What costs more — a spark plug or a share of General Motors? A Sunday New York Times or a share of the newspaper company? A General Electric toaster or a share of GE?
In the surest sign of the depth of the recession, the products associated with high-profile companies now cost more than buying a piece of the business.
Since the start of 2007, shares in companies from every sector have been hit.
• General Motors shares have fallen from $30.30 to $2.22, less than the cost of a standard spark plug (about $3.79).
• New York Times shares have fallen from $24.27 to $3.95, cheaper than the $4 cost of its Sunday edition.
• General Electric shares fell from $30.30 to $9.08, cheaper than a GE two-slice bagel toaster at Wal-Mart, selling on the clearance rack for $12.
• Office Depot is down from $38.27 to $1.26, less than a 12-pack of medium point Papermate BallPoint Stick Pens which runs $1.89.
• US Airways has fallen from $53.89 to $3.66, less than the current $4 cost of two in-flight coffees.
The bargain-basement stock prices of America’s best known companies present either the greatest opportunity of a lifetime — or the biggest money pit this side of the Great Depression.
Of course, many didn’t survive then — and many won’t survive now. Someone who bought shares of Circuit City, which cost $5.75 before the one-time retailing bellwether announced it would close, would have been better off buying a four-pack of AA batteries.
The company is now selling furniture and fixtures from its headquarters as it liquidates.