The bear market of 2000-2002 was especially tough for the investment industry. Investors lost a lot of money, mutual funds went belly-up, and several money managers still haven't recovered the assets lost during those years. Growth-focused firms were hit especially hard, with Janus Capital (NYSE:JNS) particularly knocked for a loop. Having struggled to regain its footing ever since, it now looks like Janus may finally be turning the corner.

Back in the game
As a recent Bloomberg article highlighted, Janus may be on track to post its first year of net inflows since 2000. Janus CEO Gary Black stated that strong fund performance is behind the boost in assets. According to Black, more than 90% of the firm's funds are in the top half of their respective Lipper categories for 2007. A tentative rebound in growth stocks this year has also likely aided the firm's growth-oriented funds.

Janus has seen positive net inflows during the opening four months of 2007, thanks partly to these stronger fund returns. Compare that to a total net outflow of roughly $55 billion from 2004-2006. Today, Janus manages only slightly more than half of the assets it commanded at its pre-bear-market peak.

Short-term vs. long-term thinking
It's not surprising that Janus's strong recent performance has boosted its assets under management. Investors tend to overemphasize short-term results when allocating their money. Although most of the Janus funds have had a good year so far, that brief time frame isn't a sound basis for anyone's investment decisions. Fools should always focus on long-term performance when evaluating mutual funds. Recent performance is good to know, but it should never be the sole basis for buying or selling any fund.

But from a big-picture perspective, this may indeed be an opportune time to stock up on a quality growth fund. After years of underperformance, the long-anticipated rebound in growth stocks may finally be emerging. It's too soon to tell whether this trend has lasting power, but eventually, growth will pull ahead of value. Shrewdly positioned investors stand to profit handsomely from the coming bounce.

A prime candidate
If you want to get in on Janus's action, which of its dozens of funds might be a good pick? Personally, I'm impressed by the Janus Advisor Forty Fund (FUND:JARTX).

The Forty Fund is run by longtime manager Scott Schoelzel, who has been at the helm since 1997. The fund invests in a concentrated portfolio of stocks with good growth potential. Schoelzel has the flexibility to invest in companies of varying sizes, from smaller firms to well-known players such as Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), Celgene (NASDAQ:CELG), and Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC).

The fund holds a healthy slug of international names (currently 27% of the portfolio), which has doubtlessly helped returns in recent years. Forty Fund also has a pretty decent track record for a large growth fund, with the exception of 2003, when it trailed most of the funds in the Morningstar large growth category. Despite this stumble, its overall performance has been favorable, and this fund is ideally suited to benefit from any rebound growth stocks may experience in the coming months or years.

However, Fools should note that this fund has held historically high levels of cash in the past -- as much as 30% of assets in 2001 and 2002. If investors see cash levels get this high again, they might want to consider looking elsewhere. However, cash holdings shouldn't be a problem in the immediate future; most growth managers are more fully invested, given the current market environment.

Time will tell whether Janus can maintain its momentum and post its first year of net inflows since the market peak. The firm has the wind at its back right now, and the outlook is good. If you decide a Janus fund might be right for you, be sure to investigate the fund carefully, and consider its performance in a long-term context. Careful research will help to ensure your investment success, no matter what the markets may bring in the coming months.

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Fool contributor Amanda Kish lives in Rochester, N.Y., and does not own shares of any of the companies or funds mentioned herein. The Fool's disclosure policy is never two-faced.