It's no fun being the victim of data theft. First, you have to come to terms with the fact that you've been robbed, which is stressful in and of itself. Then comes the cost in time and energy that goes with repairing the damage to your credit record, canceling cards, notifying lenders, setting up credit alerts, and so on and so on.
And that's just for the individual victim. To get a feel for the problems that data processor ChoicePoint
During the quarter, ChoicePoint booked an impressive 16% year-over-year increase in quarterly revenues -- but you wouldn't have guessed it from the earnings results. Profits were flat versus last year's Q3, at $0.43 per diluted share, as a result of the company's incurring $0.03 in costs related to February's security breach.
However, as bad as February's fiasco was for ChoicePoint, it appears to be far from the company's only problem. For even without the $0.03 charge to earnings, ChoicePoint would only have earned $0.46 in Q3 -- a mere 7% increase over last year, and far less than the growth in revenues. Of course, the company didn't help matters any by continuing to dilute outside shareholders. For although management made a point of noting that it had bought back 978,100 shares over the course of the quarter, this Fool can't help but notice that the firm's diluted share count didn't drop at all -- on the contrary, "weighted average shares-diluted" has increased by a fraction of a percent since this time last year.
Yet another problem area is cash flow. Through the first nine months of 2005, ChoicePoint has generated only $116.4 million in free cash flow. That's down 16% from this time last year, which is the exact opposite of what you'd hope to see from the company's 16% year-to-date growth in revenue over last year.
On the sunny side, the company gave forward guidance that core revenue should grow by 17% to 18% this year (remember, it's only up a bit over 16% to date), and operating margins should improve to 25% to 26% (from their year-to-date 24%). So there is, at least, hope that the company has put the worst of this mess behind it.
For more on the data theft saga, read:
- An Acxiomatic Bargain
- What Would Spitzer Do?
- IRS Chooses ChoicePoint
- Oops, They Did It Again
- Data Crimes Suggest Conspiracy
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Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own shares of ChoicePoint.