Mutual funds finished the first quarter of the year in the red, with rising oil prices, increasing interest rates and the struggling dollar contributing to the slump in performance.

Equity funds ended the quarter with a slight loss, according to mutual fund tracker Lipper. Bond funds fared slightly better, but even they were flat for the quarter ended March 31.

Most of the major benchmark indexes, including the S&P 500 and the Russell 2000, also performed poorly.

Value funds, as a whole, performed better than growth funds, but in general pitched in unimpressive performances. Fund groups, regardless of size, were on track to finish with losses of as much as 5%.

Among sector funds, natural resources funds gained around 13%. However, financial services, science and technology and real estate funds experienced a quarterly loss, according to Lipper.

The best performing objectives among world equity funds came in the international small/mid-cap groups. Most world groups were essentially flat.

The widespread gloom could also be seen among the 25 largest funds, ranked by assets. Most of them were on track to finish the quarter slightly in the red.

The overall weak performances did not discourage money inflows into funds. According to the Investment Company Institute, a net of $22 billion went into stock funds in the month of February, while investors pulled $20 billion out of money market funds.

The combined assets of the nation's mutual fund companies through the end of February is now $8.12 trillion, up 1.5% from January and up slightly from the end of 2004.

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