Russel Kinnel, director of mutual fund research at Morningstar in Chicago, has pinpointed four struggling funds that have recently shown new signs of life. But looks can be deceiving, he adds.

For starters, there's American Century Gift Trust, an aggressive fund that has frustrated its shareholders in the past. It suffered three straight bottom-decile performances between 1996 and 1998 and then moved near the front of its class in 1999 before bottoming out again for four of the next five years. In 2005, it posted a "truly impressive" 22.05% return, Kinnel observed.

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