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Firming Up at Federated

By Seth Jayson
May 12, 2004

Depending on whom you ask, we're either in the midst of a retail runaway, or an impending crash. Is job growth going to goose Americans into buying yet more stuff? Or will rising interest rates spook consumers? (Fat chance.)

To judge by this morning's numbers, Federated Department Stores (NYSE: FD), parent to Bloomingdale's and Macy's, is seeing the half-full side of the glass. Earnings reached $0.52 per share for Q1, soundly beating management's $0.47 guidance, and trouncing last year's $0.24 for the quarter.

Revenues were up 7% to $3.5 billion, with comp sales increases at the same 7%. The real fuel for the earnings fire was provided by a 1.7% improvement in operating margins.

Federated is definitely doing better than some of its peers. Fool colleague Alyce Lomax took a look at the yawn-worthy numbers posted yesterday by rival May Department Stores (NYSE: MAY).

Federated's comps increase is better than most in the department store segment of the retail world -- save current standouts like Stein Mart (Nasdaq: SMRT), J.C. Penny (NYSE: JCP), and Costco (Nasdaq: COST) -- and it's slimmer than the healthier same-store sales upticks at specialty and upscale retailers like Ann Taylor (NYSE: ANN), Chico's FAS (NYSE: CHS), Limited Brands (NYSE: LTD), and Men's Wearhouse (NYSE: MW).

However, the firm expects the pace to slacken, predicting full-year comps around 3-4% and earnings reaching a range near $3.85 per share. That puts the shares on a forward P/E around 12, making it look inexpensive when compared to peers May, dragging Dillard's (NYSE: DDS), and sprinting Saks (NYSE: SKS). If you're into the retail game, Federated may be the bargain of the bunch.

Line 'em up and race 'em -- your favorite stores, that is -- on the Fool's Retail discussion board.

Fool contributor Seth Jayson owns no shares of any company mentioned. View his Fool profile here.
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