Over 100 U.S. "blue chips" now selling for under $10 a share

NEW YORK (Reuters) - One hundred and one.

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, November 14, 2008. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

No, that’s not Dalmatians but the number of stocks in the U.S. benchmark S&P 500 index now trading for less than $10 a share.

In fact, $10 would get you 10 shares of online broker E*Trade ETFC.O, now the cheapest stock in the index at 98 cents a share. At the other end of this low-ball spectrum you can get a small slice of the garbage business with a share of Allied Waste AW.N at $9.90.

In between lies a raft of household names, many formerly held up as blue chips, including Citigroup C.N ($6.40), Alcoa AA.N ($8.16), Xerox XRX.N ($5.58), Motorola MOT.N ($3.44), Starbucks SBUX.O ($7.97) and Yahoo YHOO.O ($9.14), not to mention beleaguered automakers Ford Motor F.N ($1.26) and General Motors GM.N ($2.79).

In all, the group makes up the greatest number of sub-$10 stocks in the index in at least 28 years, said Howard Silverblatt, senior index analyst at Standard & Poor’s.

In fact, Silverblatt said it could be the most in the post-World-War II era, though he cautioned that his data reaches only as far back as 1980.

“This is definitely unusual,” he said. “I think you’d have to go back as far as the 1940s, when $10 was worth more to see a similar number,” he said.

According to S&P data, 101 is almost double the 59 companies with share prices below $10 in October 2001 when the dotcom meltdown was in full swing and almost triple the 35 sub-$10 stocks in October 1987.

Ten dollars is more than just a psychological barrier. Some institutional investors cannot invest in shares below $10 and some bond contracts require companies above that level.

Some other gloomy facts: only five S&P 500 companies had share prices of more than $100 on Wednesday.

So far this year, the S&P 500 has plunged 45 percent. It is now worth just over $7 trillion, the index’s lowest collective market value in 11 years.

Twenty-five stocks, or five percent of the index, don’t make the $1 billion mark in market cap, and just 11 exceed the $100 billion level.

In fact, a third of the entire index is not even qualified to be in the index -- 186 stocks have market caps under $4 billion, the minimum value for consideration for S&P 500 membership.

Reporting by Kristina Cooke and Dan Burns