Window dressing takes on a new meaning as mall operators Simon Property Group (NYSE:SPG) and Taubman (NYSE:TCO) post their quarterly earnings this week. Both, along with fellow mallrat Mills (NYSE:MLS), are trading a few ticks shy of their all-time highs.

Even more noteworthy, the stocks are up an average of 46% from their 52-week lows. You would be right to ask yourself if the state of retail has improved that much over the past year. It hasn't.

The National Retail Federation trade group is projecting a healthy 5.7% spurt in sales over the critical holiday shopping season. If so, coming on the heels of last month's 6.9% year-over-year gains (according to the U.S. Commerce Department), it could very well be the best season we've seen this side of the millennium. But that certainly isn't enough for mall operators to boost their leased space or their tenant rates to match the 46% in appreciation. Not quite.

So what's drawing investors to these companies? The payouts. Structured as real estate investment trusts (REITs), these mall operators pay out most of their funds from operations on a quarterly basis. Right now, all three are yielding better than 5%.

That's the problem. Income-hungry investors who have become frustrated with 1% yields on traditional money markets and CDs have moved on to REITs, often disregarding the fundamentals. With these three companies yielding close to 8% a year ago, they were clearly an attractive alternative. At these levels, new investors may be overpaying.

Simon now fetches 28 times this year's projected earnings. Taubman won't even be profitable this year. While buying into mall stocks may sound like a sound strategy as the economy is bouncing back, earlier birds beat you to those worms.

If you do want some high-yielding ideas with the fundamentals in place for capital appreciation, our new Motley Fool Income Investor newsletter may be exactly what you're looking for.

Will you be spending freely over the holidays or watching your pennies? Have some tips to share on stretching your gift dollar? All this and more -- in the Living Below Your Means discussion board. Only on