NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ Moody's Investors Service said Wednesday the improving economy appears to be boosting demand for apartments, which is translating into higher rents and occupancy rates, good signs for the companies that own the complexes.

The positive trends led Moody's to place a "Stable" outlook on the multifamily real estate investment trusts, or REITs.

The recession and high unemployment made it difficult for many renters to pay on time and eight of the nine companies Moody's rates in the sector reported lower net income for 2009. The companies managed to maintain adequate cash by selling assets or through stock and debt offerings, helping most avoid ratings downgrades, Moody's said.

With the improving economy, Moody's said rents appear to be increasing and vacancies declining, boosting the financial prospects for the companies.

The Moody's analysts said in a report Wednesday that any uptick in home sales is not likely to have a significant negative impact on apartment demand.

"Given the fragile economy and much tighter lending conditions, we doubt that rental demand will be threatened by substantial pent-up demand for home purchases," wrote senior analyst Chris Wimmer.

The nine multifamily REITs rated by Moody's are Associated Estates Realty Corp., Apartment Investment & Management Co., AvalonBay Communities Inc., BRE Properties Inc., Camden Property Trust, Colonial Properties Trust, Equity Residential, Post Properties Inc. and UDR Inc.

Moody's has "Stable" ratings outlooks on seven. Two â¿¿ Colonial Properties Trust and Equity Residential â¿¿ carry "Negative" ratings outlooks.

Shares of most of the companies closed higher Wednesday afternoon with Post Properties leading the way, up 24 cents, or 1 percent, to $24.92.

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