Exchange-traded funds had a banner year in 2004 in which the nascent investment classs grew by a staggering 47% to $222 billion, according to Morningstar.

The ETF industry grew by leaps and bounds through 35 new product launches that included low-cost exposure to developing markets like China and commodities sectors that appreciated rapidly. For example, State Street Global Advisors' StreetTracks Gold Trust ETF soaked up $550 million within hours of its launch in November and has since grown to $1.5 billion. Mutual fund heavyweights like Vanguard Group endorsed ETFs by introducing 18 new Vipers last year, while Barclays Global Investors debuted 13 new ETFs.

Despite offshoots into diversified sectors, the industry's flagship ETF investments, the Nasdaq 100 Trust Shares and the SPDR, continue to account for three-quarters of daily ETF trades. But growth in new ETF sectors is gradually improving. Last year, trading volumes in the iShares U.S. Real Estate and iShares S&P Global Energy Sector both grew by 85%.

ETF investors are still looking forward to upcoming launches of socially responsible funds from iShares and new ETF share classes of two Vanguard foreign equity funds.

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