Almost nine months after announcing it would introduce a slew of exchange-traded funds, international indexing powerhouse

Barclays Global Investors

is on the verge of making its first foray into the U.S.-based index market.

Barclays says it will launch funds based on many popular indices by midyear. But people familiar with the firm's plans say the new products may be out as soon as next month or even by the end of this month.

"You'll see the most popular domestic index funds going first," says Barclays spokesman Tom Taggart. The official word on the launch date remains midyear.

Taggart won't get into specifics, except to say funds that track various

Dow Jones

,

S&P

and

Russell

stock indices will be the first to market. Most likely, sector funds covering health care, finance and basic materials will be next.

Barclays first filed with the

Securities and Exchange Commission

for 47 new offerings -- 36 domestic products and 11 additional international funds -- last December. The size of the filing itself, which Taggart estimates to be the largest the SEC has seen for a new product launch, may have delayed the start date.

"I think that Barclays said to the SEC, just give us something,'' says Don Cassidy, exchange traded funds analyst with

Lipper

in Denver. "These are the easiest to figure out. The SEC doesn't have to figure out if this is an appropriate index for something like the Bolivian stock exchange.''

Taggart also won't yet disclose the cost, citing competitive reasons. He does say, however, that it will be in line with what others charge and with what investors currently pay Barclays for its 17 international exchange-traded funds known as WEBs, or world equity benchmark shares.

There's reason to believe that Barclays will keep costs down because it lowered the annual expenses for the WEBs just two weeks ago to 0.84%, down from the 0.94% to 1.43% it used to levy.

Barclays, a unit of

Barclays

of London, has been managing WEBs since 1996, based on country indices operated by

Morgan Stanley Dean Witter

. While the 17 funds represent a majority of the funds in the hot exchange-traded universe, they haven't been the most popular.

The new funds give Barclays a foothold in the domestic exchange-traded fund (ETF) arena. Even as the indexing trend in open-end mutual funds is waning, investors seem to be eating up exchange-traded ones.

"They are the biggest fund indexers, so this a natural progression for them since the ETF area has been blossoming as much as it has," Cassidy says.

Investors have been flocking to ETFs recently because they cost less than mutual funds and are easier to trade. Even price conscious

Vanguard

can't beat the bargain basement price. While Vanguard charges investors 0.18% in annual expenses for its flagship

(VFINX) - Get Report

500 Index fund,

Standard & Poor's Depository Receipts

, or Spiders, charge just 0.18% for expenses. Even one of the more exotic indices, the

Nasdaq 100 tracking stock

(QQQ) - Get Report

, costs 0.17% of assets.

But Barclays isn't done yet. It plans to introduce another offering later this year, based on the

S&P Global 100

index, which will trade on the

New York Stock Exchange

. Barclays' upcoming crop of funds, to be known as

iShares

, will trade on the

Amex

along with the rest of its lineup.