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 TheStreet.com Ratings -- the ING Russia Fund ( LETRX) and World Funds Third Millennium Russia Fund ( TMRFX) -- receive the lowest possible grade of E-minus from TheStreet.com 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 TheStreet.com 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 TheStreet.com Ratings.

A fund with performance somewhat resembling a hedge fund, the Z-Seven Fund Inc. ( ZSEVX), remains fractionally higher for the past three years. It's the only fund on the list not in the minus column for that period (with the exception of the J.P. Morgan Russia Fund ( JRUAX), for which a three-year return was not available).

Another steady performer that gained in February was the Hussman Strategic Growth Fund ( HSGFX), which ended within a fraction of breakeven for the past three years. Its grade of "A" from TheStreet.com Ratings equates with a "buy" recommendation.

SOME STOCK FUNDS GAINED IN FEBRUARY:
BEGINNINGS OF UPTRENDS OR JUST ONE-MONTH BOUNCES?
NAME, TICKER & TheStreet.com RATINGS GRADE
MAX. INIT. SALES CHG. (%)
1-MO. TOTAL RET'N (%)
12-MO. TOTAL RET'N (%)\
3-YR. ANN'L RET'N (%)
ING Russia Fund (LETRX) E-
5.75
4.83
-73.41
-24.91
Virtus Market Neutral Fund (EMNAX) A+
5.75
3.42
0.10
-2.24
Z-Seven Fund Inc (ZSEVX) U
0.00
3.38
-1.65
0.16
Fidelity Select Telecom Port. (FSTCX) C
0.00
3.28
-38.13
-12.91
JPMorgan Russia Fund (JRUAX) U
5.25
2.89
-81.48
N.A.
Oppenheimer Int'l Small Company (OSMAX) E-
5.75
2.76
-64.35
-21.01
Tocqueville Gold Fund (TGLDX) C+
0.00
2.20
-39.54
-1.90
World Funds - Third Millennium Russia (TMRFX) E-
5.75
2.17
-77.18
-32.02
Hussman Strategic Growth Fund (HSGFX) A
0.00
2.04
-7.23
-0.47
Oberweis China Opportunities Fund (OBCHX) D+
0.00
1.99
-56.58
-8.05
Source: TheStreet.com Ratings & Bloomberg (Data as of 2/28/2009).

For an explanation of our ratings, click here.
Richard Widows is a senior 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.

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