The Crushing of Equifax, by Wolf Richter

The last week has not been kind to Equifax, the credit reporting agency that had 143 million consumer profiles stolen. From Wolf Richter at wolfstreet.com:

Banks, credit card companies, and other Equifax customers squeal. Consumers (the product) squeal. Congress squeals. Investors squeal.

Equifax shares dropped another 16% during the day and after-hours on Wednesday to $97.51. They’ve now plunged 31%, or $44.82, in the four trading days since Equifax confessed that 143 million consumers had their data crown-jewels stolen when it was hacked. The stolen data is perfect for identity theft, such as getting a loan in your name, and tax fraud, such as getting a tax refund from the IRS in your name, with Kafkaesque consequences for you.

Investors, seeing what this might do to the company, have voted with their sell-button. Based on the 120.4 million shares outstanding as of June 30, the four-trading-day loss amounts to $5.4 billion.

The stink has been enormous, with Equifax having to back down from some of its most egregious solutions to this problem, including forcing consumers to give away their legal right to sue in order to sign up for its credit protection services. Buckling under scathing criticism, Equifax rescinded this requirement over the weekend.

Equifax will still try to twist this offer of “free” credit protection into a profit opportunity. Once your social security number, date of birth, and other data that hackers obtained is out there, you’re vulnerable to identity theft for the rest of your life, and you need to protect yourself for the rest of your life. But Equifax is just offering the first year for free, hoping that you’ll continue the service and pay its annual fee for the rest of your life.

Dozens of lawsuits have already been filed. Equifax will be attacked from all directions, including shareholder class-action lawsuits and consumer lawsuits. Congress has gotten interested in it, and two committees are planning hearings.

But the Wall Street hype continues. All 16 analysts tracked by Bloomberg that follow Equifax have either reiterated their bullish rating on the company, or have not altered their rating, and some have exhorted their clients to buy more.

JP Morgan Chase analyst Andrew Steinerman said that based on his conversation with Equifax executives, the financial impact would be isolated to the company’s business-to-consumer segment, which accounts for about 7% of total revenue. Based on the revenue consensus of $3.40 billion for 2017, it would impact only about $238 million in revenue, according to MarketWatch. So no big deal?

To continue reading: The Crushing of Equifax

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