The cyber-attack onTalktalk Telecom Group (LSE: TALK) last week was a disaster for the company. And the chaos that followed the attack did nothing to reassure Talktalks investors, customers or employees.
In fact, almost all of Talktalks stakeholders were affected by the attack thatput at risk the personal and financial details of millions of the companys customers.
Initially,Talktalkcouldnt establish the scale of the hack, and there were reports that some customers bank account had been emptied. However, over the past few days more news about the hack has emerged and, as it turns out, the data breach wasnt as bad as initially thought.
On Monday afternoon, officers from the Police Service of Northern Ireland with detectives from the Metropolitan Police Cyber Crime Unit arrested a15-year-oldboy in connection with the cyber-attack but this arrest has only led to more questions than answers. For example, how did such a young attacker manage to gain access to Talktalks data so easily? Some cyber experts have described the attack asrelatively unsophisticated.
For a company likeTalktalk, which has already been thetarget of cyber criminals twice in the past year (excluding last weeks attack), the news that this was a relatively unsophisticated attack only compounds the companys problems.
Talktalkis looking to cut 140m per annum out of its cost base by 2017 to fuel its growth ambitions. Before last weeks hack, City analysts believed that these cost savings would help the company increase earnings per share by 150%, to 21p by 2017.
Its more than likely that these forecasts will be revised lower over the next few weeks as exceptional costs from the hack are factored analysts figures. Moreover, the reputational damage from the hack could stunt Talktalks long-term growth.
Indeed,Talktalkcould be accused of cutting corners in customer security to meet its cost-cutting target. Would the attack have taken place ifTalktalkhad been spending more, not less, on its IT infrastructure?
Whatever the answer to that question may be,Talktalkwill be forced to spend more on its computer systems going forward. This may mean that the company will have to scrap its ambitious cost-0reduction programme.
With costs set to rise,Talktalkis now facing a double-whammy of rising costs and falling customer numbers. Negative press surrounding last weeks hack isnt going to help convince new customers to joinTalktalk, and the company will have to spend millions rebuilding its reputation.
Unfortunately, the group has always had trouble retaining customers;data shows that between 2009 and 2014 its retail market share had contracted by 9%.
Tough times ahead
Overall, the next few years are going to be tough going for Talktalk and City forecasts for growth are now redundant.
With this being the case, Talktalks shares look to be extremely overvalued at present levels. The company currently trades at a forward P/E of 19.6. With so much uncertainty surrounding the company,Talktalkdoesnt deserve this premium growth multiple in my opinion.
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