Merrill Lynch & Co. Friday exhorted investors to buy shares of real-estate investment trusts, which have been mired for three months.

In a report Friday, Merrill analyst Eric Hemel called for a "radical overweighting - with extreme conviction" on REITs, which have rarely been cheaper relative to the broader market.So far this year, Merrill's in-house index of REIT stocks has shown a loss of 4.6 percent, compared with a 12.2 percent gain for the Standard & Poor's 500-Stock Index.

Merrill said dozens of REIT stocks look attractive, but it picked out several companies as looking like especially safe bets:

- Security Capital Pacific Trust, a Denver company that owns apartment properties. Its shares were trading around $23.933/4.

- Equity Residential Properties Trust, a Chicago company that owns apartments. Equity Residential's shares are currently around $50.

- Simon DeBartolo Group Inc., an Indianapolis company that owns shopping malls. Its stock is trading around $33.