NEW YORK -- Cyrus R. Vance, the court-appointed mediator in Macy's Chapter 11 case, reportedly paid a visit to bankruptcy Judge Burton Lifland Thursday.

Although the content of the meeting could not be learned, the possibilities range from a decision by Vance on one of the three competing reorganization plans, to failure to reach a consensus with creditors on a plan. If the latter, sources say, Vance might even have recommended an end to the current mediation process.

If that happens, it could lead to new reorganization plans setting higher values on Macy's.

Vance received the most recent versions of the three plans April 29.

Macy's, its suitor Federated Department Stores Inc., and bondholders have all submitted proposals on how to reorganize Macy's. Neither Lifland nor Vance were available for comment.

In its attempt to stay independent, Macy's has been in intensive negotiations this week, trying to get junior bondholders to buy into the company's plan of reorganization.

Talks with bondholders were led by Thomas Shull, Macy's executive vice president. At presstime, the outcome of those meetings could not be learned, but there was speculation that little, if any, headway was made.

Bondholders have said they would not accept any plan that values Macy's under $4 billion. Macy's proposal distributes $3.67 billion in value to creditors.It also offers stock credits and warrants totalling $260 million. Federated's plan puts a value of $3.51 billion on Macy's.

If Federated really wants Macy's, it can get it, according to a research report by Bear Stearns, the investment banking firm.

The report, issued Tuesday, notes that the savings associated with combining the two companies into a $13.4 billion retail behemoth mean Federated could make a better offer than those already presented.

The report notes potential savings of $125 million to $160 million, or 2 percent to 2.5 percent of Macy's $6.3 billion in annual sales. Federated's annual sales are about $7.1 billion.

However, the report also notes that Federated already handles Macy's inventory control systems for about $70 million a year, reducing savings closer to the range of $55 million to $90 million.

Applying a seven-times multiple to the savings -- a standard formula for evaluating department store operations, Bear Stearns comes up with a value of between $4 billion and $4.5 billion. But it cautions that these figures do not take in the costs of the merger. Federated estimates them at $165 million. Macy's estimates the costs at approaching $400 million.

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