NEW YORK -- For investors in stock mutual funds last quarter, health was beautiful and gold was a disaster. But mostly, it was a good quarter.
The average stock mutual fund showed a gain of 6.7 percent, Lipper Analytical Services reported yesterday. That result was substantially better than the gains for the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index, which rose 4.5 percent before dividends and 5.3 percent including dividends.
The performance reflected the fact that small stocks, generally not in the S&P 500, did substantially better than large ones.
The top-performing fund for the last three months, as well as the last year, was the Oppenheimer Global Bio-Technology Fund. It gained 44 percent in the quarter and 128 percent over the last 12 months.
Oppenheimer & Co. closed the fund in April, as cash poured in. But now it is reopening it, with limits on individual investments of $10,000 a month and incentives designed to persuade investors to buy in gradually over a year, rather than all at once.
"Obviously, at these prices there are some risks, and we don't want people to invest all their money at the top of the market," Ken Oberman, the fund's manager, said.
While the Oppenheimer fund led the pack, other biotechnology funds also did well.
Lipper's average of nine such funds was up 18 percent for the quarter, more than any other category of funds. Those funds also were the bigest gainers for the last 12 months, up 75 percent during a period when the average equity fund rose 30 percent.
Among the larger categories of funds, the best performers were small-company growth funds, up 11 percent in the quarter and 50 percent for the year.
It has been a boom period for many smaller stocks, reflected in the performance of the Hartwell Emerging Growth Fund, up 27 percent in the quarter, and the Shearson Small Cap Fund, up 26 percent. They ranked second and third among equity funds for the quarter.
Gold-oriented funds were the only group to decline during the quarter, falling 7.6 percent.
Of the 19 worst-performing funds, all but one specialized in gold-mining companies. That one specialized in silver mines. The worst performance, a loss of 21 percent, was turned in by Strategic Investments.
The stock performance of those funds was a reversal of the second quarter, when gold funds registered a gain of 8 percent.