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NEW YORK -- R. H. Macy & Co.'s retinue of lawyers and investment bankers worked yesterday to assemble a financing package that the retailer will need if it files for bankruptcy protection, as is expected.

Although the financing arrangements are incomplete, several participants in the negotiations said they expected them to be finished by today. They reiterated that a bankruptcy filing is imminent.

Macy's board is expected to meet today to decide whether to proceed with the bankruptcy filing.

The rumor mill that ran at full steam during the negotiations to save the faltering retailer was winding down yesterday, with only one or two analysts conjuring up visions of white knights with saddlebags flush with cash coming to Macy's rescue.

"They're beyond most miracles," said Walter F. Loeb, president of Loeb Associates Inc. and a former Macy executive.

"There's very little they can do to avoid Chapter 11 at this point."

If the company does file for protection under Chapter 11 of the Federal Bankruptcy Code, a federal judge will settle the fate of Macy's lenders, bondholders, suppliers and the company itself.

But the stores would open and close as usual, company credit cards would retain their purchasing power and any outstanding credits that shoppers hold would be honored.

Indeed, the only change shoppers might notice would be a better selection of merchandise. Some manufacturers who supply Macy with apparel, cosmetics, furniture and other goods are waiting for the company to prove it can pay its bills before shipping any new stock.

Normally, a company in Macy's unhealthy financial condition would have already arranged a line of credit to draw on in bankruptcy.

But Edward S. Finkelstein, Macy's chairman and chief executive and the owner of more than 26 percent of its common stock, apparently believed that the company would not have to file for bankruptcy protection.

The company had estimated that sales during the critical holiday season would grow about 4 percent, which would have given it the cash to meet its obligations.

Based on those projections, Macy agreed to reduce borrowing from its revolving credit line. But analysts have estimated that sales in December were even with last year, which left Macy short of cash.

Macy executives have declined to disclose the sales, and because the company is not publicly owned, they have no obligation to.

Company executives refused yesterday to discuss their plans at all.

Without debtor-in-possession financing -- a temporary financing package that gives an insolvent company cash to use immediately after a bankruptcy filing -- Macy cannot obtain all the additional merchandise it needs to do business.

As the operator of more than 140 Macy's, Bullock's and I. Magnin department stores, Macy has one of the most valuable retail franchises in the world, and most analysts say that assembling debtor-in-possession financing should not be too difficult. Such financing is very lucrative for banks, which earn handsome interest rates and fees for it.

Also, lenders providing debtor-in-possession financing have precedence over all other creditors in a bankruptcy proceeding.

But the tremendous amount of documentation involved in the financing of TC company the size of Macy, whose 144 department stores and 107 specialty stores had $6.7 billion in sales last year, is complex.

So while a bankruptcy filing is virtually certain, it is not likely to happen before the financing is complete.

As much as they have resisted bankruptcy, Macy's executives, many of whom have a stake in the company, will end up stronger in bankruptcy than out of it, most experts say.

Once a bankruptcy is filed, Mr. Finkelstein and his managers will have 120 days to devise a restructuring plan, which they will then submit for the approval of the creditors and the bankruptcy judge.

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