For weeks now, I've been following the string of reports on data thefts from the credit card databases of retailers like Polo Ralph Lauren (NYSE:RL), Retail Ventures (NYSE:RVI), and BJ's (NYSE:BJ), as well as from data warehousers-slash-analyzers ChoicePoint (NYSE:CPS), Thomson (NYSE:TOC), Acxiom (NASDAQ:ACXM), and Reed Elsevier (NYSE:ENL).

The story's pretty fascinating -- unless you're a victim of the thefts. Then it's just downright chilling.

But at least a few investors are getting a tingle of another sort from the news. Their Spidey senses are clanging away with the possibility that Wall Street might be overreacting to the threat of congressional regulation of the information industry.

At the request of one such Foolish investor, I'm going to take a quick look at the numbers of the four data companies named above. (Actually, both Reed and Thomson are much more than just "data companies" -- they're veritable publishing behemoths. But each plays such a significant role in the data world that we really can't leave them out.)

So let's try to figure out whether the hackers' attacks might have created some bargains for Fools who are undeterred by the risk that Congress will start throwing loops of red tape over these businesses.

Thomson and Reed -- quality companies though they might be -- simply don't provide the kind of margin of safety that Foolish value investors demand.

Moreover, in Reed's case, it's worth pointing out that the numbers Yahoo! Finance gives for that company don't match up with the numbers reported in Reed's last Form 20-F, filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. While Yahoo! lists the company as being essentially debt-free, the Form 20-F reports that Reed actually carries nearly 2 billion pounds sterling in long-term debt and 3.3 billion more in short-term debt -- combined obligations of more than $10 billion. So Reed is actually more expensive than it seems.

ChoicePoint and Acxiom, on the other hand, both sport EV/FCFs considerably lower than their growth rates. And their earnings numbers mask their true cash profitability behind high P/E ratios. Thus, they both appear to present pretty decent values, if you can stomach their regulatory risks.

Here's how the four data companies stack up when you compare the numbers:



Reed Elsevier


Market cap (Millions of $)





Net debt (Millions of $)


48 None


Enterprise value-to-free cash flow (EV/FCF)





Trailing P/E





Projected growth rate (%)


20 8 14
All data from Yahoo! Finance

Fool contributor Rich Smith owns no shares in any company mentioned in this article.