ETFs, or exchange-traded funds, have greatly expanded since their first appearance in 1993. ETFs are usually collections of stocks that trade on the exchange, setting them apart from mutual funds. The price fluctuates throughout the trading day, while the price of mutual funds is set once a day. The funds typically act as index funds, tracking the performance of stocks within a certain index, such as Standard and Poor's 500. If you want to try investing in ETFs, you may use an online calculator — or screener — to compare the performance of several different funds.
Choose a screener to use to compare ETFs. Some calculators are more complex than others. For example, to use the one offered by Smartmoney.com, you simply need to type in the ticker symbol of each ETF you want to compare. Others, such as the one at Bloomberg.com, allow you to sort ETFs by country, expense ratio and performance.
Determine the criteria you will use to search for and compare ETFs. Look for ETFs from a specific country, for example, or those that have a yearly return between 0.0 and 5.0. If you are looking for a class, such as commodity or real estate, input that information if allowed. Keep in mind that the more information you enter, the fewer results you will get back. In some cases, you won't get any results if you are too specific in your criteria.
Read the information provided by the screener. Some simply list all the data from each ETF, while others feature charts and graphs to show the change in the ETF over the year. Information to look for includes the last price of the ETF and its performance over time. For example, according to Smartmoney, the S&P 500 ETF had a volume of 198,526,485 as of December 2011. Its five-year performance was -0.64 while its one-year performance was 1.69.