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Liberty Funds

plans to ask shareholders permission to merge away 17 of its 95 funds in December.

Last Friday the firm filed preliminary paperwork with regulators noting plans to slim down its product line. The Boston-based shop -- which has several different brands of funds under its umbrella, including

Colonial Funds


Stein Roe Funds

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-- is probably moving to cut costs and limit the number of funds it offers in slow-selling categories.

Most of the merging stock funds follow a value strategy -- essentially bargain-hunting in the stock market -- which has been out of favor in recent years. Five of the six bond funds it hopes to merge away are state-specific tax-exempt funds, which also haven't found much of an audience of late. Most of the merging funds have modest assets.

Fund firms often combine funds in slow-selling categories to trim costs and moderate fund expenses through economies of scale. These moves are most frequent when investors aren't beating a path to a fund shop's door.

Through the 12 months ending June 30, Liberty Funds assets slipped 3.5%, according to Boston-based fund consultant

Financial Research

. Over the same time period the fund industry's assets rose some 16%.

Investors should receive proxies on these mergers early next month, according to the filing. If all goes according to plan the proxies will be due Dec. 19 and the funds will merge in January, if shareholders approve.