If you read my articles regularly, then you already know that I had gone from Target (NYSE:TGT) bull to Target bear. This had everything to do with the data breach, which had supposedly affected 40 million customers. The reason I turned bearish: I believed customer loyalty would wane due to mistrust; expenses would increase related to heightened call volumes leading to the need for more employees, and also due to the need for technological advancements for better customer protection; and that lawsuits were a near guarantee. While all recent developments for Target still add up to a net negative, there are some hints that this big-box retailer might still present a good long-term investment opportunity.
The first thing you should know is that Target now expects up to 70 million customers have been victimized by the data breach, with names, mailing and email addresses, and phone numbers potentially stolen. This increases the likelihood of identity thefts.
Target has lowered its fourth-quarter adjusted earnings-per-share expectations to $1.20-$1.30 from $1.50-$1.60. This is primarily related to an expected year-over-year comps decline of 2.5%. Target previously expected comps to come in flat. The culprit for the significantly reduced comps expectations: the data breach.
Most shoppers still prefer to shop in brick-and-mortar stores. Therefore, a good portion of former Target shoppers who have lost confidence in the retailer will now shop at Wal-Mart. With more than 11,000 stores in the United States, it should be easy for former Target shoppers to find a nearby Wal-Mart location, whether it's a Walmart Supercenter, Walmart Discount Store, Walmart Market, or a Walmart Express.
Those who are more comfortable with technology and ordering online might opt for Amazon. And it's safe to assume that recent events at Target will lead some people to attempt online shopping for the first time. If they use Amazon and they're like most people, they will fall in love with the service, which is a clear potential benefit for Amazon.
So ... what's the good news for Target?
Tidbits of good news
Prior to the data breach being reported on Dec. 19, 2013, the company's fourth-quarter sales were stronger than expected, and REDcard penetration was in line with expectations.While the data breach has since negatively affected REDcard penetration, Target has reported (without specifics) that it is still higher than in the year-ago quarter.
The REDcard news is a positive. As far as sales being stronger than expected for the quarter prior to the data breach, this could be a long-term positive. The data breach is likely to be a short- to medium-term event. Yes, Target will lose market share. And, yes, Wal-Mart and Amazon are likely to benefit more than anyone else. But if you're looking at the long term, the data breach will eventually be forgotten about. Look at TJX (NYSE:TJX) as an example. Its data breach took place in 2006. Look at how it recovered:
This isn't to say Target's recovery will be as impressive. It's simply an example. People only remembered the TJX data breach after the Target data breach took place.
The ultimate point here is that if Target sales were better than expected prior to the data breach, then the company was doing something right. Eventually, the data-breach news will blow over, and Target will be back on its feet. However, this doesn't mean Target is likely to present a good investment option at this time. But if you wait for a stock dip over the next few months, then it's likely to present a good long-term opportunity.
The bottom line
Though Target's long-term potential is good, following the money -- in this case, consumer money -- is often a good idea. If Target's fourth-quarter comps are expected to decline 2.5%, it means that some previously loyal shoppers are spending their money elsewhere. While this could mean a variety of locations, being that Wal-Mart is the largest retailer in the world and Amazon is the largest online retailer in the world, they would be logical beneficiaries.
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Fool contributor Dan Moskowitz has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Amazon.com. The Motley Fool owns shares of Amazon.com. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.