NEW YORK -- Impressive second-quarter earnings -- a 61 percent increase over the year-ago period -- could help R.H. Macy & Co. in its efforts to remain an independent company, industry analysts said Tuesday.

That assessment is based not only on Macy's improved financial picture, but also the reported support of its largest creditor, Fidelity Investment.

Continuing to benefit from cost reductions, Macy's said earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization in the second quarter ended Jan. 29 rose to $227.2 million from $141.1 million last year. These figures exceeded the firm's plan, as did the preliminary results for February.

Peter Schaeffer, of Johnson Redbook Service, said, "Macy's financial results [for the quarter] show the company is truly on a path which will eventually enable them to emerge quickly from Chapter 11 and, if nothing else, solidifies their effort to remain independent."

Improvements in Macy's working capital and decreases in expenses, suggest "things are heading in a positive direction," Schaeffer said.

The alignment of Fidelity Investments behind Macy's would give the retailer much-needed ammunition to ward off Federated Department Stores, which desires to effect a merger with Macy's, according a source.

The source also indicated that Macy's might have to unload some of its properties to Federated to emerge from Chapter 11.

Fidelity, with a claim of about $500 million, is Macy's largest creditor.

"Considering the disruptions caused by the earthquake and multiple snowstorms on the East Coast, our sales gains in January and February are very encouraging," Myron E. Ullman, chairman and chief executive officer, said in a statement.

Sales in February increased 5.1 percent over February 1993 while comparable-store revenues advanced 5.7 percent. The advancement was an improvement over January, when sales inched forward an adjusted 0.4 percent, and store-for-store sales increased 0.7 percent.

Net sales in the quarter slipped 2 percent to $1.997 billion from $2.037 billion last year.

Comparable-store sales, adjusting for the three stores that were closed by the Jan. 17 earthquake in Southern California's Northridge area, increased 1.4 percent.

Contributing to the continued improved results were $117 million in reduced expenses in the quarter. Selling, general and administrative expenses declined by $68 million and the cost of goods sold dropped by $49 million. Improvements in merchandise gross margins were also cited by the company.The drop in expenses helped propel net profits to $60.5 million from $8.9 million a year ago.

The company also communicated that cash on hand greatly improved at the windup of the first half, to about $130 million, $88 million ahead of projections.

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