Trading of Macy’s stock is halted amid reports that it could be bought by department store rival

Shoppers look at shoes at a Macy’s Inc. department store in New York in 2015. The department store world has been pummeled by a host of major changes in shopping patterns.  Michael Nagle, Bloomberg.

Trading of Macy’s stock was briefly halted on Friday after its price shot up unusually quickly, a surge that appears to be fueled by a news report that the retailing giant is in preliminary talks to be acquired by Hudson’s Bay, a Canadian department store empire.

The merger discussions, which were reported by the Wall Street Journal, come as each company is facing an identity crisis. The department store world has been pummeled by a host of major changes in shopping patterns: Much of our spending is moving online, and these businesses have struggled to grab market share in that arena. Meanwhile, women are shifting in droves to buying their clothes at off-price stores such as T.J. Maxx or fast-fashion outposts such as H&M or Zara.

The companies might see joining forces as a way to boost their firepower in the fight to win over shoppers. Macy’s saw dismal sales during the crucial holiday season, and recently announced it would slash 10,000 jobs, the latest reminder of its need to adapt to a fast-changing shopping climate. At Hudson’s Bay, a sprawling business that includes Saks Fifth Avenue and Lord & Taylor, things weren’t quite as grim, but holiday results still suggested that the company is still facing some challenges in connecting with shoppers.

Both companies are no strangers to mergers. In 2005, when the company was still known as Federated Department Stores, it purchased a rival, May Department Stores, for $11 billion, a deal that created the largest department store company in the United States. Hudson’s Bay, meanwhile, acquired Saks Fifth Avenue back in 2013 for $2.4 billion. Just last year, it scooped up Gilt, an e-commerce startup, to help it strengthen its digital know-how.

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Macy’s stock, traded on the New York Stock Exchange, was up a little more than 8 percent at 10:48 a.m. Occasionally, trading on the NYSE can be automatically halted if it is swinging wildly; the NYSE says that is what happened in this case. Companies can also elect to deliberately halt trading of their stock if a big news announcement is coming, but NYSE said that did not occur here.

In an email, a Macy’s spokeswoman said, “We do not comment on rumors and speculation.” A representative for Hudson’s Bay also declined comment.

Hudson’s Bay is quite a bit smaller than Macy’s on some key measures. It has 485 stores worldwide, while Macy’s has more than 800. Hudson’s Bay also had a market capitalization of $1.41 billion late Friday morning, compared to $10.64 billion for Macy’s.

The report of a possible deal comes as Macy’s prepares for a long-planned changing of the guard, in which chief executive Terry Lundgren will step down from that role and be replaced by Jeff Gennette. The retailer has had other changes at the top recently, too: Company veteran Peter Sachse, the company’s chief growth officer, was pushed out in recent weeks.

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Macy’s has been trying a variety of tactics to remake itself for an era in which its core business doesn’t seem to be resonating with consumers. It has invested in new concepts, including an off-price store called Macy’s Backstage that was intended to get a piece of some of the success being enjoyed by off-price chains such as Nordstrom Rack. It also purchased Bluemercury, a specialty beauty and spa chain. And it has aggressively moved to trim its store portfolio, closing outposts in an acknowledgement that online shopping is making it unneccessary to have so many locations.

And then there have been moves that are more visible to Wall Street than to shoppers: It has been working to figure out how it might unlock value from its lucrative real estate portfolio.