General Growth Properties, the large mall operator that exited bankruptcy protection last year, reported core funds from operation (FFO), which measures its ability to generate cash, of $224.2 million, or 23 cents per share, up slightly from FFO of $223.2 million in 2010.

Net income attributable to common shareholders was $252.1 million, up from a net loss of $231.2 million in 2010. Core net operating income in the third quarter increased 2.4 percent, compared to 2010.

General Growth will issue a quarterly dividend of 10 cents per share at the end of the year.

We are 10 months into a long-term strategy of driving value from our existing portfolio through increasing occupancy and lease spreads, along with mining development opportunities, said Sandeep Mathrani, General Growth's CEO, in a statement. The strategy is yielding positive operating results and we anticipate it will continue for the fourth quarter and beyond.

Retail sales for General Growth's tenants increased 7.8 percent to $471 per square foot in the quarter, the company said, compared to the previous year.

General Growth's regional mall portfolio was 92.7 percent leased at the end of the third quarter, an increase of 40 basis points compared to the prior year. Leases completed in 2011 averaged $63.71 per square foot, up 6.07 percent from the average $57.68 per square foot in rent on expiring leases.

Mathrani said during a Wednesday earnings call that the company was able to achieve higher rents on spaces vacated by the liquidated bookseller Borders, bringing in new permanent tenants including clothing store Forever 21 and restaurant Dave & Buster's.

In the third quarter, General Growth partnered with the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board to acquire a 482,000 square foot mall in St. Louis for $136 million. It also purchased a 160,000 square foot retail space occupied by Neiman Marcus at Fashion Show in Las Vegas for $30 million.

General Growth sold 14 assets for $662 million in 2011, eliminating around $163 million in mortgage debt. It also refinanced the mortgages of two malls for $412 million with an average interest rate of 4.78 percent, lowering its average interest rate by 140 basis points for the two properties. 

It had $1.4 billion of liquidity at the end of the third quarter.

In the first nine months of 2011, General Growth opened 17 new big box retail spaces and expects to open a total of 28 large retail spaces in 2011, totaling 924,000 square feet. Retailers include Crate and Barrel, Nordstrom Rack and Kohl's. It also opened three department stores, totaling 402,000 square feet, with another two department stores totaling 375,000 square feet scheduled to open in the next two years.

General Growth plans to spin off its weaker malls into a new company, Rouse Properties, at the end of the year. Mathrani said during the company's earnings call that it was in the process of selecting a CEO for the new entity.

General Growth also has a presence in Brazil, with a 31.4 percent ownership interest in Aliansce, a mall landlord with over 20 centers. We like Brazil. We don't anticipate Brazil to be an asset we'll sell, said Mathrani on Wednesday. We're bullish on Brazil.

Brookfield Asset Management, an affiliate of Brookfield Office Properties, controls about 38 percent of General Growth, and William Ackman's hedge fund, Pershing Square Capital, has around 14 percent. As part of General Growth's bankruptcy restructuring last year, Ackman's Howard Hughes Corporation took control of the South Street Seaport in Lower Manhattan, formerly owned by General Growth.

Shares of General Growth were trading at $14.72 mid-Wednesday, down around 0.74 percent.