The stock market lows of the past three weeks has hurt the value of mutual funds, several of which posted negative returns for the first quarter, according to a preliminary survey released Friday by Lipper.

U.S. diversified equity funds - which are the most common mutual funds in 401(k) and other savings plans, with more than $3 trillion in assets - posted an average 3% negative return for the first quarter, Lipper said.

Growth funds, which include riskier stocks than core or value funds, saw the worst returns. Small-cap growth funds had a negative return of 5.27%, followed by large-cap growth funds' negative 5.18% returns. In this group, only specialty diversified funds, usually those which invest using religious or ethical philosophies, saw a positive return, averaging 4.37%.

Sector equity funds had an average 4.83% negative return on the $196 billion under management. In light of the Nasdaq Composite Index's lackluster performance, it's no surprise that the worst sector performers were technology funds, with a 9.39% negative return, and telecommunications funds, with a 7.55% negative return.

The only sector funds that saw positive returns were the ones that benefited from increasing oil prices in the quarter, which hit record highs in March. Natural resource funds, which include oil companies, had positive returns of 11.25%, while utility funds saw returns of 1.58%.

Investors who went overseas for returns fared modestly better, though world equity funds, on the whole, saw negative returns of 0.24% for the quarter.

Most other equity funds saw negative returns for the quarter, with gold-oriented funds faring the worst, returning a negative 5%. Global large-cap growth funds, like their U.S. counterparts, also fared poorly, with an average negative return of 3.18%.

Of the top five performing individual funds for the quarter, two were funds specifically designed to combat the bear markets and two were oil and natural resource funds. ProFunds' Energy fund led all mutual funds with a 22.85% return, followed by Rydex Dynamic Funds Venture 100 bear market fund with a 21.1% return. ProFunds' UltraShort OTC bear market fund posted a 20.85% return, U.S. Global Investors Global Resources fund had a 19.12% return and Oppenheimer's Real Asset A total return fund had an 18.98% return.

Subscribe Now

Access to premium content including in-depth coverage of mutual funds, hedge funds, 401(K)s, 529 plans, and more.

3-Week Free Trial

Insight and analysis into the management, marketing, operations and technology of the asset management industry.