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Tough as the holiday season was for many retailers, Wednesday's fourth-quarter earnings report proves that few had it tougher than Target, which was bedeviled during the peak shopping season by one of the largest-ever retail data breaches

That breach cost the company $61 million in the fourth quarter — $17 million in net expenses, and counting a $44 million insurance receivable. That includes paying the card networks to cover losses and expenses related to reissuing cards, lawsuits, government investigations and enforcement proceedings.

Target says it doesn't yet have an estimate of the full cost of the breach. Avivah Litan, a security analyst at technology firm Gartner, puts the costs of the breach between $400 million and $450 million.

The rest of the company's long-awaited fourth-quarter results tell a tale of woe: Net income fell 46% to $520 million, or 81 cents a share, from $961 million, or $1.47, a year earlier, the Minneapolis-based company reported.

At the same time, the discount retailer said that sales fell 5.3%, as many customers were leery about shopping after the breach. Revenue at stores open at least a year fell 2.5%.

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Even then, there was some relief among investors that the news wasn't even worse.Target shares closed at $60.49, up $3.98.

The eyes of the nation's retailers remain fixated on Target, with a clear recognition that the potential for massive data breaches are hardly in the rearview mirror. Shortly after the breach, Target tried to quickly lure holiday shoppers back with a weekend of 10% discounts in December. It then offered all affected customers a year of free credit monitoring. Target executives were even called in to testify before Congress on the data breach earlier this year.

While there were "glimmers of hope" in the report, says Brian Sozzi, CEO and chief equities strategist at Belus Capital Advisors, " the overall early takeaway is one of disturbia."

On Wednesday, Chief Executive Officer Gregg Steinhafel said, in a statement, that the company's efforts to lure back shoppers are starting to pay off. But it hasn't been easy.

"Results softened meaningfully following our December announcement of a data breach," he said in a statement. "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."

Contributing: The Associated Press; USA TODAY's Hadley Malcolm

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