Being firmly in the cross-hairs of a computer hacker helped put a bullet into Target's fourth quarter net earnings which fell almost 46 percent due to an estimated $450 million lost when hackers stole data from millions of Target customers.

The retailer reported net earnings of $520 million compared to the $961 million generated during the fourth quarter of 2012. This was on sales of $21.5 billion for the quarter ended Feb.  1, down from $22.4 billion posted during the same period the year before.  This, in turn, negatively impacted the chain's 2013 financial report with the company's net earnings falling 34.3 percent to $1.9 billion, down from $3 billion in 2012. Sales for the year were off just a shade under 1 percent at $72.6 billion.

Despite these problems Target's results still topped analyst expectations for the quarter, these improvements put investors in a forgiving mood as shares rose 7.3% to a recent $60.65, according to Barron's.

Analysts placed the blame for the massive drop off squarely on the security breach that took place in December. At that time hackers stole debit and credit card information from millions of customers putting Target in a deep hole as it tried to figure out how to keep its customers coming into its stores during the busy holiday period. Target confirmed this stating that prior to the breach its sales were driving better than expected holiday sales at its 1,917 stores.

The company was not willing to estimate the total loss that could be attributed to the attack, but it did note some associated expenses. Target reported direct costs associated with the breach were $17 million of net expense in the fourth quarter, reflecting $61 million of total expenses partially offset by the recognition of a $44 million insurance receivable.

Avivah Litan, a security analyst at the research firm Gartner, put the cost of the breach to Target at $400 million to $450 million. This figure includes paying fines from credit card companies and services now being offered to help rebuild Target's reputation.

CEO Gregg Steinhafel said some of the efforts put in place, including a year of free credit monitoring, were starting to lure people back.

 "However, results softened meaningfully following our December announcement of a data breach. As we plan for the new fiscal year, we will continue to work tirelessly to win back the confidence of our guests and deliver irresistible merchandise and offers, and we are encouraged that sales trends have improved in recent weeks," he said in the company's press release.

ason DeRise, an analyst at UBS AG in New York, called the breach a serious situation, but one from which Target can recover.

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