NEW YORK -- Days before Federated Department Stores is expected to take its case to creditors for a merger with R.H. Macy, Macy's chairman Myron E. Ullman offered upbeat projections for the bankrupt giant's March business.

In another development, Fidelity Investments, a large Macy's creditor, retained Wasserstein Perella & Co., an investment banking firm with experience in mergers and acquisitions.

The move by Fidelity -- whose $490 million secured claim can scuttle any reorganization plan -- turned up the pressure on Macy's, sources close to the Macy's reorganization said Tuesday. They also said it sent a signal to the retailer that Fidelity was serious in investigating merger proposals.

Concerning ongoing business, Ullman, speaking at a National Retail Federation seminar at the New York Hilton Tuesday, said Macy's expects to report double-digit sales increases in March compared with last year.

Macy's, which reported a 5.1 percent sales gain for February compared to February 1993, predicted earlier that its sales gains for March would outdistance those of February.

March sales for most retailers, due to be released Thursday, will benefit from an April 3 Easter in 1994 compared with an April 11 Easter last year.

Solid figures are crucial to Macy's, as it fights to retain its independence from Federated.

The move by Fidelity to retain Wasserstein comes a few days before Federated is expected to take its own proposal for Macy's reorganization to Macy's creditors.

Reportedly, Fidelity, which has voiced its displeasure over Macy's term sheet offer, first approached Bruce Wasserstein, chairman of Wasserstein Perella, soon after Macy's March 23 presentation of its term sheet offer.

The investment banker is expected to assist Fidelity in evaluating the true worth of Macy's equity offering, the effect such an offering will have on the market, the shape of a possible Fidelity proposal, as well as the capital structure of an anticipated proposal from Federated.

Federated purchased a $449 million secured claim of Macy's in January and is expected to make a counterproposal to Macy's creditors this month. That proposal, which will most likely be made in a series of discussions with Macy's creditors, will likely value Macy's lower than the $3.6 billion term offer proposed by Macy's.On March 23, Macy's term sheet valued Macy's at $3.6 billion, with a potential increase in value to $4.1 billion. That valuation bore little resemblance to the $3.5 billion valuation Fidelity thought it and Macy's professionals had agreed to just two weeks earlier.

"I wouldn't interpret Fidelity's move to retain Bruce Wasserstein as a sign that Fidelity has given up hope on Macy's emerging from Chapter 11 as an independent entity," one attorney said Tuesday. "I would interpret it as Fidelity beginning to turn up the pressure on Macy's, Fidelity expressing the seriousness of their displeasure in Macy's term sheet offer."

As reported, Macy's board, particularly Laurence Tisch, successfully lobbied for the higher valuation of Macy's. Fidelity is more comfortable with the lower valuation, which will net it a larger equity stake in Macy's, based on its $490 million secured claim.

Other individuals involved with the Macy's bankruptcy believed the retention of Wasserstein Perella sent no signal to Macy's and was merely one Macy's creditor hiring one investment banker.

"This is a complicated case, and Fidelity probably thought it best to have an independent source of expertise to evaluate the complicated offers that have been and will be proposed," another individual said.

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