and a Mutual Fund?

60 Seconds: What's the Difference Between an ETF and a Mutual Fund?

Mutual Funds on Track for Record Year

Mutual Funds on Track for Record Year

Bitcoin Today: Prices Come Off Highs as Rally to $10,000 Pauses

Bitcoin Today: Prices Come Off Highs as Rally to $10,000 Pauses

Video: How to Select Mutual Funds in Your 401(k)

Video: How to Select Mutual Funds in Your 401(k)

Tax Tip: Uncle Sam Will Be Looking for Your Cryptocurrency Trades

Tax Tip: Uncle Sam Will Be Looking for Your Cryptocurrency Trades