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Equifax, reeling from hack, still has no earnings report date

NEW YORK, Oct 25 (Reuters) - Equifax Inc is running out of time to schedule its first quarterly results report since the massive breach that exposed sensitive data on 145.5 million people and erased more than $4 billion of the credit reporting firm's market value.

The company has yet to announce a date for its third-quarter earnings and management's first conference call with Wall Street analysts since it disclosed the breach last month. That is a departure from its normal practice of scheduling earnings by mid-October.

Equifax has until Nov. 9 to release its results or seek an extension from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, which gives large companies 40 days after the close of a quarter to report their financials to investors.

Company representatives declined to say when the results will be issued.

Equifax is struggling to recover from one of the worst cyber attacks in history. Its shares are down about 24 percent from Sept. 7, when it announced the breach, which prompted outrage from U.S. lawmakers and consumers and the departure of its chief executive. State and federal probes into the incident are underway.

"A significant amount of uncertainty remains regarding the financial and operational impacts from Equifax's breach," RBC Capital Markets analyst Gary Bisbee said in a note on Monday, as he cut his recommendation on the stock to "hold" from "buy."

Lingering questions include how the incident might hurt earnings of the Atlanta-based company, the impact on Equifax's market share and the likelihood of the U.S. government tightening regulation of the credit reporting industry, Bisbee said.

Equifax's shares were down 0.8 percent at $107.90 on Wednesday, having rebounded from a more than two-and-a-half-year low of $89.59 on Sept. 14.

The average analyst price target on the stock is now $124.62, down from $153.25 before the breach, according to Thomson Reuters data.

Still, 11 of the 15 analysts tracked by Thomson Reuters who cover the company have a "buy" or "strong buy" recommendation on the stock. Four others have hold ratings.

Equifax, one of the big three credit reporting bureaus along with Experian Plc and TransUnion, is expected to report earnings of $1.49 per share, not including one-time items, for the third quarter, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. That has dropped 2.1 percent over the past month, but is still above the $1.44 the company reported for the same period last year.

SEEKING CLARITY

The chief near-term risk for Equifax is how the breach will weigh on its workforce solutions unit, which provides payroll and human-resources services to companies, said Morningstar analyst Brett Horn. That unit made up about 20 percent of Equifax's $3.1 billion in total revenue last year.

The breach may cause businesses to question whether they should provide sensitive employee information to Equifax, Horn said.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service temporarily suspended a contract worth more than $7 million it recently awarded to Equifax following another security issue with Equifax's website.

Horn said Equifax may not be ready to provide investors with financial details about how much the incident will cost to clean up and how it will affect future earnings.

That may depend on how much of the post-breach expenses will be paid by insurers and how much the free credit monitoring and identity theft services the company is offering consumers as a result of the breach will ultimately cost.

When it finally does report earnings and talk to analysts, investors are eager for an update on the company's search for a new chief executive, new chief security officer and new chief information officer to replace executives who departed after the hack.

Rich Sichel, senior investment strategist at The Philadelphia Trust Co, said he wants answers to some of those questions before he considers investing in the stock.

"Too much is unknown," Sichel said. "I wouldn't be in a big hurry to get in." (Reporting by John McCrank; editing by Jim Finkle and Bill Rigby)