Total assets invested in exchange-traded funds listed in the United States rose 2.5% in November, according to the latest numbers available from the Investment Company Institute. (ETFs are relatively new securities that trade like stocks and are usually tied to an index of some sort, such as the S&P 500.) The total invested amount as of November? $397 billion.

That $397 billion is more than the market capitalization of Wal-Mart, and it's growing faster than the values of these companies lately. (ETF assets in total are up some 34% over the past year or so.) Within the ETF universe, internationally focused ETFs drew more money, rising 57% to $107 billion. Domestic ETFs rose 27% to $275 billion.

There are now more than 200 ETFs based in the U.S., and the number is growing. Some new ETF developments are discussed in these articles:

So, is there any reason for you to jump on this charging bandwagon and snap up some ETFs for yourself? Well, ETFs do offer some advantages. Whereas some index funds sport minimum investment amounts of $1,000 or $3,000, or more, you can buy as little as a single share of an ETF, which might go for $150 or $100 or less. Also, they can give you instant, diversified exposure to lots of regions and industries. One of the best-performing ETFs of 2005, for example, was the Energy Select Sector SPDR (AMEX:XLE), which rose 40%. Its top holdings include ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM), Chevron, ConocoPhillips (NYSE:COP), Schlumberger (NYSE:SLB), Halliburton, Marathon Oil (NYSE:MRO), and Valero Energy (NYSE:VLO). If you want to be instantly invested in, say, a bunch of dividend-paying stocks, or emerging-market stocks, or health-care stocks, there are ETFs that can help you do so.

Before you jump, though, take some time to learn more about whether ETFs are really for you. Our ETF Center will teach you a lot. It features info on how ETFs stack up against mutual funds, how to develop an investment strategy with ETFs, pitfalls to avoid, and how to avoid ETF imposters.

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This article was originally published on June 16, 2006. It has been updated by Fool sector head Joey Khattab, who does not own any of the shares mentioned. The Fool has a disclosure policy.