Investors began to return to U.S. equity and global sector equity funds in the first quarter, with U.S. diversified equity funds seeing $11.3 billion in inflows and global sector funds experiencing $14.8 billion in inflows, Standard & Poor’s said, citing Lipper data.

But not all sectors had strong growth. Concerns over rising oil prices and inflation boosted inflows to commodity funds to $6.2 billion and to natural resource funds to $3.7 billion.

Each of the three small-cap peer groups had inflows totaling more than $1 billion, with small-cap core ($3.6 billion) and small-cap growth ($1.6 billion) garnering the greatest investor attention. In contrast, investors redeemed $8.8 billion from large-cap core funds and $1.1 billion from large-cap value funds.

As the global recovery continues, investors appear to be favoring “risk on” sectors like small-caps, which have greater earning leverage to an economic expansion than large-caps, said Alex Young, a strategist with S&P. However, as the recovery matures, large-cap funds will be poised to outperform large-caps, he said.

Global health/biotech and financial services funds were also hit with outflows, while other sectors were essentially flat with the end of 2010.