By Sinead Carew and Lewis Krauskopf
(Reuters) - Even as Equifax Inc shares were on track for their biggest weekly drop since July 2001 in the aftermath of a massive data breach, most of Wall Street still recommended buying the stock.
Equifax shares have shed more than 32 percent to $96.66 since it disclosed on Sept. 7 that personal details of as many as 143 million U.S. consumers were likely accessed in one of the largest data breaches in the United States.
Of 15 analysts covering the stock, four rate it a 'strong buy' while eight rate it a 'buy' and just three have a neutral rating, according to the latest data from Thomson Reuters.
The median price target for Equifax is $141, about 46 percent higher than Thursday's closing price.
On average, the median price target for S&P 500 stocks was 9.2 percent above the closing price as of Wednesday, according to Thomson Reuters data.
While some analysts adjusted their price targets after the breach, many kept their ratings intact. Some said it is too early to estimate how the credit reporting company's financial results will be affected by the breach, which could explain their continued bullish appearance.
Others are confident in the company's management team and believe its long-term growth prospects are intact.
Sell-side analysts recommend Equifax for strong revenue growth and high incremental profit margins, according to Stephens analyst Brett Huff who also cited a management team that has consistently added products that boost revenues.
Huff, who has the lowest Equifax price target on Wall Street, said that "many believe the fundamental qualities of the company haven't changed enough to change their opinion even though the incident is troublesome one."
While Huff has not changed his revenue or profit targets, he did include scenarios in a research note on Thursday for potential negative revenue implications.
"We can't quantify with reasonable accuracy the revenue and profit impacts at this point. That's why we offered these scenarios," said Huff, who lowered his price target to $110 from $145.
Stifel analyst Shlomo Rosenbaum said in a research note on Sept. 8 that he was not changing estimates yet because of the lack of clarity, "though clearly ours and consensus estimates are too high in the near term."
Rosenbaum has kept his 'buy' rating on the stock and a $149 price target.
After meeting Equifax Chief Financial Officer John Gamble this week, JP Morgan analyst Andrew Steinerman said his "clearest takeaway was that it is too early (for management or investors) to accurately forecast the event’s full impact" on operations and profits.
Steinerman, who cut his price target to $135 from $167, estimated the breach would create a 10 percent drag on 2018 earnings per share with the caveat that the "facts are still emerging."
Equifax bonds also tumbled further on Thursday.
(Additional reporting Saqib Iqbal Ahmed; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli)