This week provides a broader gauge of department-store health, with several of the biggest chains reporting their quarterly results. Kohl's Corp. posted a disappointing earnings forecast on Thursday morning, sending its shares tumbling. Nordstrom Inc., which is coming off a failed attempt at a leveraged buyout, plans to deliver its results after the close. J.C. Penney Co., meanwhile, weighs in on Friday morning.  

Investors have been skeptical of the sector. Macy's shares lost more than half of their value this year through Wednesday's close. The company got some reprieve on Thursday, however, when the shares rose as much as 7.2 percent to $18.84 -- the biggest intraday rise since early February.

Macy's cost-cutting efforts have bolstered profit. Excluding some items, earnings amounted to 23 cents a share last quarter. Analysts had projected 16 cents. The company said gross margin improved, "primarily due to our tightly controlled inventory position."

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