By  on May 11, 2011

Macy’s Inc. teed up what looks to be a strong first-quarter earnings season — breezing past estimates with a fivefold increase in profits — but the general retail outlook remains a cost-riddled question mark.

Chains have worked hard to rein in inventories, trim expenses and test consumer reactions to higher prices as they barrel toward the back-to-school season, when cost increases for cotton, labor and transportation will be in full effect.

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