Companies in the Standard & Poor's 500 paid out 33% of earnings per share in dividends during the third quarter, but that isn't a generous percentage by historical standards, said senior index analyst Howard Silverblatt of S&P Dow Jones Indices. Since 1988, the quarterly average has been nearly 45%, and since 1936, it has been nearly 52%. Silverblatt says companies are being "cheap" due to "nervousness about the economy and their businesses."

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