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One-half of a strange year is in the books, and for all the economic drama, returns on most U.S.-stock mutual funds were tightly bunched around the mid-single digits -- with one happy exception.

While I think it's useful to understand what happened at the largest actively managed stock funds in the year's first half, you don't want to lose perspective. The surest way to wreck a portfolio is to make decisions based on short-term performance.

You judge a manager by his or her entire record, not by one six-month stretch. All evidence suggests that the long term is what matters. Please read the analyses to get Morningstar's take on whether each fund is a worthy investment.

Health care, real estate and utilities were the best sectors in the first half of 2011, while financials, natural resources and technology were duds. In terms of fund style, small growth and mid growth fared best, while small value and large growth were laggards.

Overall, the first half wasn't all that glorious for the following 10 giants, listed largest to smallest. Three were in the top quartile, but one was in the bottom quartile and two were just barely above it.

1. American Funds Growth Fund of America (AGTHX)-- 4.6% return, rank 69 (1=best and 100=worst)

A sizable overweighting of financials such as Citigroup (C, news) and Wells Fargo (WFC, news) led to a sluggish first half for the biggest actively managed stock fund. It didn't help that it had Google (GOOG, news) and Microsoft (MSFT, news) among other top holdings. (Microsoft owns and publishes MSN Money.)

The fund has nine managers, plus it hands a stake to the firm's analysts. So, for a stock to make it into the top holdings, at least a couple of managers would have to be on board.

As a side note, many shareholders are voting with their feet; this fund's $9.5 billion in year-to-date outflows is the largest of any fund.

2. Fidelity Contrafund (FCNTX)-- 4.4% return, rank 72

Manager William Danoff has a third of the portfolio in tech, but he's been light on health care. So, it wasn't an ideal sector stance for the year's first half.

But the most interesting part of the tech story is that Danoff bought stakes in Facebook and Groupon ahead of their initial public offerings. Given the limited supply of shares, both stakes represent small slivers of the fund. Still, Danoff isn't one to pass up a stock that can boost performance, even if just by a small amount.

Danoff doesn't write off smaller and less-liquid positions just because they can't be a big part of this $80 billion fund on their own. In the past he's bought baskets of small- or mid-cap names in a particular industry he wants exposure to.

3. American Funds Investment Company of America (AIVSX)-- 3.9% return, rank 83

Management was right to underweight financials, but a technology overweighting and a health care underweighting have held the fund back. Like their brethren at American Funds Growth Fund of America, the seven managers here have been stung by Microsoft and Google, and they also have shares of laggard Hewlett-Packard (HPQ, news).

4. American Funds Fundamental Investors A (ANCFX)-- 6.1% return, 32 rank

All right! Our first outperformer. The fund was nicely underweight financials and technology. Also on the plus side, management has done well with tobacco supplier Philip Morris International (PM, news), medical products developer Basic Energy Services (BAS, news) and drug-maker Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMY, news) -- now that's playing both sides of the street.

The fund also had the modest benefit of having the biggest foreign-stock weighting of our top 10 -- 22% of assets. Nearly all of that was in Europe. Despite the Hellenic tragedy, European stocks performed a little better than U.S. stocks in the first half of 2011.

5. American Funds Washington Mutual A (AWSHX)-- 8.1% return, 14 rank

This is America's most dividend-oriented fund, and that's made it a good spot to be in this year. Stakes in such oil majors as Chevron (CVX, news) and Royal Dutch Shell (RDS.A, news) led to solid results, as did exposure to some big telecom companies.