Mall owner General Growth Properties Inc. sought bankruptcy protection early Thursday in one of the largest real-estate failures in US history, capping a precarious, months-long effort to juggle the crushing $27bn debt load it shouldered in past acquisition sprees.

The long-anticipated Chapter 11 filing might wipe out what remains of the Chicago company's stock, but it won't result in mall closures. Many analysts suspect General Growth will survive a lengthy bankruptcy intact, but perhaps smaller after selling properties, without resorting to liquidation. General Growth, which owns and manages more than 200 malls, is the second-largest US mall owner by number of properties behind Simon Property Group Inc.

Wall Street Journal