Federated Department Stores

(FD)

, the largest retailer in the U.S., reported earnings on Wednesday that exceeded Wall Street's expectations by 4 cents, posting an 11% increase in sales during a period when retail watchers are attempting to

gauge the relationship between consumer demand and inflation.

For the first quarter ended April 29, the operator of upscale department stores

Bloomingdale's

and

Macy's

reported net income of $89 million, or 41 cents a diluted share, from $87 million, or 40 cents a share, a year earlier. The consensus estimate of analysts polled by

First Call/Thomson Financial

was 37 cents.

Revenue rose to $4.0 billion from $3.6 billion a year ago. Sales at department stores increased 3% to $3.54 billion from $3.44 billion a year ago. Direct-to-customer sales more than tripled to $491 million from $163 million last year, while e-commerce sales grew more than five times to $28 million from $5 million for the same quarter in 1999.

Federated has been putting more resources into the direct retailing segment, including catalogs

Macy's by Mail

and

Bloomingdale's by Mail

, the

Macys.com

Web site and a stake in

WeddingChannel.com

, an online registry. In March 1999, the Cincinnati-based retailer bought

Fingerhut Companies

, an Internet marketer and the No. 2 catalog retailer in the U.S. behind

J.C. Penney

(JCP) - Get Report

.

The company also reported a 13% increase in operating income, to $253 million, or 6.3% of sales, from $225 million, or 6.2% of sales.

Shares of Federated were up 1/2, or 1%, to 36 7/8 in early trading Wednesday. (Federated closed up 1/4, or 0.7%, at 36 5/8.)