(Story updated to add that Cintas' third-quarter profit rose 29%, and the company raised its 2012 outlook.)
BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- The economic axiom "a rising tide lifts all the boats" is particularly true for the rental and leasing industry these days.
Potentially fast-growing businesses gearing up to meet stronger demand, but still nervous about the future after a prolonged recession, are more apt to rent or lease than to buy in order to avoid making long-term financial commitments.
Those that could benefit the most include companies that rent big-ticket items such as trucks and construction equipment, as a housing recovery, a domestic oil-drilling boom and new infrastructure projects are expected to compete for the gear they need to get the job done.S&P Capital IQ said in a recent research note that "there is pent-up demand for equipment after several years of laggard construction demand" and now, since construction and industrial companies delayed the purchase of new equipment and have aging fleets, there's not enough equipment on hand for new capital projects. But a host of other industry players do better in times of a growing economy as well. For example, employee travel picks up dramatically, boosting car rental firms' earnings, and households become more mobile as people are more apt to criss-cross the country to areas where there are better job opportunities, which increases demand for rentals of everything from moving vans to home furnishings. And once the economy does reach some critical mass, the pent-up demand for cars, trucks, bulldozers and couches means that rental companies will be fully booked and can get top dollar in new rental and lease negotiations. Shares of firms in the rental and leasing services industry are up an average of 16% this year, and 52% over three years, as tracked by Morningstar, versus the S&P 500's 12.6% and 24%, respectively. Here are 11 stocks of rental and leasing companies that have historically benefited from a rising economy in inverse order of their returns this year: