Some things have made a blessed comeback in retro America: red meat, the occasional glass of whiskey and a few


mutual fund managers who aren't handcuffed by the truth-in-labeling police.

Take a look at the three runaway hits of early 1999 in the Fidelity fund stable.

(FDEGX) - Get Report

Aggressive Growth was up 18.7% year to date through last week. Fidelity


Fifty was ahead by 22.3%, and

(FMILX) - Get Report

New Millennium was up 24.1%. The

S&P 500

index was up 5.7%, and the


index gained 10.4% in the same period.

The returns alone are not our point. These are three funds that don't fully subscribe to any set-in-concrete asset class; they are not specifically buyers of large-, mid- or small-cap stocks. Fidelity Fifty could be growth- or value-oriented at any given time. As a trio, they may not always be big winners and could even tank, but thankfully they are around.

Big fund companies have become so focused on chasing retirement-plan money, believing it is their only remaining American growth market, that seemingly all products are operated to please 401(k) plan sponsors. Need a large-cap growth fund for your mutual fund menu? We've got a manager in that straitjacket right over here!

Fidelity plays that game, too. The death of the cowboy culture was well chronicled at the home of

Peter Lynch

, which manages more than $200 billion in retirement money today. Funds confined to asset classifications aren't such a bad thing: They have a real purpose in the retirement market, and that's clearly where the money is. But why does it seem like every fund has to play that game?

That's why Fidelity's three hot funds are such a hoot. This is what makes them different:

  • Fidelity Fifty was created in 1993 as a fund to own Fido's 50 best ideas in a concentrated portfolio. But it wandered around, owned lots of stocks and did nothing special until manager John Muresianu got his hands on the fund in January. Nearly half his money (48.4%) was in technology by the end of January and another 35% was divided between finance, health and retail/wholesale. Top holdings at year-end ranged from No. 2 Microsoft (MSFT) - Get Report, No. 3 MCI WorldCom (WCOM) , No. 4 TJX (TJX) - Get Report and No. 6 Amgen (AMGN) - Get Report.
  • Aggressive Growth is the fund formerly known as Emerging Growth. We got into a fight with Fidelity over this fund last year because it wasn't being run as advertised. Despite Fido's protests, we had no beef with Erin Sullivan and her big returns. We didn't like how Fidelity was pitching the product as a mid-cap fund that was really feasting on large-cap investments. Fidelity changed the name, among other things, and now the fund is freer than ever to chase whatever stocks Sullivan likes. This is a fund that earned 43.3% for shareholders last year.
  • Fidelity's own description of New Millennium starts out like this: "Management focus is on identifying future beneficiaries of social and economic change." Stick that in your style box! At the moment, manager Neal Miller thinks the beneficiaries are on the Internet. CMGI (CMGI) and Yahoo! (YHOO) were his top two holdings at year-end, and technology accounted for 40% of the portfolio.

We could tell you that New Millennium is the No. 1 capital appreciation fund year to date, according to


. Fidelity Fifty ranks fourth in the same category. But that is exactly not the point. They don't act like a category fund of any kind, and hopefully they will stay that way.

"What you're seeing is that when you unfetter good active managers, they're exhibiting their ability to ferret out really explosive growth in a very choppy market,'' says James Lowell, publisher of

Fidelity Investor

, an independent newsletter. "They're definitely taking on a very aggressive investment strategy.''

So here's a fair question: Would we be applauding if the managers of these three funds were taking a go-anywhere approach but posting dismal results? Probably not. We said we liked the strategy. We haven't gone nuts.

April 15 is fast approaching. For some insights that may help you with your return, read our series, TSC Does Mike Bauer's Taxes. Yes, we really do a reader's tax return to illustrate how tax laws apply to real people. And join the series author, TSC tax reporter Tracy Byrnes, and Martin Nissenbaum of Ernst & Young for a Yahoo! Chat Tuesday at 5 p.m. EST.

Steven Syre & Steve Bailey write for the Boston Globe. This column is exclusive to At time of publication, they held no positions in the stocks or funds discussed in this column, although holdings can change at any time. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy stocks or funds.